Kelsie Syverson, EngEd 370, Chapter 9: Vocabulary Knowledge and Concept Development

The Relationship Between Vocabulary and Comprehension


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Experiences, Concepts, and Words


Vocabulary is represented by breadth and depth of all the words we know – the words we use, recognize, and respond to in meaningful acts of communication. Breadth is the size and scope of out vocabulary and depth is the level of understanding that we have of words. Vocabulary is classified by four components: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Principles to Guide Vocabulary Instruction


Principle 1: Select Words That Children Will Encounter While Reading Literature and Content Material

  • Key Words
  • Useful Words
  • Interesting Words
  • Vocabulary-Building Words

Principle 2: Teach Words in Relation to Other Words

When words are taught in relation to other words, students are actively drawn into the learning process. They must use background knowledge and experiences to detect similarities and differences.

Principle 3: Teach Students to Relate Words to Their Background Knowledge

Ask “What is it that the students already know about that they can use as an anchor point, as a way of accessing this new concept?”

Principle 4: Teach Words in Prereading Activities to Activate Knowledge and Use Them in Postreading Discussion, Response, and Retelling

Prereading and postreading vocabulary activities that connect vocabulary words to content are more desirable than isolated vocabulary exercises.

Principle 5: Teach Words Systematically and in Depth

Researchers are finding that for students to process vocabulary in depth, they must generate a novel product using the term.

Principle 6: Awaken Interest in and Enthusiasm of Words

The teacher’s attitude towards vocabulary instruction can be contagious.

Strategies for Vocabulary and Concept Development


  • Relating Experiences to Vocabulary Learning
    • The more direct experiences students have, the better.
  • Using Context for Vocabulary Growth
    • Students need to hear the new words used in different contexts.
  • Developing Word Meanings
    • The ability to relate new words to known words, can be built through synonyms, antonyms, and multiple-meaning words
      • Synonyms: words that are similar in meaning to other words
      • Antonyms: words that are opposite in meaning to other words
      • Multiple-Meaning Words: give students opportunities to see how words operate in context
  • Classifying and Categorizing Words
    • Categorization: students recognize that they can group words that label ideas, events, or objects. The teacher gives students 2-6 words and ask them to find the word that describes all the other words or to cross off the word that doesn’t belong
    • Word Sorts: to group words into different categories by looking for shared features among their meanings
    • Concept Circles: putting words or phrases in the sections of a circle and then directing students to describe or name the concept relationship among the sections
    • Semantic Mapping: a strategy that shows readers and writers how to organize important information
    • Analogies: a comparison of two similar relationships
    • Paired-Word Sentence Generation: a task that could be used to test students’ understanding of difficult concepts. The teacher gives students two related words. The goal of the strategy is to generate one sentence that correctly demonstrates an understanding of the words and their relationship to each other

Semantic Analysis to Writing:

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Predictogram: Story elements – including the setting. the incidents in the plot, characterization, the character’s problem or goal, how the problem or goal is resolved, and the theme or larger issue to which the problem or goal relates – can be used to develop students’ meaning vocabulary with the predictogram strategy.

Teachers choose words from the story that they feel will be challenging to the students. The words and their meanings are discussed in class, and students relate their personal associations with the words. Finally, students work in groups to predict how they think the author might use each tern in the story.

Self-Selection Strategy: Students select the words to be studied. Each student selects one word they believe the class should learn, the teacher chooses one too. These words are written in the board and students give the definitions they gathered from the context in which they found the word.

Word Knowledge Rating: A way to get students to analyze how well they know vocabulary words:

  • I’ve never seen the word
  • I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know what it means.
  • I recognize it in context. It has something to do with _____________.
  • I know the word in one or several of its meanings.

Vacca, J. L., Vacca, R. T., & Gove, M. K. (2012). Reading and learning to read (8th ed.). New York: Longman.

Classroom Application


I really liked reading about the strategies for vocabulary and concept development. I have never heard of some of the strategies and look forward to using some of them. Concept circles sounded interesting and is a different visual that just putting the words in a list. I also liked the idea of paired-word sentence generation, giving the students two words that can be written in a sentence together to make them related. I also liked the idea of the predictogram and might be something I will use for tutoring.

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