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Understanding vocabulary words and how they relate to other ideas and concepts is a critical subskill that influences reading comprehension. Students with deficient vocabularies are likely to have difficulty comprehending written material. This article provides teachers of middle and high school students with empirically validated strategies and recommended activities for vocabulary instruction, Specifically, we discuss teaching vocabulary through drama, semantic mapping, video technology. the Keyword Method, and active student responding activities ..


VUl.. 37. NO.3. JANUARY 2002. (pp.13'1-13HI 131

roficient reading depends on the development und synthesis of a complex ,1lT;]Y of critical subskills. One of the. c critical subskills is ,1 thorough under landing of word meanings and thci r connections to other ideas and COIlcepts. /\5 text itself becomes more difficult in terms of STiCh features ;15 vocabulary, sentence complexity, density of i leas, and 0 on, readers' abilities to' deal witb these features must be well marched if comprehension is to be successful,

In general, children with learning disabilities often use short sentences with poor word pronunciations, and they have lim i ~ed receptive and expressive overall vocabularies (GoidswOTthy, ] 996 . One of the major avenue' for exp:mding vocabulary and the general knowledge it represeuts is reading itself Because these children cannot or do not read, their vocabularies are often limited to what they experience in thei r 1 III 111 cd iate environment. And so begins the cycle of poor rea ling comprehension with impovcrishe J vocabulary acqui 'ilion.

In order tl reduce the effect of [his vicious cycle teachers must plan and evaluate intervention strategies that emphasize the comprehension of vocabulnr- while capturing the interest of the student. Teachers cnn facilitate a leeper lev ·1 of understanding b. planning instruction that incorp irarcs four important princi] les:

1. employing a variety of methods For teaching vocabulary,

2. acriveh involving students in vocabulary instruction that endeavors to facilitate deeper levels of undertanding,

3. providing' instruction that en:'] bles students to see how target vocabulary words relate to other words, and

+. providing frequent opportunities to practice reading and using vocahularywords ill many contexts to gain a deep and automatic comprehension of those words.

Empirically validated vocabulary 1 uilding strategies and suggested activities for teaching vocabulary are presented in the following categories: drama] ernanric mapping, video technology, and the Keyword Method. Additionally, we provide suggested activities for practicing newly acquired vocal ulary,

Vocabulary Building' Strateg;ies


Benefits derived from using multisensory approaches with poor readers have been locurnented since Montessoli i ntroduced a visual, auditory kinesthetic, and tactile teaching method in the early 19005 (Richardson, 1995). Since then, re earchers and practitioners have developed many multisensory approaches f( r provicling instruction,


and research continues to support the educational benefirs derived from u ing these approaches with students who have difficulty with reading program taught in the traditional manner (e.g., Birch rx Hatfield, 1995). Multisen or,)' instructional approaches capita lize on the tactile/ kinesthetic modality to enhance learning.

I£duc~tors have recommended incorporating the kinesthetic approach into vocabulary instruction through drama; and a . mall, but promising, bod. of research ha demonstrated that using drama activities is effective for increasing students' proficiency with vocabulary (e.g., C;]sale & Manzo, 1982; Duffelmeyer, 1980; Ranger, 1995). "l ea hers may incorporate drama in their vocabulary instruction by using the following activities that are variations of empirically validated strategies by Ranger (1995) and Casale and Manzo (.1982):

• Alter directly teaching .rudents several content vocabulary words, write the target vocabulary words on small strips of paper, and place them in a box or hat, Have the students take turns selecting a word from the box <mel pantomiming themeaniug, The rest of the students should ~ILtempt to guess which word is beiJlg pantomimed. For example, if ,I student selects the word deciduous, he or she might pantomime it by standing tall wi th arms raised and fingers spread

open. 'ro signify the change of seasons, he or she might sway back and forth, with hands fluttering

do n to the 1100r· tben, stand tall witb arms raised and hands shaped in fists.

• "World Theater' (Roning, 1978) is a drama activity that allows gTOUpS of students to physically demonstrate vocabulary definitions. For example the class may put 0(1 a skit 1 retending to he th pilrts of an atom (\Nooel & Igozzine, 1994). To irnulate the helium atom, COUf students huddle togerher.two holding large red circles over their heads to represent protons that arc positively charged and two holding large white circles over their heads to repr sent neurrons that have no electrical charge. Two other students walk briskly around these students in a circular path, holding blue circles over their heads to represent electrons that are negatively charged.

