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8 Essential Components of Vocabulary Instruction

vocabulary instruction vocabulary strategies

Imagine being a learner who is new to English. Someone says to you, "Can you lend me a hand?” Imagine what that learner is processing. First, it’s a question. Second, think about the word lend. Do I know what that means? Third, lend a hand. Does that mean they literally want one of my hands? 

In just one sentence, you can see that a well-developed vocabulary is not only important in our conversations but also in the academic setting. For our challenged learners with dyslexia, their listening and speaking vocabulary might be very good, but when it comes to reading and writing, that’s where they need further support.

Why is explicit and direct vocab instruction especially important for our students with dyslexia?

Think about why vocabulary development becomes incrementally harder as the years go on. These are kids who may simply not be reading the volume of text that your typical readers are because reading is challenging for them. They lose interest or aren’t getting appropriate intervention. We know that to acquire new vocabulary, children need many exposures and repetitions for them to comprehend it well enough to read and use in their writing. 

This is one of the hallmarks of the Matthew Effect. The more a child’s development falls behind their peers it becomes increasingly challenging to keep up if intervention is not targeted at their specific needs. In essence, these kids are learning fewer words compared to the typical readers in their classrooms, so vocabulary development cannot grow at an adequate rate to sustain them as we get into harder texts. Limited vocabulary and limited background knowledge equals weak comprehension. 

Here are our top eight tips for teaching vocabulary in literacy intervention:

1. Build foundational skills 

Building the foundational skills of reading, like receptive and expressive language skills. Use academic language or higher-level vocabulary with your students so that you’re paving the way for phonology. Then, when you come across the word in print, they can attach it to a word they’ve previously heard. 

2. Multiple exposures

Provide multiple opportunities and exposures to new vocabulary in both incidental and explicit settings and in different contexts. You can find opportunities to weave these into morning meeting, or in lessons throughout your day. When providing multiple exposures to these vocabulary words, guide them with kid-friendly definitions. 

3. Direct instruction of multiple-meaning words

It’s easy to fall into the habit of assuming things will be addressed in the higher grades. However, we encounter so many multiple-meaning words in kindergarten! Start early helping your students learn that words can be used in multiple different ways. This can begin in early instruction with CVC words like run, which has 16 noun uses and 41 verb uses. 

4. Categorize and sort words

Categorize and sort words according to different features using a semantic feature analysis chart. This will help you look at the relationships between words and it is especially helpful in content areas.

5. Morphology

Teach students to find the morphological clues that unlock the meaning of words. An example of this is that the suffix dictates the part of speech. Once kids can unlock morphological clues, it is so very powerful.

6. Analyze spelling

We want to be able to analyze the spelling, orthographic, and representation of the vocabulary word. You could look at a word and it’s related words and then analyze the orthographic features and how they change.  

7. Graphic organizers

What will this look like in a classroom? The use of specific graphic organizers serve as our scaffold to help us pull words apart, develop metacognitive skills, and keep us questioning, exploring, and digging deeper to find the meanings. These scaffolds should support vocabulary development and help our students strengthen their literate vocabulary. 

8. Assistive technology

Use (as needed) assistive technology for additional support. 

For our full conversation on vocabulary strategies for literacy intervention, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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