I think a lot about words. I think about words and students and how to help students learn words. Or, a better description is I think a lot about the labels (words) we put on concepts. I think about how to help students link the labels with the concepts so some understanding is found.
Over the years, I have tried just about every trick, strategy, technique, idea, etc. to help students learn vocabulary. No matter what I try, I always spend a few minutes talking about problem solving to determine word meanings. I honestly tell my students I try to figure out the meaning of the word enough to just keep reading, so I do not have to stop and look up the meaning of the word.
I use the technique called “look in the word and look around the word.” “Look in the word” means to search the word for anything that is familiar: root word, prefix, suffix, a smaller word within, a part of the word that reminds me of another word. Sometimes all I recognize are letters. However, it is a place to start. Then I “look around the word” to see if I read a little more if I can figure out the word from the context. I look for clues from the author, and many times I find the meaning of the word in the rest of the sentence or in the next few sentences. If I am reading a textbook, sometimes I get lucky, and a sidebar helps me with the meaning of the word.
I admit I can get lazy. If the word is not necessary for me to get the gist of the reading, I can sometimes just ignore it and read along. However, I admit this is so much more difficult in a technical text such as a textbook. Of course, if I see the word again, I find I am curious about the word’s meaning, so I explore in a glossary or dictionary. I notice once I see a word a few times, or hear a word a few times, I am more apt to notice it in conversations, books, and media. My ear becomes tuned to the new word. The word was around, I was not ready for it yet.
My advice to students or to anyone trying to learn new vocabulary revolves around the word: “multiple”. In other words, one cannot learn a word (or the concept it labels) until one is exposed to the word multiple times and uses the word multiple times. For those in the content areas, such as science, English, history, mathematics, etc. we have to provide avenues for our students to have multiple exposures and multiple opportunities to use the words of our fields. If you think about it, every time we review concepts, we provide another exposure to the words that label our important concepts.
I continue to think about words. I also continue to “look in and look around.” Happy Reading.