• Write a list of vocabulary words connected with a piece of literature the students will be reading, and directly teach the definitions by providing the meaning of the word ,1I1d examples of the word "Used in context. Ha ethe students readthe story, then form teams. Each ream is given a portion of the story and instructed to create a skit in which they OlU t lise the

. elected vocabulary words. Each team then acts out the skit they created. After each skit, the rest ofthe students discuss the selected vocabulary an I how they were used in con text.

• Have studenrs form fool' teams to play charades, and give each team a list of vocabulary words. Member

of each team take turns silentlyacting out one of the words on the list, The first team to correctly identify the vocabulary word earn a point. Tile winning team is the one with the most points at the end of the game. Many students find the clement of .ornperition very 111 otivationa I.

• After presenting the definition of each new word have all the students stand next to their desks and simultaneously use lrarnatic movements t illu trate the definitions, For example, if tile science Ie son focuses on the rotation of the earth on 'its axis and. the revol ution of the earth aroun I the Bun students hould pin around in place when they hear the word rotation; and they should walk around their chairs when tI1C. hear the wor I reoolution. This activity promotes active participation of all students.

Semantic Mapping

emantic mapping provides students wid, a visual means of organizing contentinformation. The use of semantic mapping has been empirically demonstrated to facilitate student succe sin vocabulary development (e.g., AndersonInman, Knox-Quinn, & Homey, 1996; Bos 'f Anders, ]990; Moore c' Readance, 1984).

Teachers may want to use semantic mapping computer programs to help their students build vocabulary, Software programs, such as Inspiration (Inspiration Software Inc. (998) have graphic capabilities that allov tudenrs to

create semantic maps with the click of the mouse (see Figure 1). Research from the Centerfor Electronic Studying at the University of Oregon (Anderson-I nrnan & Ditson 1999) demonstrates that' computer-based concept mapping helps students with learning disabilities understand and synthesize new material,

The following variations of empirically validated scmantic mapping activities arc useful for facilitating vocahulary development:

• Pre sent a new vocabulary word to the students and lead a group discussion of its meaning. Have the students write tJ1C word (e.g., serpent) in the middle of a blank page; (hen guide the students through answering three questions that branch out from the word (Cook) 1989): What is it~ (animal reptile, snake); Whatis iT like? (long, scaly; leg-tess, rlithery, scaly, cylindrical), and What are some examples? (cobra, python king copperh ad, cotton mouth) See Figure 2 for an example of this type of semantic map. De eloping semantic maps helps studentslink prior knowledge to new knowledge and therefore deepens students' understanding of important vocabulary,

• Write vo abulari words connected to a content area concept (e.g. classifying rocks) on index card _ }-L.JVe students read a selection from their textbooks conraining the new vocabulary words. After the students rend the selection, have them arrange rhe ocabulary word card. into ateg ries (McCormick, 1999). For

Figure 1. Example of a semantic map created with Inspiration Software (1998).

VOl. 37. fifo. 3. JANUARY 2002 133

example, if the srudentis given cards labeled "granite," "limestone,' shale" "slate," "quartz," and "obsidian," he r she can place "granite' and "obsidian" under the igneous rock category "limestone" and 'shale' under the sedimentary rock category, and "slate' and "quartz" under the metamorphic rock category based on the context or these words in the reading- selection.

• Present a scm ,111 tic mapping activity using a listgroup-label approach (Taha, 1967) by writing a category on the board (e.g., vertebrates) and having students name all the words that belong ill [he selected category (e.g., hor e, snake, salamander, eagle, shark). ViTritc all of the tudcnts' responses on the board, suspending judgment on their quality. After a manageable list has been generated, have the students group their responses into subcategories ancl label them (e,g., mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds

fish). In addition to ascertaining whether students are incorporating the new vocabulary in their thinking, this technique serves to increase the students' meaningful. interactions with the words.

• Lend <l semantic mapping activity that encourages both vertical (breaking down a concept inro caregorie ) and horizontal (differentiating concepts from adler related concepts) expansion of vocabulary words (Lerner, 1997). For vertical expansion, write "I word (c.g., musk) on the board and then write studentgenerated response' of categoric that fit under that word (classical rock, pop, jazz, reggae, blues, new ~Ige). For horizontal expansion have students generate other related concepts (e.g., differentiating music from other forms of artistic expre sian such ,18 dance, theater, painting, culprurc, poetry) and write the words next to the central concept. Figure 3 illustrates ~t vertical and horizontal semantic map.

