Increasing Vocabulary

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Increasing Vocabulary

Post by Judy » Mon Dec 31, 2007 7:51 pm

Can anyone suggest any activities for increasing vocabulary in a one-lesson-a-week situation, with, possibly, a small amount of homework?

The Y7 pupil I have in mind is not an enthusiastic reader and what she does read independently between lessons is unlikely to do much to widen her vocabulary. In any case, I have noticed that most of my pupils will not ask if they do not understand a word so that route to vocabulary increase is not going to be effective. :sad:

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Post by palisadesk » Tue Jan 01, 2008 12:35 am

I'm inferring that this is the same student you've spoken of at other times, whose word-decoding skills are approximately age-appropriate, but who lags behind on comprehension and has little drive to push herself and get ahead. I'd like to know something about her strengths and interests, if they could be harnessed somewhat. For instance, is she artistic? Does she like drawing, illustrating, designing? Is she computer-savvy or interested in creating brochures, Power Points or other ICT products? If so I have some ideas how to use those things to help with the vocabulary issue.

However, given the constraints you face -- very little available instructional time, not much supervised adult support in between, and limited independent reading -- your best bet is probably a workbook-based program that you can slowly but systematically work through. One that is widely used here is "Wordly Wise." They have a site here: They are USA products but pretty generic.

These books are popular with homeschoolers, private schools and resource teachers. I've only used my copies of an earlier edition as a model to develop some vocabulary activities of my own, but I think the basic design is something that would work in your situation. There is information about the word's origins, its meaning(s), its use in varied contexts; and the student has to respond in multiple formats as well. Most of the words are high-utility -- ones that are likely to be seen and used in conversation, regular reading, and so on. Not "fancy" words (what Beck would call "Tier 3" words). These are words most kids should know, and will be hampered by not knowing.

Although the books are graded by year, you want to make sure you choose a book to start with that is at your student's receptive language level, not her school year level or word-attack-skills level. Vocabulary researchers report that kids rarely remember or use words that are several notches up from their current level. I'd try to get (I am not sure where it is published) a copy of Biemiller's list of 5000-6000 "root" words and make sure she knows most or all of those (he may have that list published in the Stahl book referenced by Sebastian Wren in the link I posted on the other thread -- I will try to find out. I seem to remember that is where I got it).

What you can do (publishers hate my saying this, but it is perfectly legal) is, if you are saving $$ for the parents, buy the books yourself and have the student write in them using page protectors and whiteboard markers (and do some exercises the old fashioned way, in a notebook). I get transparencies meant for overhead projectors -- they are stronger -- and use masking tape along one long side and one short side of two transparencies placed together. Now you have a heavy-duty one that you can slip over a workbook page (it stays secure because of the taping across the top and the outside edge). When completed, you can wipe clean. Make several of these and you can put them over the pages you want the student to do. Even better than WB markers are overhead transparency markers (they don't stain as much) but either will work. Make sure to put one over the first and last pages facing the pages the student will complete, so the marker doesn't rub off on the opposite page accidentally when the book is closed.

Or you can just have the parents buy the book. Whatever works! I would buy a set for myself (hmmm, maybe I will do that... have some students in mind) and experiment with what level is best for the student and THEN have the parents buy it... it would not be a bad idea for her to have those books to keep as reference/refresher materials as she goes through school.

On the Wordly Wise site, there is a "student" section that has activities etc. for the various books. For book 4 (roughly a "reading age" of 9-10) some of the words in Lesson 1 are benefit, utter, dismay, sufficient, represent, patriot, lack. You can see the lists for other levels and lessons. I would start at a level where she has a nodding familiarity -- but not complete mastery -- of half or more of the words, and which she is able to READ (decode) easily. Better to whip through an "easy" book where only some of the material is new, than muddle through one that is too hard, and learn little or nothing.

If she "knows" some of the words already, it is likely her knowledge will be vague and imprecise. Working through the exercises will refine and sharpen her understanding of already-"known" words, and she will get familiar with the format and the exercises, which stay similar from book to book. She will also feel successful, not frustrated. The books do not say "Grade 4" or "Grade 7" so when I am asked I just say (it's true after all) that these books are vocabulary levels and don't have that much to do with what grade/year you are in. You know more words if you were born into an English-speaking family, or if you read a lot, or if you are older... Kids accept this and then get on with it.

I haven't done this with Worldly Wise specifically, but I always make a fuss about finishing a "level" of any book/curriculum, and print up a certificate and have some kind of little prize like a pencil box, fancy eraser, whatever. We forget that 12-year-olds are little kids on the inside in many ways, and respond well to encouragement and recognition of accomplishment.

The online support for Worldly Wise is a great addition. Another thing that would help is if parents could be got on board, for instance to give the child a point, or a shilling (do you still have shillings?) for working the word into her conversation three times;-) You know the old saying, use it three times and it's yours. Making a game of it (keep it light-hearted but positive) is more likely to get her to comply and stay involved. She might even get interested in words! Parents can keep a copy of the words of the week and encourage her to use them, or use them themselves. Put the words on the fridge -- or the mirror in the loo! Even better, put SYNONYMS for the words on the fridge or the mirror and she has to come up with the word (it can be on the back).

If she is of an artistic bent I have some other ideas re visual dictionary making but I will leave it at this for now. WW is a bit dry and I would not try to do one lesson a week at first -- maybe one every two weeks, with some extra activities using the words (she can make up word-search puzzles, sentences, etc.)

Susan S.

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Post by Judy » Wed Jan 02, 2008 7:03 pm

Thank you very much, Susan, for another very informative post. I'm sorry I have not been able to reply sooner; I've had my son at home tinkering with my computer, for which I'm extremely grateful, but it does limit my access!

You were right to infer that this is one of the pupils I've mentioned on several occasions. When I last tested her reading age in September using the Burt Word Reading Test, she was 9.10 although she was approaching her twelfth birthday and hadn't progressed very much since her previous test in March. I noticed that she was held back more by her lack of vocabulary than her decoding, being unable to 'tweak' such words as 'labour' a word she didn't 'know'. Other younger pupils, who were less secure with the Alphabet Code, but who 'knew' more words, did better because they were able to 'tweak' such words.

I have had a good look at the Wordly Wise programme you suggested and realised that I have something similar tucked away at the back of my cupboard, which also includes passages for comprehension and some basic grammar, which she also needs and I will probably use that as I can also use the 'comprehension' passages to develop fluency.

The main problem is what she can do at home in between lessons re using the new vocabulary. I will try to introduce your suggestions but there is very little consistent parental cooperation. (I think it will be best if I send you a bit more background information by private message rather than go into more detail here.)

She does like to draw, though I think her drawing is quite immature, and is very interested in design matters - in fact recently she took great pride and pleasure in writing out her spellings with alternating colours of glitter pens. It looked very attractive and obviously took her a long time - but it hadn't helped her to learn her spellings! :sad:

I have sometimes asked her to make an illustrated border for poems we have read together to check that she has thoroughly understood the poem and she has done that very well. She has also found that her own drawings have helped her to remember the spelling alternatives. So I would be very interested to hear any suggestions that would tap in to her interest in drawing and illustrating.

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