Learning vocabulary words is an important part of the reading process and vital to learning content in subjects such as science, social studies and math. According to W. E. Nagy, author of "Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension," a typical elementary school student learns about 3,000 words a year. Vocabulary words are learned as students read and by explicit instruction from the teacher. Activities can enhance instruction and help to secure new words.
Students encounter many new words while reading. Context clues can help a student figure out unknown words while reading, but there are times when that is not enough. A vocabulary bookmark is useful in this situation. Give students a cardstock bookmark with spaces to write down unknown words from reading and the page number where they encountered the words. At the end of independent reading time, students share words from their bookmarks and read the sentences that contain the unknown words. Discuss the words and add them to a class chart.
The four-square activity works well for teaching a specific vocabulary word. Make four squares on a plain sheet of paper by folding the paper or drawing two intersecting lines. In the middle of the paper, draw a small box and write in the vocabulary word. In the top left box write the definition of the word. Write two synonyms in the top right box. For the bottom left box, create a graphic representation of the word. The last box is for antonyms.
Students pair up and each pair is assigned a vocabulary word. Divide white construction paper into thirds, with the paper in the portrait position. The students write a sentence containing the vocabulary word on the bottom third. The sentence should demonstrate the meaning of the word. On the top two-thirds of the paper, the students draw an illustration that helps to explain the word. After each pair has the opportunity to share, bind the pages in a class book.
In addition to learning specific words, students need to learn how to deconstruct words. In "Guiding Readers and Writers: Grades 3-6," author Irene Fountas explains that it is important to teach students to "learn how to learn words." Teaching Greek and Latin root words enables students to take words apart to figure out the meaning. This skill can unlock hundreds of words for students. Demonstrate how to create a web for a Greek or Latin root word. The root goes in the middle of the page with the meaning, and straight lines radiate out from the root. Words containing the root are written on the lines.
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