- Use context clues
- Use common, grade-appropriate Greek/Latin affixes and roots as clues
- Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings
- Distinguish between connotations with similar denotations
- Idioms, adages, proverbs
Tired of students using words such as “good”, “nice”, or “stuff” in their writing? Wondering how to develop your students’ vocabulary? One way to think about this goal is in terms of the Common Core State Standards. By using the standards as a guide, it is possible to make more informed decisions about which activities and lessons will build a richer vocabulary for our students. Below are several ideas to get you started with vocabulary acquisition and use in lesson plans(headings are gleaned from the CCSS):
Use context clues
As you identify challenging vocabulary words in reading passages, stop to ask students what they believe the word means.
Stress the use of context clues (in the sentence, paragraph, etc.) as a strategy to understanding the meaning of unfamiliar words.
Use common, grade-appropriate Greek/Latin affixes and roots as clues
When students use context clues and/or knowledge of root words (and prefixes /suffixes) to determine the word’s meaning, teach them how to use the dictionary to check their definitions for accuracy.
In all subject areas, refer to and use glossaries to familiarize students with this helpful resource that many textbooks include.
When writing, ask students to highlight boring and/or overused words. Teach them how a thesaurus can be used to locate better word choices. Model the revision process for students. For example: “He was a nice boy who always had a very good time when he played sports” can be rewritten as “He was a friendly boy who always had an incredible time when he played sports.”
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings
For similes, metaphors, personification, etc.: Explain the different types of figurative language that authors use. Identify figurative language in the stories the students are reading in class.
Examples: Our students read novels by Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee and Crash) and John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas); both include many similes in their writing, and I frequently refer their novels for examples.
After the students become adept at identifying different types of figurative language, transition into writing with figurative language.
Practice writing similes, metaphors, etc. as a class, and then as small groups/partners. Finally, students can write with figurative language individually. If your students keep writer’s notebooks, this is an excellent place for them to practice writing with figurative language.
Immerse students in poetry, and have them write poetry that utilizes the various types of figurative language they have learned. Celebrate the culmination of this unit with a “poetry café” (Set up the classroom like a coffee house, complete with snacks, tea and coffee! Students can share their pieces with classmates and parents).
Distinguish between connotations with similar denotations
Locate words in reading passages that have a particular connotation (either positive or negative). Provide students with another word whose dictionary definition is similar but whose connotation is the opposite (for example, if the word has a positive connotation, choose a similar word with a negative connotation).
Ask students to reread the sentence with the new word, and discuss how the connotations between the words differ, even though their denotations may be the same (idea adapted from Buckle Down for NJASK).
Idioms, adages, proverbs
Teach students the “explain/extend” approach when reading idioms, adages, and proverbs. With this approach, start with a basic interpretation and then move to more abstract, universal ideas.
Example: First, help students understand what the phrase or story is about (and then write an explanation of the idiom, adage, or proverb). This allows students to work on synthesizing the information and summarizing it in their own words. Next, ask students to extend the meaning of the idiom, adage or proverb to a larger context: perhaps they can connect it to something they’re read or seen in the news. Maybe there’s a universal theme or lesson they can draw from it.
Please note that you may already use many of these ideas in your classroom to some degree. However, if you realize you aren’t addressing each area, now is an optimal time to look at your specific grade’s standards and to begin to fill in the gaps. By attacking vocabulary acquisition and use from many different angles (as explained above), you put your students in a perfect position not only to increase their understanding of more complex vocabulary words but also to help them apply rich vocabulary words in their speaking and writing.
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