Video Technology

Using vid ·'0 technology to increase vocabulary comprehension demoustratcd effecrive in an experimental study conducted by Xin, Claser, and Ricth (1 <)t)6). Using:LO students, they introduced 30 new vocabulary words associated with the content fa videotape. The. students iewed video clips from the 1989 San Francis () earthquake and partieipated in activities that allowed [hem t( associate the vocabulary words with content of the videos. After 6 weeks, students were able co give the correct meaning to 60% of the targeted words, compare I ro 27% when videos were not used.

The following ariations of video tech n 0.1 ogy arc higher lc cl learning activities that Illay be effective for increasing vocabulary comprehension.

• Provide teams of students with a list of related vocabulary words from specific content areas (c.g .. Indus-


What is it?

What ts it like?

.serpent What are soLamp,eS?

king copperhead

Figure 2. Example of a semantic map using the following questions: What is it? What is it like? What are some examples?


classical rock pop Jazz

reggae blues new age

sculpture, poetry- Music- dance, theatre

Figure 3. Example of a vertical and horizontal semantic map.

trial Revolution, monopoly, cartel, trust, union, strike, mechanization, exploitation). 11:11 the students that they will be creating ,I videotape in which they will be using the vocabulary words and demonsrraring what they mean. Have the student rneerin groups to plan and decide what they think should be included in their videotape. For example students may decide to use one ( r 8 cornbination of the fo]lowing methods of presentati 11: Write and act out a skit JI" serie or skits illustrating what the vocabulary words mean; interview historians or experts and present the inter iew in the form of a documentary; or provide an informative pre entation using charts, tables, graphs, or other forms of isual representati 11. Encourage the students to think creatively, B IlSl11g

the ocabulary words til planning their idcotapc, rehearsing and videotaping skits, and viewing the resulting video presentations, students may be able to process vocabulary word meanings at a deeper level.

• Provide each student or small gTOUp of students with one abstract noun, such as "hone ty" "justice," 'loyalty," , trust" deception,' "conformity," or "integrity." Then have students videotape several everyday examples illustrating these concepts (e.g. tn illustrate "honesty" the students lTI,lY videotape a skit of a ch i lei confessing to hi mother that he accidentally broke

an expensive V~lSC). The students may videotape realIi Fe situations record i ncidenrs they ee on television, 01' act out their own skits. When th 7 are complete, the students J'J1;Jy present the videotapes to the rest of the cla 5, and explain how each example illustrates the concept. The teacher may also encourage the student. viewing the videotape to state their opinions of whether or not the examples illustrate the selected

ocabulary word and explain why they agree or disagree with each example,

The Ke-yword Method

The F eyword Method (Atkinson, 1975) is a mnemonic strategy for elaborating upon an unfamiliar word r concept hy making it more rnc.mingful ami concrete. For example, <1 student might remember that "muck" means filth by rhyming it with "yuck" or remember that "mumho jumbo" is a meaningless ritual b .. picturing "mum (Mom) in ,1 "jUI11 ' (gym) trying to shoot a basket (that is, unles: the student's mom is ery good at I asketball), Evidence demonstrating that students experience increased levels of academic success when teacher implement the } eyword Method has been well docurncn ted (e.g. vila ~. Sadowski, 1996; Fulk, Ma rropieri, C' Scruggs, 1992;

711illory 1998; King-Sears, Mercer, & Sindelar, 1992,

Lawson & Hogben 1998; Mastropieri, Scruggs, Fulk


Levin (1988) lescribed three steps for 1] ing' the Keyword Method: receding, relating, and retrieving, During the receding step, rile student changes the unfamiliar new word to a similar sounding famil ia r word that i easily pictured. For example, the word hirsute means CO\'ere J with hair. Good key words for hirsute would be "hair suit." Other examples of keywords include the rollowing: fetid-having an offensi e odor (ke. vord: "feet odor"); or nexus-a link or rie (keyword: "connects us"). After students have selected keywords to help them remember definitions they should practice sa. ing the vocal ulary and I..:e}',~ .. c I'd together to srablish an association. In the relating stage students increase [he associacion by fanning a isual image or drawing a picture in which the keyword and meaning of the vocabulary word are interacting. For example, when visualizing the keyword for' hirsute," . tudents can visualize or draw a pic-




Figure 4. Example of image usinq the IT FITS strategy.

rure of a person WC;]riJ1g a suit made of hair, In the retrieving stage when the student is asked to provide the definition of the v cabulary word the st Idem is taught to think of the keyword, think of picture involving the

ocabulary w r I and the keyword, nnd retrieve the defin ition from the picture (Hughes, I (96).

