Building Background Knowledge

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CHAPTER 4: Characteristics of Effective Direct Vocabulary Instruction

Characteristic 1: Effective vocabulary instruction does not rely on definitions. Definitions are conventions we use to talk about words. Students’ ability to construct a definition was related more to their familiarity with the structure of definitions than it was to their comprehension ability. Recommendation: Words’ meanings be presented to students in everyday language.

Characteristic 2: Students must represent their knowledge of words in linguistic and nonlinguistic ways. The (DCT) dual coding theory explains that for information to be anchored in permanent memory, it must have linguistic (language-based) and nonlinguistic (imagery-based) representations. Recommendation: Teachers should highlight nonlinguistic techniques. Students should be asked to represent words they are learning using graphic representations, pictures, and pictographs.

Characteristic 3: Effective vocabulary instruction involves the gradual shaping of word meaning through multiple exposures. Vocabulary knowledge also appears to deepen over time. Students are quite capable to obtaining an idea of a word’s meaning with minimal (e.g., one) exposure to a word. This is called “fast mapping.” To understand the word at deeper levels, however, students require repeated and varied exposure to words, during which they revise their initial understandings. Such exposure is referred to as “extended mapping.” Without experiences that allow for extended mapping, word knowledge remains superficial but useful. Recommendation: Teachers should vary the type of interactions students have with vocabulary terms. One technique is to use both linguistic and nonlinguistic representations. Some activities should involve writing; some should involve constructing graphic representations, others should involve drawing pictures. A second way to vary how students interact with vocabulary words is to use the various forms of identifying similarities and differences. Four types of instructional activities that require students to identify similarities and differences: comparing, classifying, creating metaphors, and creating analogies. Comparing = the process of identifying similarities and differences among or between things or ideas. Technically, comparing refers to identifying similarities, and contrasting refers to identifying differences. Classifying = the process of grouping things that are alike into categories based on their characteristics. Creating metaphors = the process of identifying a general or basic pattern that connects information that is not related at a surface or literal level. Creating analogies = the process of identifying the relationship between two sets of items—in other words, identifying relationships between relationships.

Characteristic 4: Teaching word parts enhances students’ understanding of terms. Teaching of roots and affixes has traditionally been a part of regular vocabulary instruction. Teaching older readers about roots & suffixes of morphologically complex words may be a worthwhile challenge, teaching beginning or less skilled readers about them may be a mistake. Affixes include prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes commonly augment the meaning of the words to which they are attached. Suffixes commonly change the part of speech of the words to which they are attached. Recommendation: A sequence of six lessons. In the first lesson, the teacher explicitly defines and teaches the concept of a prefix by presenting examples and nonexamples. The goal of this first lesson is for students to understand the difference between genuine prefixed words like unkind and refill as opposed to “tricksters” like uncle and reason. In the second lesson, the teacher explains and exemplifies the negative meaning of the prefixes un- and dis-. The third lesson addresses the negative meanings of in-, im-, ir-, and non-....
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