Strategies for Determining Word Meanings

Context
Roots and Affixes
Reference Sources

Jerry Zutell
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio
State University
Zaner-Bloser Educational
Publishers
Scholastic, Inc.
Pearson

Predicting and Checking Word Meanings
Word or
Phrase

Before Reading: What
Do I Think It Means?

After Context: What Do I
Think It Means Now?

Checking Sources:
What Did I Find Out?

Using Context:
Using a Context Strategy
Types of Context Clues

Directions for Using Context Clues
Read the sentence with the unknown word and
some of the sentences around it.
Look for context clues. For example, what
definitions or descriptions can you find?

Think about the context clues and other
information you may already know.
Predict a meaning for the word.
Check a dictionary to be sure of the meaning.
Decide which of the meanings in the dictionary
fits the context.
Adapted from: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Directions for Using Context Clues
Read the sentence with the unknown word and
some of the sentences around it.
“I have managed to produce an apparition in my
lab on many occasions.”
“An apparition! How could you create a ghostly
image in a laboratory?”
Look for context clues. For example, what
definitions or descriptions can you find?
When Professor Linear hears Dr. Fogg tell about
an apparition, he asks how Dr. Fogg could
create a ghostly image.
Adapted from: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Directions for Using Context Clues (2)
Think about the context clues and other information
you may already know.
The words ghostly image must tell the meaning of
apparition.

Predict a meaning for the word.
An apparition is a ghostly image.

Check a dictionary to be sure of the meaning. Decide
which of the meanings in the dictionary fits the
context.
Adapted from: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Types of Information Available from Context
1. Things or Ideas Related to the Word
The dancers, the musicians, and the cooks carrying
huge plates of food all came to the town square for the
fiesta.
2. Synonyms (Descriptions/Definitions)
The farrier, the man who makes shoes for the horses,
had to carry his heavy tools.
3. Antonyms
The speaker confused the audience by using many
obscure words instead of clear, well-known words.
4. The Location or Setting
The shaman entered the Hopi roundhouse and sat
facing the mountains.

5. What a Word Is Used for
He used the spade to dig up the garden.

6. What a Word Is Like
Like the seagull, the albatross is a large, aquatic bird.
7. What a Word Is Unlike
Unlike the peacock, the mudhen is not colorful.
8. What Kind of Thing or Action the Word Is
Swiveling his hips, waggling the club, and aiming for
the pin, he swung and drove his golf ball into the
water.
9. How Something Is Done
Dr. Moore amputated the arm quickly and cleanly by
using the new laser that cuts like a very sharp knife.
Adapted from: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Using Roots and Affixes:
Word Building
Root Word Webs
Word Histories

Root Word Web Based on Meter
kilometer
centimeter
millimeter

geometry
perimeter
diameter
parameter
meter, metrelated to measuring

metric
symmetric
asymmetric

thermometer
speedometer
odometer
barometer

-spire, spirto breathe
(Latin)

Ad = to

No Prefix

Aspire
Aspirant
Aspirate
Aspiration
Aspirate
Aspiratory

Spirit
Spirited
Spiritual
Spirituality
Spiritualism

Con = with, together
Conspire
Conspirer
Conspiracy
Conspirator
Conspiratory
Conspiratorial
Ex = From, Out of
Expire
Expiry
Expiratory
Expiration

-spire, spirto breathe
(Latin)

In = into
Inspire
Inspired
Inspiring
Inspiration
Inspirational

Re = again, back

Respire
Respirometer
Respirator
Respiration
Respiratory

Per = through
Perspire
Perspirable
Perspirative
Perspiratory
Perspiration

Trans = across
Transpire
Transpirable
Transpiratory
Transpiration

-fract-

-rupt-

Concept Web:
Roots Related to Breaking, Twisting

-tort-

SAMPLE WORDS FOR CONCEPT WEB:
BREAKING, TWISTING
-fract-

-rupt-

-tort-

fraction
fragile
fragment
fragmentary
frailty
infraction
infringe
refract

abrupt
bankrupt
corrupt
disrupt
erupt
incorruptible
interrupt
rupture

contort
distort
extort
retort
torque
torsion
torso
torture

Exploring Word Origins and Histories
Where Words Come From
• Inherited from the Language Family
• Derived by Combining Roots and Affixes
• Borrowed Directly: Adopted or Adapted
• Taken from the Names of Places (Toponyms) or
People (Eponyms)
• Constructed from Other Words: Acronyms,
Clipped Words, Portmanteau Words

Adopting and Adapting Words from Other Languages

Child
Chef
Chorus

Cell
Cello

Vanilla
Tortilla

Constructed Words

Acronyms:

Clipped Words:

Scuba
NASA

Taxi
Bus

Portmanteau Words:

Brunch
Smog
Emoticon

Recognizing Words from Other Languages

Word

Language

Spelling/
Pronunciation

decipher

Greek

ph = “f”

figure out

gourmet

__________

__________

__________

tornado

__________

__________

__________

synchronize

__________

__________

__________

vigilante

__________

__________

__________

mirage

__________

__________

__________

patriotic

__________

__________

__________

Meaning

Recognizing Words from Other Languages
Word

Language

Spelling/
Pronunciation

decipher

Greek

ph = “f”

figure out

gourmet

French

et = “long a”

related to fine
food/drink

tornado

Spanish

final “long o”

synchronize

Greek

y = “long i, ch = “k”

destructive
windstorm
same time
and manner

vigilante

Spanish

final e = “long a”

mirage

French

patriotic

Greek

a = “ah”
io = “long i”, „long o”

Meaning

take law in
own hands
illusion
love of country

Using Reference Sources:
Exploring a Primary Dictionary
Concept of Definition Maps
Friendly Definitions
Comparing Definitions

Concept of Definition Maps
What Category
does it
Belong to?

