A Way With Words:
Strategies for Vocabulary
Created by Lydia H. Soifer, Ph.D.,
Presented by ESL Department of Pittsburgh Public
About Word Learning and
• Word consciousness
– A metalinguistic skill
Word knowledge is complex
Word learning is incremental
Words are heterogeneous
Definitions, context, word parts
– Important
– Inherent limitations
Vocabulary Knowledge and School
Success: Some Connections
• Reading comprehension, decoding,
• School achievement in general
• Builds linguistic awareness
• Enhances world knowledge
• Influences conceptual and inferential
Good readers and poor readers
• Good readers
– More efficient phonological representations
– Stronger lexical knowledge
• Poor readers
– Poorer phonological memory
– Slower, less efficient word acquisition
– Greater difficulty retaining and accessing
phonological representations
– Decoding difficulty
The “Matthew” Effects
(Stanovich, 1986)
• Students with word reading difficulties:
– Read fewer and easier books
– Have trouble “decoding” less familiar words
– Learn fewer words through reading
– Show increasing problems in vocabulary and
How many words do we know?
• Average first grader – 6,000 words
• Average high school senior – 45,000
• The Math:
– 39,000 words over 12 years
– About 3,000 words a year or 10 words a day
• The range:
– 1,000 words a year for low achieving children
– 5,000 words a year for high achieving children
Model of vocabulary acquisition
(Litowitz, 1971)
• Stage 1
– Non-verbal or verbally semantically “empty”
• Stage 2
– Responds with word associated to original stimulus word
• Stage 3
– Concrete example of experience associated with the stimulus
• Stage 4
– Demonstrates awareness of definition form
• Stage 5
– Pure definitional form
Four Stages of Knowing a Word
(Dale, 1965)
• Stage 1
– Never saw/heard it before in my life!
• Stage 2
– Heard it, but don’t know what it means.
• Stage 3
– I recognize it in context or it has
something to do with…
• Stage 4
– I know it and can use it properly!
Qualitative Dimensions of Word
Knowledge (Cronbach, 1942)
Goals of a Lexical Learning
• To improve lexical knowledge and flexibility
• To improve word sense
• To improve reading comprehension and written
• To improve word retrieval
• To develop strategies for vocabulary
• To develop a lifelong love of words
What does it mean to KNOW a
• A preliminary definition
Read/decode a word
Understand its meaning and use
Use it in oral response
Use it in written work
• Levels of word knowledge
– Unknown
– Acquainted
– Established
Semantic Processes in Reading
Deep Contextualized Knowledge
Properties of Effective Vocabulary
• Direct Instruction is most effective
• Integration
• Repetition
• Meaningful Use
Characteristics of a “Word Rich”
• The Classroom
– Clear, physical signs of word awareness
– Word charts or word walls
– Books on words, word play, thesauri,
– Labels
– Word games, puzzle books, software
Characteristics of a “Word Rich”
• The Teacher
– Is excited about words and word learning
– Has FUN with words
– Creates “word of the day” activities
– Children know the teacher loves words
– Understands the difference and connections
among spelling, phonics and vocabulary
– Creates the foundation for independence
– Facilitates the use of strategies
In a “Word Rich” Classroom
• Foundation for Independence Created
– Students are enthusiastic about words and word
– Reading is a part of every day
– Students can identify a preferred word game or
– Students have word banks, personal dictionaries
– Thesauri and dictionaries are used frequently
– Students use strategies when facing unknown words
(e.g., word parts, context)
In a “Word Rich” Classroom
• Teachers Facilitate Strategy Use
– Models, supports and develops strategies
– Direct, interesting instruction on content area
– Uses graphics to show word meanings
– Provides multiple exposures and opportunities to see,
hear, write and use new words
– Reading and follow-up discussions of new words
– Encourages word play and motivational activities
So many words, so little time…
• Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002
• A three tier approach
– Tier one words – the most basic
– Tier two words – high frequency for mature
users; found across a variety of domains
– Tier three words – low frequency and very
• 400 Tier two words a year should do it!
Questions to ask yourself about WHAT
words to teach and HOW to teach them
• WHAT Words
Importance to understanding of text
Degree of prior knowledge
Frequency of occurrence
Multiple meaning
Need for pre-teaching; learned from context
Grouping possibilities
• HOW to teach them
– Incidentally, mediated support, direct instruction
– Facilitate meaningful use in multiple contexts
Strategies, Techniques and
Word cemeteries
Word walls
Synonym challenges
Word banks and
associated activities
• Predict-o-gram
• Knowledge rating
• Exclusionary
Attribute webs
Semantic continuum
Word maps
Concept ladders
Definition maps
Context Essential, Text
General and Incidental
Word Charts
• Label, Group, List –
Thinking in Categories
Creating “SPARKLE”
• Richness of Vocabulary
• Literate Language Style
– Conjunctions
– Elaborated noun phrases
– Mental and linguistic verbs
– Adverbs
Words for a Literate Lexicon
(based on Nippold, 1993)
• Words for technical and curricular
• Verbs for cognitive and linguistic
– Metacognitive
– Metalinguistic
• Verbs with presuppositional aspects
– Factive
– Non-factive
A Basic Five Step Approach
(Blachewicz, 1986)
• Activate prior knowledge
• Make connections among words and
• Use both spoken and written contexts
• Refine and reformulate meanings
• Use the words for writing and additional
Supporting Developing Word
Knowledge in the Classroom
• Repeat in various
• Describe words
• Support with visuals
• Connect to students’ lives
• Extend meaning with
• Make associations
• Give definitions
Compare and contrasts
Chart characteristics
Rephrase sentences
Analyze structure
Provide tactile examples
Give examples of correct
and incorrect use

A Way With Words: Strategies for Vocabulary …