We have been taught to see vocabulary as something separate from reading, an add-on, something that takes extra time. However, if words are taught within context, then you are teaching comprehension skills simultaneously, doubling the value of your limited time. Teaching words should not take time away from reading instruction, it should be an integral part of it, a part of the comprehension process. You can reclaim time by weaving your word learning into your instruction so that it becomes your reading instruction.
What does this restructuring of instructional time entail? Two practices might need changing:
- The practice of teaching word lists or definitions should be dropped.
- Looking up words must be simple and quick.
Students can learn words directly from the texts/literature they are reading, often by choosing their own words, and they can have access to definitions either through you or through technology.
Prepare you students for finding words they don’t know. Create a game. Start with hard texts so it is easy to find unknown words, and quickly list them for everyone to see. You can raise their enthusiasm simply by making it clear they won’t have to learn them, at this point, just find them. Keep it lively and fun. Quickly go over the class list and ask for hands of all those that don’t know the word. (You will need to define knowing as being able to explain the word to a friend or use it properly in a conversation.) Next, explain that it is more difficult to find new words in easier texts, because your brain can guess meanings. Make it a challenge to find unknown words in easier and easier texts.
You can save both time and reduce frustration when accessing definitions. Let students use cell phones to look up words. This is simple for them, accessible from anywhere, and motivating. You can read more about this in The 90 Minute Challenge packet.
As you prepare for The 90 Minute Challenge, commit to the best method for your students to access definitions quickly and practice this method for ease. Make a competition out of it, create teams or partnerships. Let it be fun and noisy to be the first to find a definition. Go over the pitfalls (like spelling) and what to do about it. Download simple e-dictionaries and have students use voice to enter words.
Clarify with your students why it is important that this part is easy and shouldn’t take much time. Get them excited about all the words they will be able to learn. If you will be the one providing most of the definitions, it is still important for students to practice this. They need to know they can have definitions available at their fingertips and that looking up words can be fun and an important time saver. This is a concept you want them to remember in the future.