Vocabulary 2009

Dr. Terry Deeney
This is a “whelk” shell.
Top Three Reasons for
Not Teaching
Reason #3
• Students learn vocabulary from context
– Estimates are 5-15/100 unfamiliar
words are learned through context
(Nagy, Herman, & Anderson,1985)
Or do they?
• Students must read widely to encounter unfamiliar
– Many students in need of vocabulary
development don’t read widely, or don’t read
books that include words with which they are
• Students must have skills to infer meanings of words
from context
– Many students in need of vocabulary
development are less able to derive information
from context
• Context needs to be informative of word meaning
Least helpful
Naturally-Occurring Contexts
• Misdirective
– Directs student to incorrect meaning
• Nondirective
– No assistance in directing the reader to
any particular meaning
• General
Most Helpful
– Provides enough information for the
reader to place the word into a general
• Directive
– Likely to lead to reader to a specific,
correct meaning
(not helpful)
• Sandra had won the dance contest, and
the audience’s cheers brought her to the
stage for an encore. “Every step she
takes is so perfect and graceful,” Ginny
said grudgingly as she watched Sandra
(not helpful)
• Dan heard the door open and wondered
who had arrived. He couldn’t make out
the voices. Then he recognized the
lumbering footsteps on the stairs and
knew it was Aunt Grace.
(somewhat helpful)
• Joe and Stan arrived at the party at 7
o’clock. By 9:30, the evening seemed to
drag for Stan. But Joe really seemed to
be having a good time at the party. “I wish
I could be as gregarious as he is,” thought
(very helpful)
• When the cat pounced on the dog, he
leapt up, yelping, and knocked down a
shelf of books. The animals ran past
Wendy, tripping her. She cried and fell to
the floor. As the noise and confusion
mounted, Mother hollered upstairs,
“What’s all that commotion?”
Reason #2
• Students ARE learning new words daily
– Estimates from 3-20 words, most cited is that
students learn 7 new words per day!
– Averages do not represent all students.
SOME students are learning 7 words a day,
many are not (particularly struggling, low
achieving students)
What does it mean to know a word?
Know it well,
can explain it,
use it
Know something
about it, can
relate it to a
Have seen
or heard the
Do not
know the
Reason #1
• There are too many words to teach!
– Students encounter so many new words in
reading, how could we teach them all?
– Not all words need attention
– Not all words should be treated equally
How The Spider
Came to Be
Choosing words to teach
• Tier One words: Most basic words, rarely
require instruction (cake, street, walk,
• Tier Three words: Words that are low
frequency, or are domain specific (isotope,
woof, peninsula), probably learned best
when needed in content
Tier Two words
• High frequency words for mature language
• Words that would be found across a variety of
• Words that can be worked with in a variety of
ways so that students can build rich
representations of them and their connections to
other words and concepts
• Words for which students understand the
general concept, but would provide more
precision in use (e.g. astonished, coincidence,
absurd, scrumptious)
Identifying Tier Two Words
• Read through the text
• Choose words you think are likely to
appear in texts or in the talk of mature
language users
• Think about whether the students
already have ways to express the
concepts presented by the words; if
they do not have the concepts, the
words are probably too hard
Students have concepts, but not
sophisticated words:
Tier Two Words
Students’ likely
salesperson, clerk
have to
take care of
Selecting which Tier Two words to
• Which words will be most useful in helping
students understand the story, paragraph, or
other piece?
• Which words are general but sophisticated
• How many words can the students successfully
handle learning in a rich way?
• Which words will you give brief attention to,
which more elaborate attention?
Choosing words that aren’t there
• Many children’s books use simple vocabulary
• Choose related Tier Two words whose concepts
fit with the story
• For example, a character who is acting silly can
be “absurd,” a character who is showing off can
be trying to “impress” someone.
Are the words too hard?
• If the words that you use to explain the
target word to the students are too hard,
the word is too hard.
• Will the students be likely to use the word
in their day-to-day lives? If not, choose a
different word.
Teaching Word
Are dictionaries
the best way?
Frank McCourt on Using
the Dictionary
From: Angela’s
(pp. 285-286, tape 8B, 40)
It’s raining so hard one day, Miss O’Riordan the librarian says,
Don’t go out in that or you’ll ruin the books you’re carrying. Sit
down over there and behave yourself. You can read all about the
lives of the saints while you’re waiting.
There are four big books, Butler’s Lives of the Saints. I don’t want
to spend my life reading about saints but when I start I wish the
rain would last forever. Whenever you see pictures of saints, men
or women, they’re always looking up to heaven where there are
clouds filled with little fat angels carrying flowers or harps giving
praise. Uncle Pa Keating says he can’t think of a single saint in
heaven he’d want to sit down and have a pint with. The saints in
these books are different. There are stories about virgins,
martyrs, virgin martyrs and they’re worse than any horror film at
the Lyric Cinema.
I have to look in the dictionary to find out what a virgin is. I know
the Mother of God is the Virgin Mary and they call her that
because she didn’t’ have a proper husband, only poor old St.
Joseph. In the Lives of the Saints the virgins are always getting
into trouble and I don’t know why. The dictionary says, Virgin,
woman (usually a young woman) who is and remains in a state of
inviolate chastity.