IT FTTS. Teachers can use the rnnern nic "JT F[TS" (King-Sears, Mercer, & 'indeb.r, l(92) to help students create thei r own mnemonics for vocabulary words. IT FITS is an acronym lor the following steps:

• Identity the term (e.g. "impecunious ');

• Tell the definition of the term (c.g .. , having no money");

• Find a ke. w rd (e.g., "penniless imp ');

• Imagine the definition llning something with the ke) word (e.g., ., An imp tried to buy some food, hUL 'when he checked his pockets he found that he vas penniless. ');

• Thin k about the def nition as it relates to the keyword; and

• Studywhat vou imagined until you know the definition.

Figure 4 shows an illustration of a visual image for the word impecunious.

Teacher may either provide the l1.1CI.I1 with the keyword mnemonic or have the students create their own. AJ-

VOL. J 7. No.3. J MtlARY 200.2 135

though having students make lip their own keywords has implies tions For increased rudenr independence and saving teacher time, ir Illay he less efficient and effective than using teacher-generated keywords (King-Scars et ,11.,1992' Scruggs & Mastropieri, 19c)2).

LINes. The LINCS strategy (Ellis 1992) is another way For students to independently generate keywords for target vocabulary LINeS is an acronym for the following steps:

L Lise the parts. Write the word on a study card and list the mo t important parts of the definition 0.11 the back.

E:x:rlJllple: Ilthe vocabulary word is "lethargic," [he student would write the word "lethargic" all the front of the card and write "sluggishness, inacti - ity apathy' on the back

2. Lllagine a picture. Create a mental picture and describe ir.

Exatuple: For the word "lethargic" the student may think of a lazy slug Lying down on a couch.

3. N ore a reminding word. Think of a familiar \ ord that sounds like the VOC;l hulary word.

EXfnllple: For [he word "lethargic" the student may think of the familia]' words' lazy slog" and write it on the bottom half of the front side of the card.

4. Construct;] LIL'\Cing story. Make up a hart sr01Y about the meaning' of the word that includes the reminding word.

Ji;'xft7JljJlc: The Ierhurgic sing by on the couch and said "I'm 0 lazy. '

5. Self-Test. Test your memory forward and backward.

Exampte: Look at the words "lethargic" and 'lazy slug" on the front of the card and say what is on the hack of the Gu·J: 'sluggi hness, inactivity, ,IP;Ithy, The lethargic slug lay on the COlI .h and said, '['111 so lazy." The student should nlso look at the back of the card tc self-test the vocabulary word and the keyword.

Figure 5 is an example of a completed word card using the UNCS strategy,

VOCABCLARY PICTURE CARDS. A simple V<1J'13tlon of the keyword strategy is having students create their own vocabulary picture cards that remind them of the meaning of the vocalnrlary word. Vocabulary picture cards are index cards on which the students write the vocabulary word on one side and a draw picture rcpre: cming the meaningof the word on the back. The cards are then used to study the vo abulnry word meanings.



lazy slug

sluggishness, inactiVity,. apathy

The lethargiC slUg lay on the couch and said, "l'rn so lazy."

Figure 5. Example of front and back of word card using the LINes strategy.

Teachers can help student create their own vocabulary picture cards using the following procedures:

• present a new vocabula ry word (e.g, "optimi tic')

• tell the students what the word means (e.g. "a tenden T to expect the be t possible outcome");

• provide examples of how the word is used (e.g., "The baseba 11 team W;15 worried about winning the f!,',l1ne, but the coach was oprirn istic");

• elicit student-generated responses in which the words are used in context (e.g., "I was oprimi 'tic about rn mother letting me have a slumber p<lrty )j and

• direct the students to write the vocabulary word and sentence using the word 'in context on one side of (he card and draw a picture illustrating the sentence on the back.

Figure () shows an exam pie of ,1 vocabulary picture card.

Suggested Activities for Practice

Once sruden ts have acquired new vocabula ly word, reachers should provide active student responding activities that will promote automaticity of word recognition and definition retrieval. The positive effects of active student responding (i.e., response cards, choral responding, peer tutoring) have been well documented (e.g., avenaugh Hewarrl. S; Donelson, 1996· Gardner, Heward, & Grossi, 1994; Cumpel & Frank, 1999· 11e, ard, 1994;

Mortwect er al., 1991); Tarn & Scott, (996). The following active student responding activities mao be useful for helping students practice their vocabulary definition ':

• Preprinted response cards. Give each student a set of cards with the vocabulary word printed in large letters on the Front si Ie and the definition ami all example sentence printed on the back. State the definition of each w rd (e.g. "a va pm rising from marshc ; Foggy), have ,111 students respond by holding up the correct vocabulary word forthe teacher to see (e.g., "miasmic"), and then provide feedback for each response. The definitions and example sentences may ser e a a reminder to the students if needed (see Figure 7 For an example of a preprinte I. respome card), It is important to maintain a lively pace in order to attain high levels of student responding. Teachers may also wanr to call on individual students throughout the response card activitv t pro ide a sentence or definiri n of a stated vocabulary word. This activity can be followed by a vocabulary bingo game ill which students receive a card containing

25 boxes and a vocabulary word printed in each box. Each time a definition i. rated, the students place ;1 marker on the corresponding vocabulary word. The first student who marks off 6,,(: down, across, or di<lgonally wins. Sec Figure for an example of a \'0- cab u 1,1 ry bi ngo card.

