Received this in the January 17, 2011 edition of Teaching God's World News.
One of the questions I hear often is How do I teach vocabulary? I nearly always hesitate at this point--is this the real question? Am I being asked for a curriculum recommendation? a fount of fresh ideas? Or is the question really What's the magic vocabulary bullet?
Here's the thing: There isn't one. There is no one method or material to guarantee a prodigious vocabulary.
But I do know what vocabulary instruction shouldn't be. It shouldn't be just a list of words, however convincingly touted to boost one's SAT or ACT score. No words meted out on Monday and tested on Friday.
Most students (and perhaps some trained monkeys) can cram 10-20 words into their noggins one day and make at least a passing grade the next. However, good vocabulary quiz grades do not a William F. Buckley make. Those same vocabulary words usually evaporate before Friday night football.
Research indicates that students need at least 15 encounters with a new word before they can apply the word themselves. So students who cram for quizzes don't have time to interact with and learn the words. Vocabulary words become disconnected bits of peripheral information. Real learning gets lost in the shuffle.
So consider these strategies to engage students with vocabulary for real learning:
1) Choose words that students are interested in. Look for these in student reading and writing.
2) Make words fun. Play games like charades, and speak/write meaningful sentences using vocabulary words.
3) Capitalize on roots, prefixes, suffixes, and word families. This allows connections to be made between words like emit/emission, commit/commission, permit/permission.
4) Work with words. Make comparisons; ask questions; paraphrase definitions.
5) Use technology. Email/text/blog the vocabulary words.
6) Read aloud from above-grade-level works. Studies show that reading-including being read to-is the best way to improve language adeptness.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not encouraging The Care and Feeding of Smug Logophiles. And a vocabulary the size of the Old English Dictionary itself isn't the goal. The goal for Christian students is "that in everything God may be glorified" (I Peter 4:11).
God himself spoke to us in words. Not math equations. Not scientific formulas (though he created those too). In words. And through the Word we view the mind of God.
When your students speak or write, people see their minds. Help your students' vocabularies be their best. No magic bullet needed.
-- Kim Stegall
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