Vocabulary Storage

When a student learns the meaning of a new word, the word must then be stored somewhere in the brain for future use and application.  When the word is encountered again, either in spoken or written form, the student pulls up whatever concept he/she has for the word, and applies it to the new context.
For example, if the student learns that the word condominium means a place where people live, the word becomes neurologically linked with other words, such as house, apartment, mansion, bungalow etc. However, condominium means more than just a shelter.  There are features about a condominium that make it slightly different from an apartment, and very different from a mansion or a shack.
When vocabulary instruction emphasizes how new words relate to the broader picture, and how the new word is different from other words that are related, the neurological storage of that new word is much more effective, making the word available to aid listening and reading comprehension as well as for retrieval during conversation or writing.

Graphic organizers are a great method for guiding students to discover the relationships among and between words that they already have, and how new words should be effectively stored.  Walking a student through this process can be very helpful since it helps them, in a visual way, lay down, or enhance the “neural network” or filing system for storing words.  For example:

Shelters (Inspiration File)


Another graphic organizer that helps students hone their understanding of words, is the category/subcategory organizer in which circles fit inside other circles (and circles can overlap) to show hierarchical relationships.  This visual representation helps students store words in a more organized way.  Some students struggle to think flexibly about how a single word may fit into multiple subcategories.  For example, I could say “sheep” is a kind of animal, but if I say it is a farm animal, I have narrowed down the field of choices for my listener and used greater precision. In speech-language therapy, we spend a good deal of time helping students develop the framework of categories and subcategories since many students who struggle with word-retrieval lack this important skill.
Simply providing definitions for new words is not enough for robust vocabulary instruction.  Students benefit from–and students with language disorders require–instruction that clarifies how novel words relate to stored words so that strong “neural networks” are established. Without this structured storage of words, students will lack precision in their spoken and written work, and students with word-retrieval issues will truly struggle.  Make it Visual! Make it Interactive! Make it Connected!