Now I have to look up inviolate and chastity and all I can find here
is that inviolate means not violated and chastity means chaste and
that means pure from unlawful sexual intercourse. Now I have to
look up intercourse and that leads to intromission, which leads to
intromittent, the copulatory organ or any male animal. Copulatory
leads to copulation, the union of the sexes in the art of generation
and I don’t know what that means and I’m too weary going from
one word to another in this heavy dictionary which leads me on a
wild goose chase from this word to that word and all because the
people who wrote the dictionary don’t want the likes of
me to know anything.
Closer to home: A look at middle school
• Formulate (v): to state as or reduce to a formula; to
express in systematic terms or concepts; to devise or
• Judge (v): to form an opinion or estimation after careful
• Outline (v): a line marking the outer contours or
boundaries of an object or figure. A style of drawing in
which the figures are delineated in contours without
shading; a general description covering the main points
of a subject
• Manipulate (v): to arrange, operate, or control by the
hands or by mechanical means; to influence or manage
something deviously
• Evaluate (v): to ascertain or fix the value or
worth of; to examine and judge carefully; appraise
Why don’t definitions work?
• Weak differentiation: Definition does not differentiate
how the word is different from other words (e.g.
conspicuous = “easily seen.” How does that
differentiate from visible?)
• Vague language (typical = “being a type”)
• More likely interpretation: Definition uses familiar
words in unfamiliar ways (e.g. devious = “straying
from the right course, not straightforward.” Students
could interpret as walking.
• Multiple pieces of information: definition gives no
help in how to integrate pieces (e.g. exotic = “foreign,
strange, not native”)
Even context doesn’t help these words!
• obverse (n):
– Definition: 1. the side of a coin or currency note
bearing the chief device and lettering; 2. a front or
principal surface; 3. counterpart; also: opposite.
– Context: “While a lot of companies these days are
cutting costs and eliminating jobs, Jenna’s company
is doing the obverse.”
• aphorism (n):
– Definition: 1. a concise statement of a principle.
2. a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment.
– Contexts: “As a radio broadcaster, Ted has
entertained countless listeners with his feel-good
stories and pithy, down-home aphorisms.”
Maybe more helpful would be to give an example of
an aphorism?
To develop student-friendly
• First, think about the word. How is it typically
used? Be as particular as possible. (When do
you use this word particularly? Why do we have
such a word?)
– Tamper: Defined as, “to interfere in a secret or
incorrect way.” Definition does not get at the idea of
messing up something up in a sinister way. Students
could construe the definition as meddling.
• Second, explain the meaning in everyday
– Student friendly explanation: “to change something
secretly so that it doesn’t work properly or becomes
Make sure your explanation truly
characterizes the word
• Ally: “One associated with another”
– Possible student-friendly explanation: “Somebody
who does things with you”
• Does that truly characterize “ally”?
– Doesn’t get at main characteristic of helping in a
common cause
• Better student friendly explanation: “Someone
who helps you in what you are trying to do,
especially when there are other people who are
against you.”
Activities for
Students interact
with the words
Word associations
• Associate a new word when presented
with a word or phrase:
– Words = accomplice, virtuoso, philanthropist,
– Which word goes with crook?
– Which word goes with “gift to build a new
Have You Ever …?
• Helps students associate new words with
contexts and activities from their own
– Describe a time when you might urge
– Describe a time when you might banter with
– What would make you gleeful?
Applause, Applause!
• Students are asked to clap in order to
indicate how much they would like (not at
all, a little bit, a lot) to be described by the
target word. Why do they feel that way?
Idea Completions
• Provide students with stem that require
them to integrate a word’s meaning into a
context in order to explain a situation
– The audience asked the virtuoso to play
another piece of music because…
– The skiing teacher said Maria was a novice
on the ski slopes because …
Questions, Reasons, Examples
• If you are walking around a dark room, would you do
it cautiously? Why? What are some other things
that need to be done cautiously?
• What is something you could do to impress your
teacher? Why? What is something that might
impress your mother?
• Which of these things would be extraordinary? Why
or why not?
– A shirt that was comfortable or a shirt that washed itself?
– A person who has a library card, or a person who has read
all the books in the library?
Making Choices
• If any of the things I say might be examples
of people clutching something, say
“clutching.” If not, don’t say anything.
– Holding tight to a purse
– Holding a fisful of money
– Softly petting a cat’s fur
• If any of the things I say would make some
one radiant, say, “You’d be radiant.” If not,
don’t say anything.
– Winning a million dollars
– Getting a hug from a favorite movie star
– Walking to the post office
Relating Words
• See whether there is anything about the words
that is related.
• Create an activity to relate the words.
– Reluctant, insisted, drowsy might be demonstrated
by facial expressions
– Create a sentence using all words: Would you prefer
to budge a sleeping lamb or a ferocious lion? Why?
– Ask students to choose between two words: If you
get your clothes ready to wear to school before you
go to sleep, would that be sensible or raucous?
Using the Words in One Context
• What would an immense plate of
spaghetti look like?
• Would you feel miserable after you ate
all that spaghetti? Why or why not?
• What would it look like to eat the
spaghetti in a leisurely way?
Other Ways to
Teach Vocabulary
Semantic Mapping
Teaching words in semantic
Bad People
Semantic Feature Analysis
• Mammals
• Reptiles
• What makes
something a
– Hair
– Warm-blooded
– Milk to young
• What makes
something a reptile?
– Skin?
– Cold-blooded
– Shape of head