• Write-on l'espouse hoards. Provi Ie each student with a II'. -era e board and a dry-erase marker, and write a list ofvocabulary words all. the board to function as :1 word bank. Each time <1 definition is stared, the students write the corresponding wor 1 on their dry-era e boards. hold up their boards when the teacher gi e a signal (e.g., "boards up') and receive feedback. sing write-on response boards may ield fewer responses than preprinted response cards because the students need more time to write. But using write-on response boards may have irnplicati ns for improve I spelling performance of the voca bula ry words and allow more flexibility of responding (i.e .. , they can be used for <lny set of vocabulary words without having to spend time making vocabulary cards). For ad litiona] suggestion' for using prc-

prin eel cards and write-on respon se hoards, see Heward et al. (1996).

• Classwide peel' tutnring.Ta implement a reciprocal classwide peer tutoring system ,IS recommended by Miller Barbette, and Heron (199'+), provide each student with 11 folder with two p ckers attached on the inside. Prim "gC) , on one pocket and "stop" 011 the other pocket. Provide students wirh index cards on which a vocabulary word is written on one side and the definition i written 011 the other side. 11 wurds that the students have not mastered are placed in th 'go" pocket and ,IS each word is mastered, it is


Figure 6. Example of vocabulary picture card.

. .


A vapor rising from marshes; foggy

Mark could faintly see the outline of the

old house through the miasmic landscape.

Figure 7. Example of preprinted response card.

placed in the "stop' pocket Have the students form dyads in which they take turns being the tutor and the tutee, The tutor shows each ocabulary word to the tutee, prompts the rutee to say th definition, and provides praise for correct responses and feedback for incorrect response via the tutee emitting the correct

Vm. 37, No.3, JANUARV 2002 137

B I N G 0
Fallacy Affinity Vista Aspire Assimilated
Impetus Ardent Confound Revel Bestial
Vilify Abnegation Amenable Ascetic Bellicose
Benign Credulous Paradigm Sequester Stodgy
Equable Apocryphal Refulgent Meretricious Imprecation
- Figure 8. Example of vocabulary bingo card.

response. After a predetermined time limit (c.g.,

5 minutes), instruct the students to reverse roles. After both students have been the tutor and rurec, have them take tUTJ1S testing each other on the definition. of their words. Each word the students have mastered (e.g., stating the correct definition of the word for 3 consecutive rbys) is placed into Ul.C "stop" pocket. The students then graph the number of words they have rna tered on <1 chart taped to the inside of the folder. The words in the 'stop" pocket should be period ica lJy reviewed LO assess and achieve maintenance,


Comprehension of vocabulary is an es ential subskill needed for proficient reading. Merely requiring students to look Up:l list of vocal ulary words in the licrionary and r hearse their definitions is not only insufficient for developing a deeper understnnding of vocabulary words, it can


become a tedious and time wasting taslc=-especially for students with learning disabilities, To develop a strong command of vocabulary and improve listening and reading coruprehensi n, students must be provided with instruction that (a) facilitates linking new words to previous learning and background knowledge, (b) provides a personally meaningful context for using new words, and (c) presents frequent practice opportunities. By selecting tJ1C vocabulary enhancing strategies recommended in th is article, reachers can make vocabulary instruction an interesting and rewarding part of the students' learning experiences,


Carolyn R. Foil lidS, is a special education teacher at Stone High School in \Viggins, ]vlissisNippi. Her research interests i 11- elude reading disabilities, assisrive technology, and experimental education. Sheila R. Alber, PhD. is an assistant professor at The niversity of Southern. 1 i si sipi i. I Tcr resea I' ·h interet L! include reaching methods for .mdcn with learning disabilities

and educational assessment, Address: Sheila R. Alber, Dep:HTrncnr ofSpecinl Educ.uinn, The University of Southern :Vlississippi, Box 5 J J 5, Hattiesburg, !\IlS 39-1-06: e-mail: Sheib.Alher@ usm.edu


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