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Content Area Vocabulary : Strategies and Instruction

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Joanna Mueller

on 9 December 2014

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Transcript of Content Area Vocabulary : Strategies and Instruction

Content Area Vocabulary in Middle School : Strategies and Instruction

Instruction: Building Academic Vocabulary
Why it Matters
Ensuring that students have a conceptual understanding of content area vocabulary is essential for success in all subjects, especially mathematics, science, and social studies.
Why it's Important

Vocabulary can be defined as “the words we must know to communicate effectively: words in speaking(expressive vocabulary) and words in listening (receptive vocabulary)” (Neuman & Dwyer, 2009, p. 385).
Since then, there has been an “ebb and flow of concern for vocabulary” (Manzo, Manzo, & Thomas, 2006, p. 612). At times, interest in vocabulary has been high and intense, and at other times low and neglected, alternating back and forth over time (Berne & Blachowicz, 2008).
In the early 20th century, John Dewey said that vocabulary is critically important because a word is an instrument for thinking about the meanings which it expresses.
The key to learning
words is that individuals experience words in comprehensible and
meaningful contexts
(Allen, 1999).
Alphaboxes (Hoyt, 1998) is a strategy that uses the 26
letters of the alphabet to record important concepts about
a specific topic or theme.

The example above illustrates a Social Studies unit on the Gilded Age.

Word questioning (Allen, 1999) is a strategy that teaches vocabulary and promotes critical thinking. It challenges students to define, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate target words in their readings.
Focusing on word relationships is one of the most frequently cited
successful instructional strategies for teaching vocabulary (Berne
& Blachowicz, 2008; Nilsen and Nilsen, 2003). Linear arrays are a strategy that illustrates “visual representations of degree … that depict gradations between related words” (Allen, 1999, p. 52). They help students make connections between words, see subtle distinctions between words, and realize that all words have shades of meanings
(Nilsen and Nilsen, 2002).

Word Questioning

Linear Arrays

Polar Opposites
Vocabulary Cartoons
Word Sorts for Expository Text
Wouldn't it be nice if all of our students kept personal vocabulary notebooks and shared them with their parents?

Having students keep and maintain vocabulary journals for content areas is an effective strategy.

Acting, singing, and "playing" with words are also fun ways to interact with vocab.

What are some strategies that you use to teach vocabulary?

Please turn and talk to discuss
this with a partner.

Here are other strategies that will help our students learn vocabulary in the content areas.

Talk about the words
Use sophisticated, interesting words
Select the most important words for teaching

Activate background knowledge

Preview Text
Two of the most important
findings related to vocabulary

1. Reading is the single most important
factor in increased word knowledge
(Anderson & Nagy, 1991)

2. A rich vocabulary increases
comprehension and learning
(Manzo, Manzo, & Thomas,2006; Robb, 2009).

Students’ vocabularies may increase by 3,000 to 5,000 words per year by
, resulting in a reading vocabulary of nearly 25,000 words by the eighth grade and over 50,000 by the end of high school
(Graves, 2000).

Research suggests that vocabulary instruction should include the following components:

*Definitional and contextual information about a word

*Multiple exposures to a word in different contexts

*Encouragement of students' active participation in their own learning of the new words.

This graphic organizer helps students to learn new vocabulary by not only defining the term in their own words, but contextualizing it through authentic examples and visual representation.

Try doing a gallery walk with your students' drawings after they are completed.
Frayer Model

Why not turn vocabulary acquisition into a game? Using the Interview a Word strategies, students will review and summarize learning to develop concepts and comprehension.

-Select key words important to understanding a concept or unit.

-Divide class into teams of 2-4 students.

-Give each team a word and list of interview questions.

-Have students “become” the word and write answer to questions.

-Without revealing the word, the teacher or a student acts as Interviewer and asks the questions as team members read their written answers.

- After the interview, the class guesses the word.
Interview a Word!
Learning Maps
Learning maps are a form of concept maps that are developed by the learner based on their own understanding and experiences with the concept. (Stahl, 30; Texas Reading Initiative, 20)
A wordsplash is a collection of key words or concepts chosen from a passage or chapter that students are about to read. This strategy gives students a chance to relate the new words or concepts to the main topic of the reading.
There are times when explicitly teaching new vocabulary is appropriate. Try using a vocabulary anchor to introduce a new term during whole group instruction.
Using an interactive smartboard, facilitate a class discussion by introducing a new vocabulary word and a similar term.
For instance, introduce the word 'colony' and identify the word 'state' as a similar term. Because students are familiar with the meaning of state, activate their knowledge by asking them what characteristics the two words have in common (+). Next, use the think aloud strategy to help students brainstorm how the term colony is unique (-).
Vocabulary Anchor
A companion strategy to linear arrays is polar opposites
(Yopp & Yopp, 2009).

From an English language arts
perspective, this strategy helps students
analyze and
characters in a text by rating them on a variety
of dimensions along a three-, five-, or seven-point

After reading, students place a check mark
on one of the blanks along the continuum to indicate
their understanding and interpretation of a character
based on a particular dimension. They can also include
examples from the text
to justify their ratings and discuss
both with others in literature circles.

See the example of this strategy using “degree of reflection” as a dimension to understand the traveler in Robert Frost’s famous poem
“The Road Not Taken.”
Based on degree of reflection, the traveler was…
thoughtful ----------impulsive
timid--------------- courageous
disappointed --------content
realistic -------------unrealistic
a follower ------------a leader
Word sorts for expository text act as a companion to
the word sort strategy used with nonfiction text (Hoyt,

This strategy involves a collection of words and
phrases from an expository text with each word or
phrase written on an index card.

