Effective vocabulary instruction for at-risk students:
Keep in mind the goal of helping students learn to acquire new vocabulary on their own through reading. Students need opportunities to practice inference skills rather than always being told the definition of a word. Justice and her colleagues (2005) designed one of the most effective methods for at-risk students to learn new vocabulary during storybook reading. Their method consisted stopping during reading to provide a brief definition or synonym for an unfamiliar word followed by using the word in a context-rich sentence that was unrelated to the story.
My recommendation for at-risk students is to do a similar method prior to reading by presenting unfamiliar words in two or three different sentences that provide enough context to infer the meaning. Ask students to try to figure out the meaning. Provide supports as necessary by asking questions such as, Is a positive word or a negative word? Is it something you do or a thing? Work together to identify a simple definition and/or a more familiar synonym. This method is less disruptive to 3
story comprehension when the word is encountered in the text. Focus this type of vocabulary instruction on words that students are likely to hear and read again Ensuring students know more common words will support a virtuous cycle of learning. For more obscure words encountered in books, it might be preferable to provide a short definition or synonym to support text comprehension. For example, one study focused on helping students learn the word “rumpus.” This is not a word that is likely to provide context that will help students learn additional words, so it was probably not a worthy target for instructional time.
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