Featured on ASCD myTeachSource: Teaching Vocabulary

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myTeachSource Teaching VocabularyResearch suggests that, on average, students learn more than 4,000 new words each year as they work their way from kindergarten to high school graduation. But how do they learn all those words? This month’s topic pack on ASCD myTeachSource™, our brand new online professional learning platform for teachers, explores how you can encourage and support strong word acquisition through high-quality vocabulary instruction.

“To understand vocabulary knowledge, think of light switches. Vocabulary knowledge is not like an ‘off/on’ switch where you don’t know anything about a word and then you know everything. A better metaphor is a dimmer switch—we don’t know anything, we encounter a word the first time and learn a bit, we learn more, we learn other meanings for the words or metaphorical meanings, and so on,” say authors Camille Blachowicz and Charlene Cobb.

Definitional knowledge of a single word can be

Level 1: I don’t know that word.
Level 2: I have heard of that word, but I am not sure of what it means.
Level 3: I know something about that word (usually in a particular context).
Level 4: I can give you a definition—a decontextualized knowledge.

To assess levels of knowledge, see if the student can determine whether or not the word fits in the set of real words. For example, “Which of these is a real word (can be more than one): centeration, crateration,celebration, cetneration.” If students are unable to pick out the real word, this means they are at the first level of word knowledge.

If students can identify the real words, ask them to give a meaning. If they cannot, then they are at the second level. If they can give you a particular meaning of the word, such as, “My birthday is a celebration,” they are at the third level. If they can give a synonym or define a word, such as, “A celebration is a party for a special event,” they are at the fourth level.

When students are at the third or fourth levels, they can be assessed on recognition of correct meanings by using pencil and paper tests. Some common measures are

  • Matching a word and definition or synonym.
  • Matching a word and pictures.
  • Selecting words to fit in sentence context.
  • Reading a word in connected text and selecting meaning.
  • Producing a definition.
  • Producing a contextual sentence or text.

The simplest measures give us simple information. Students need only partial knowledge of the target word to make a reasonable selection from the multiple choices. At the same time, these choices limit a student who may not know multiple meanings of individual words. Although a student may know that show means to “to display,” the student may not know that it also can mean “a performance.” Also, since students generally read silently while taking a group-administered test, incorrect answers may result from not knowing a word or not recognizing a known word in print.

(Source: From Teaching Vocabulary Across the Content Areas: An ASCD Action Tool (pp. 47–49), by C. Blachowicz and C. Cobb, 2007, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Copyright 2007 by ASCD.)

In this topic pack, you’ll find practical articles, videos, and tools that offer strategies for a comprehensive approach to vocabulary instruction in your classroom.

ASCD myTeachSource: Teaching Vocabulary Tools

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