Students review the cards, develop possible categories, name each category, and rearrange cards in the appropriate categories.

The teacher should remind students that categories need to reflect relationships between words and phrases and that students need to
explain these relationships.
Students then use categories to make
about the expository text.

Students can ask themselves:
-What might be the title?
-What might be the theme?
-What will this text be about?

Students then read the selection and, after
reading, rearrange the cards and create new categories
so they can more accurately retell and discuss the
(Locker, 2001).
Anticipation Guides
An anticipation guide is also a
before-, during-, and afte
r-reading strategy.

It is particularly suited for use with
nonfiction and reference texts, such as textbooks
(Merkley, 1997)

This strategy highlights the importance of anticipating meanings of a text before reading, thinking and rethinking these meanings during reading, and reflecting and taking a position on confirmed meanings after reading.

Essential Prefix
Give students an opportunity to create a Prefix Reference Chart in their notes. A quick activity at the beginning of the school year can help students breakdown new words based on their understanding of prefixes and root words.
Vocabulary Frames

Turn the traditional vocabulary review index card into a higher order thinking strategy for learning new words. In this activity, students will create vocabulary frames using concept terms. They will develop a definition based on their own understanding (right corner), as well as the opposite (left corner). Finally, they will write a quirky sentence to remind them of the word's meaning (lower left corner) and a quick sketch (lower right corner).
Graffiti Vocabulary

When the vocabulary words are associated with subject specific concepts, have the students create word posters. Provide recognition for good work by transforming the student work into the class word wall!

Graffiti Criteria
1. Vocabulary word is drawn using bubble letters
2. Description of term using own words
3. At least 3 images representing the term
4. All white space must be colored in
To comprehend a text,
readers need to understand
around 95% of the

What successes/struggles have you observed with your ELLs around content area vocabulary?

Sentence stems are a scaffold for English language learners. Instead of requiring students to start
from scratch to create context, meaning and syntax simultaneously in one sentence, sentence stems serve to isolate meaning.
Tip for ELLs:
Sentence Stems
To prepare for this activity, the teacher provides the beginning of a sentence. This sentence starter should be carefully constructed so the students will demonstrate their level of knowledge of the word by how they complete it. It should include the targeted word, but be open-ended
so students can finish the sentence.

Sample sentence starter for the word
: “My mom will

The support of sentence stems limits student error significantly while still allowing for authentic use of language.
They can be used in groups or pairs, as well as independently.
-Partner Talks
-Cultural and Experiential Relevance

-Gestures and Body Language
-Use of First Language
Dr. Robert Marzano shares his thoughts...

August, Diane. (2008). Developing Academic Vocabulary in English-Language Learners
Center for Applied Linguistics. Washington, D.C
Nagy, W. E., & Stahl, S. A. (2006). Teaching word
meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Effective practices for promoting vocabulary focus on the importance
of impacting
, not word knowledge alone. Studies
indicate that
explicit instruction
positively impacts vocabulary acquisition.
(Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000).

Three key features characterize this instruction:




The higher the level of processing, the more likely students will learn
and retain word meanings (Nagy, 1988).

Blachowicz, C. & Fisher, P. (2000). Vocabulary instruction. In M. L. Kamil,
P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research
(pp. 503–523). Vol. III. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Graves, M. F. (2000). A vocabulary program to complement and bolster a middle-grade comprehension program. In B. M. Taylor, M. F. Graves, & P. van den Broek (Eds.), Reading for meaning: Fostering comprehension in the middle grades (pp. 116–135). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Janis M. Harmon, Janis; Hedrick, Wanda; Wood, Karen. (2005). Research on Vocabulary Instruction in the Content Areas: Implications for Struggling Readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 21: 261–280.

-Learning new words is a cumulative task that takes place gradually over time.
-Productive vocabulary instruction must extend beyond word definitions.
-Affixes and root words need to be taught.
-Words with multiple meanings are common in the content areas.
-Words need to be taught in relation to other words.
Scott, J. A., & Nagy, W. E. (1997). Understanding the definitions of unfamiliar words. Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 184–200.
We also know that...
English Language Learners
Effective Instruction
Instructional Tips
Other Instructional Tips for ELLs
Let's Practice!
*Choose one of the following focus words: LITERACY

-Using your focus word, play around using one of the strategies in your packet. You might also want to try wordle.com to create a wordsplash.

-Work independently or with a partner.

-We'll share our work in a few minutes.

I hope you found some strategies that you'd like to try in your classroom!
Check out wordle.com for online wordsplash creator!
Let's take a moment to share a strategy that you found particularly interesting/applicable for your content area.
Thank you!
Joanna Mueller

Next Steps...
Let's discuss a few strategies we'd like to start using in our classrooms.

How can we support one another?

How will we assess?

Other thoughts/ideas?
Woo Hoo!

Please take an index card and jot down your thoughts on either of the following questions:

What do you think should content-area teachers know about vocabulary instruction?

What experiences do you have around teaching content area vocabulary?
Vocabulary cartoons work on the principle of mnemonics, which helps you remember something by associating it with something you already know.

A mnemonic device could be in the form of a rhyme, picture, song, etc.
Students enjoy creating and reading vocabulary cartoons.
Sourced/adapted from: learningtasks.weebly.com and
"Teaching Vocabulary Across the Curriulum"
by William Bintz
Bintz, William. (2011). "Teaching Vocabulary Across the Curriculum". The Middle School Journal, 44-53, March 2011.
Full transcript