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Is the teaching of vocabulary unconnected to a text useful?I have been having a...

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jilllessa | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted April 28, 2008 at 4:18 PM via web

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Is the teaching of vocabulary unconnected to a text useful?

I have been having a terrible time teaching vocabulary from a roots based vocabulary curriculum. Many of the students are failing from the beginning, and even those who do well on initial tests have trouble retaining the words.  Does anyone have any thoughts or comments.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted April 28, 2008 at 4:26 PM (Answer #2)

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I have found analogies to be a great way to teach vocabulary. It helps to get the students to think about connections. Holt Rinehart Winston has a good workbook called Vocabulary Workshop.

I've had the same problem with students not retaining what they're supposed to be learning. Is it an epidemic??

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 28, 2008 at 5:43 PM (Answer #3)

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I think retention comes with hitting them over the head with the information and making them use it.  For example, students should be encouraged - or even required - to use their vocabulary words during class discussion.  I give participation points for it.  Then, whether taught in context or out, they have practice with the words.  Using the words themselves helps them own the words.

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allyson | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted April 30, 2008 at 6:00 AM (Answer #4)

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I had one student who took our Sadlier-Oxford vocab book home over the summer to work on. She improved her English SAT score 1000 points between the spring and the fall.

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jsmckenna | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted June 4, 2008 at 12:05 PM (Answer #5)

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I have a vocabulary contest which pits class against class in usage of vocabulary words we have used.  It is rather involved to set up but once the year starts, it is easy to maintain.  You just have to be diligent in record-keeping.  Students are required to use the vocabulary words that we have studied (usually 20 a week, 10 for lower levels) in their essays, homework, and test answers.  The word has to be used correctly to count.  Once the word is used by a class, it is moved to the "used" board.  The class with the most "used" words wins whatever. . pizza, movie, class outside.  Again, record-keeping is key but the kids (10th, 11th graders) really get into it

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asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted June 24, 2008 at 7:10 AM (Answer #6)

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For my middle school classes, we are required to teach Word Within a Word.  It's all roots.  I think learning roots is helpful and my best students do well with it.  But it is 100% memorization and I question the value of it.  The average and low kids really struggle with it.  It's cumulative, so by the end of the year, they've had like 700 root words.  As 8th graders, they get a new book which is mostly words based on the roots they learned in the first book, but some of the words are so obscure.  I just don't see the point.  I use the Vocabulary Workshop books with my high school classes and I really like those.

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Scott Locklear | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted June 24, 2008 at 9:26 AM (Answer #7)

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I have a vocabulary contest which pits class against class in usage of vocabulary words we have used.  It is rather involved to set up but once the year starts, it is easy to maintain.  You just have to be diligent in record-keeping.  Students are required to use the vocabulary words that we have studied (usually 20 a week, 10 for lower levels) in their essays, homework, and test answers.  The word has to be used correctly to count.  Once the word is used by a class, it is moved to the "used" board.  The class with the most "used" words wins whatever. . pizza, movie, class outside.  Again, record-keeping is key but the kids (10th, 11th graders) really get into it

Sounds very interesting. How long would you say the set-up time is in hours?

Scott Locklear

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jsmckenna | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted June 24, 2008 at 5:36 PM (Answer #8)

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I have a vocabulary contest which pits class against class in usage of vocabulary words we have used.  It is rather involved to set up but once the year starts, it is easy to maintain.  You just have to be diligent in record-keeping.  Students are required to use the vocabulary words that we have studied (usually 20 a week, 10 for lower levels) in their essays, homework, and test answers.  The word has to be used correctly to count.  Once the word is used by a class, it is moved to the "used" board.  The class with the most "used" words wins whatever. . pizza, movie, class outside.  Again, record-keeping is key but the kids (10th, 11th graders) really get into it

Sounds very interesting. How long would you say the set-up time is in hours?

The first year of the contest is a little labor-intensive since you have to set up the word tracking system and get all of the words from the year on cards and such.  I have everything in my computer and we hadn't (thankfully) changed vocab books.  I would say, depending on how many words you teach in a year and how many different classes you teach, it may take a few hours to set up the tracking system (if you do it manually) and one hour if you are just entering into computer program.  The most labor intensive part is setting up the contest board on the wall of the classroom.  This is done before school starts so time spent would depend on how elaborate you want it.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 24, 2008 at 8:16 PM (Answer #9)

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For my middle school classes, we are required to teach Word Within a Word.  It's all roots.  I think learning roots is helpful and my best students do well with it.  But it is 100% memorization and I question the value of it.  The average and low kids really struggle with it.  It's cumulative, so by the end of the year, they've had like 700 root words.  As 8th graders, they get a new book which is mostly words based on the roots they learned in the first book, but some of the words are so obscure.  I just don't see the point.  I use the Vocabulary Workshop books with my high school classes and I really like those.

