What do you think of when you hear the words… vocabulary words? It conjures up mental images of sitting at my desk and writing till I had a blister on my finger. I can also see those boldfaced words in my science and history books… you know… those words that we had to look up and define. Ugh! Those were the days, right? Well, how do we teach vocabulary to our students? Is it the same mundane way? You know, it is a tradition…
I have to say that the fundamental way to teach vocabulary in America has been to write the definitions or use them in a sentence. Hey, we’ve been doing it for decades… so what’s the big deal? Well, I have to say that just writing and using them in a sentence doesn’t go far in helping the student understand the concept. The key to learning is understanding. So, with vocabulary words as well as other types of learning students need to make connections between the new knowledge and the prior knowledge. These connections can make all the difference in understanding. Prov. 14:6 says, “Knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.”
Secondly, just using our eyes or ears alone doesn’t enrich us with great meaning. I teach my education students that using as many of a student’s senses as possible increases their ability to understand and retain the knowledge that they are learning. So, as you are teaching vocabulary use as many senses as possible. That means draw a picture, or act out the word (play charades), make up a song to go with the word, ask questions about the meaning such as “is it living or nonliving“, and play games. Using many senses in the acquisition of knowledge allows it to more firmly be seated in our understanding.
Third, the vocabulary word does no good unless it is used. The application of knowledge is also key to retaining that knowledge. Understand the vocabulary word, involve senses in practicing the meaning of the word, and then use it daily! We’ve all heard the rumors that if we do something more than 14 times it becomes a habit… well, use those vocabulary words more than 14 times and they’ll become part of your personal vocabulary.