Vocabulary Must “Fit” Into Their World

So often we think of vocabulary in the context of a definition, but we need to be moving beyond regular vocabulary instruction and think bigger!

“Vocabulary knowledge is knowledge. The knowledge of a word not only implies a definition, but also implies how the word fits into the world.” (Stahl, 2000)

How do we “fit” vocabulary into a student’s world. I have some ideas:

Student-friendly Definitions.  Packing definitions with words they have not yet learned serves no purpose. Creating student-friendly definitions that they can really own and understand puts them one step closer to really understanding a word.

Multiple Exposures.  We typically put a word on a student’s vocabulary list and then that student rarely sees the word on a list again. Research indicates students begin learning a word, say “timid” in Grade 5, and need to continue learning that word until Grade 7. Continually exposing students to these words in a variety of contexts is important to vocabulary development.

Direct Instruction.  Too often we expect to give kids a list of words and activities and by the end of those activities, they should know the words. Biemiller (Perspectives, 2000) makes the case that direct instruction on specific words is important to vocabulary learning. “Planned (and contextualized) instruction is needed” and is especially true in the pre-reading years.

Start Earlier.  Too often we wait until kids are reading in Grades 3 and 4 before we begin vocabulary instruction, but the fact is children begin learning vocabulary much earlier. We should be “fitting” vocabulary instruction into the pre-reading years of

daily instruction.

Computer Technology.  Let’s face it – kids today are tech savvy and know their way around a computer or tablet. If we want vocabulary to fit into their world, educational technology (edtech) needs to play a role. If the program is good, it engages the learner, broadens their word base and helps them learn words deeply in a variety of contexts.

Keeping vocabulary instruction fresh, changing up the way we present new words and “fitting” words into their lives rather than having them “fit” into our time-worn methods is how we improve vocabulary knowledge and ultimately reading comprehension skills.

We’ve developed InferCabulary Pro, a web-based visual program that provides user-friendly definitions using multiple images in a variety of contexts in a fun and engaging way.  Students are telling us we’re “fitting” vocabulary instruction into their world in a way that works.