Which Vocabulary Workshop books do you use? I have a set of 7th and 8th grade books from Holt Rinehart Winston. There is another Vocabulary Workshop (whose publisher I can't remember) that I absolutely despise. They are little orange books that I find very unattainable for high school students.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 24, 2008 at 8:18 PM (Answer #10)

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I have a vocabulary contest which pits class against class in usage of vocabulary words we have used.  It is rather involved to set up but once the year starts, it is easy to maintain.  You just have to be diligent in record-keeping.  Students are required to use the vocabulary words that we have studied (usually 20 a week, 10 for lower levels) in their essays, homework, and test answers.  The word has to be used correctly to count.  Once the word is used by a class, it is moved to the "used" board.  The class with the most "used" words wins whatever. . pizza, movie, class outside.  Again, record-keeping is key but the kids (10th, 11th graders) really get into it

This is a great idea. Mind if I steal it for my classes? I may even use a similar method in my French classes.

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jsmckenna | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted June 25, 2008 at 6:59 PM (Answer #11)

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I have a vocabulary contest which pits class against class in usage of vocabulary words we have used.  It is rather involved to set up but once the year starts, it is easy to maintain.  You just have to be diligent in record-keeping.  Students are required to use the vocabulary words that we have studied (usually 20 a week, 10 for lower levels) in their essays, homework, and test answers.  The word has to be used correctly to count.  Once the word is used by a class, it is moved to the "used" board.  The class with the most "used" words wins whatever. . pizza, movie, class outside.  Again, record-keeping is key but the kids (10th, 11th graders) really get into it

This is a great idea. Mind if I steal it for my classes? I may even use a similar method in my French classes.

Of course not!  That is what it is there for!  I actually had one class clear off the entire vocab board b/c they used all of the words in their writing.  The key was, whatever words were left on the vocab board were free to be used for the final exam!  See, I teach 20 words a week but their vocab quiz will have 5 words (that they don't know) from previous weeks also.  So, the more words they use, the less I had to choose from to add to the quizzes.  At the end of the year, anything left on the board could be used on the final.

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted June 26, 2008 at 5:59 AM (Answer #12)

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For my middle school classes, we are required to teach Word Within a Word.  It's all roots.  I think learning roots is helpful and my best students do well with it.  But it is 100% memorization and I question the value of it.  The average and low kids really struggle with it.  It's cumulative, so by the end of the year, they've had like 700 root words.  As 8th graders, they get a new book which is mostly words based on the roots they learned in the first book, but some of the words are so obscure.  I just don't see the point.  I use the Vocabulary Workshop books with my high school classes and I really like those.

Which Vocabulary Workshop books do you use? I have a set of 7th and 8th grade books from Holt Rinehart Winston. There is another Vocabulary Workshop (whose publisher I can't remember) that I absolutely despise. They are little orange books that I find very unattainable for high school students.

Those "little orange books" are, I think, the Sadlier-Oxford series, but they've been revised so the color is different now. I agree that the words are challenging, to say the least. We use them, but we take about two weeks to ten days for each unit in grades 7-11 using Levels C-G. Coupled with the required study of Latin, this regular vocabulary study, which is reinforced through writing, has proved to be very beneficial. 

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 26, 2008 at 9:46 AM (Answer #13)

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I personally think roots, prefixes and suffixes are a wonderful vocabulary tool.  It rather goes back to the adage:  give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

Teaching certain words is largely unsuccessful since they memorize and regurgitate, then promptly forget. 

With root words and word parts, you continue to refresh and remind.  It works wonders for ACT and SAT words, and I like to play a version of Balderdash on Fridays with what we've learned.  I have the kids make up words based on the roots and parts we've learned and have others guess the meaning behind it using their base knowledge.  It works for words I make up, and sometimes for words that are genuine words that I throw up on the board for kicks and giggles. 

I also use "Flashlight Fridays" where I turn off the lights overhead (I have a table lamp that illiminates the room but not completely) and I use a flashlight to shine on the Word Wall the roots and word parts we've been studying.  We spend about 10-15 minutes reviewing the meanings based on where the light lands.  It's a quick and fun review.

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suman1983 | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted July 8, 2008 at 6:53 AM (Answer #14)

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In reply to the question asked in the topic header, it can be pointed out that the teaching of vocabulary is always useful – but if the words remain connected to the text it becomes helpful for the students to understand and remember them. At least that is the method which is widely followed in India where English is majorly taught as a second language. There are many vocabulary books available in the market and most of them try to build a student's vocabulary without providing good examples through text materials. But unfortunately, a large number of students consider them uninteresting and therefore the vocabulary books fail to perform their original tasks.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted July 10, 2008 at 9:24 PM (Answer #15)

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I think the only really useful way to learn words is in context ... through reading.  That said, exposing them to the words, especially though games, can't do any harm.   I had two great games, Vocabulary Football and Vocabulary Baseball that involved everyone (although some of the girls weren't as in to the games as the boys, baseball/softball was one they understood ... and the boys didn't care if they understood, as long as they could move the ball or stop the other team from moving it).  If anyone is interested in the details, just drop me a note and I'll describe either/both.  (timbrady1124@gmail.com)

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 26, 2010 at 3:23 PM (Answer #16)

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I do think that to effectively teach vocabulary it needs to be in context rather than divorced from its usage. Therefore for me I have had most success teaching vocabulary alongside a book where we look at new words that we encounter in that particular test. Having that context is so important.

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