Word
How is it
Different
than Others
in the Category?
From: Stahl & Nagy. (2006). Teaching Word Meanings. LEA..

Concept of Definition Maps

Choice

Dilemma
Two
(Often Bad)
Alternatives
From: Stahl & Nagy. (2006). Teaching Word Meanings. LEA..

Friendly Definitions

Word

devious

Dictionary Definition

straying from the right
course; not
straightforward

Friendly Explanation

If someone is devious he is
using tricky and
secretive ways to do
something dishonest.

From: Beck, McKeown, & Kucan. (2008). Creating Robust Vocabulary. Guilford Press.

Friendly Definitions: Comparing Dictionaries

Dictionary Dictionary Dictionary Dictionary
1
2
3
4

Word

Definition
1

Definition
2

Definition
3

Definition
4

From: Beck, McKeown, & Kucan. (2008). Creating Robust Vocabulary. Guilford Press.

Friendly Definitions: Comparing Dictionaries
American
Heritage

Devious

Not
straightforward;
shifty: a
devious
character

Merriam
Webster

Sneaky,
deceptive

Longman
Advanced

Cobuild

Using
tricks or
lies to get
what you
want

Someone
who is
devious is
dishonest
and
secretive,
often in a
complicated
way.

From: Beck, McKeown, & Kucan. (2008). Creating Robust Vocabulary. Guilford Press.

Predicting and Checking Word Meanings
Word or
Phrase

Before Reading: What
Do I Think It Means?

After Context: What Do I
Think It Means Now?

Checking Sources:
What Did I Find Out?

Exploring Various Relationships Among Words
Word Building: Parts of Speech
Word Sorting: Homophones
Synonym/Antonym Word Ladders
Concept Sorts and Maps
Semantic Feature Analysis

Word Building – Parts of Speech
Noun

Verb

Adjective

Adverb

_______

_______

happy

_______

_______

force

_______

_______

care

_______

_______

_______

_______

_______

_______

carelessly

Word Building – Parts of Speech
Noun

Verb

Adjective

Adverb

happiness

?

happy

happily

force

force

forceful

forcefully

care

care

careful

carefully

care

care

careless

carelessly

Word Building – Parts of Speech
Noun

Verb

Adjective

Adverb

joy

_______

_______

_______

_______

think

_______

_______

_______

_______

just

_______

_______

scare

_______

_______

Word Building – Parts of Speech
Noun

Verb

Adjective

Adverb

joy

enjoy

joyful

joyfully

thought

think

thoughtless

thoughtlessly

justice

?

just

justly

scare

scare

scary

scarily

Meaning Word Sort:
Long Vowel Homophones
Sale

Sail

?

mane

loan

eight

lone

main

thyme

gate

mail

male

might

mite

gait

time

Meaning Word Sort:
Past Tense Homophones
Guessed

Guest

?

missed

mist

kept

fined

find

heard

bowled

bold

held

passed

past

paid

tracked

tract

whiled

wild

Homophones/Confusable Pairs
access
assess
excess

cooperation
corporation

eminent
imminent

accelerating
exhilarating

disburse
disperse

hoard
horde

adapt
adept

discreet
discrete

missal
missile

bouillon
bullion

elicit
illicit

persecute
prosecute

broach
brooch

emigrate
immigrate

venal
venial

From: Dale & O’Rourke (1971). Techniques of Teaching Vocabulary. Field Educational Publications.

Matching Confusable Sets with Definitions
1. access
2. assess
3. excess

too much
judge the situation
to get to

4. adapt
5. adept
6. adopt

to change something for your own use
to be good at dong something
to take and use something as it is

7. discreet
8. discrete

a specific, separable part
behaving with good judgment

9. missal
10. missile

a flying object, often a bomb
a prayer book

Matching Confusable Sets with Definitions
1. access
2. assess
3. excess

too much (3)
judge the situation (2)
to get to (1)

4. adapt
5. adept
6. adopt

to change something for your own use (4)
to be good at dong something (5)
to take and use something as it is (6)

7. discreet
8. discrete

a specific, separable part (8)
behaving with good judgment (7)

9. missal
10. missile

a flying object, often a bomb (10)
a prayer book (9)

Matching Confusable Sets with Definitions
1. accelerating
2. exhilarating

exciting
going faster

3. disburse
4. disperse

to give out, distribute
to scatter

5. elicit
6. illicit

not allowed
to draw out from some one

7. eminent
8. imminent

well-respected
happening now

9. horde
10. hoard

a large group
to collect and keep

Matching Confusable Sets with Definitions
1. accelerating
2. exhilarating

exciting
going faster

3. disburse
4. disperse

to give out, distribute
to scatter

5. elicit
6. illicit

not allowed
to draw out from some one

7. eminent
8. imminent

well-respected
happening now

9. horde
10. hoard

a large group
to collect and keep

Synonym/Antonym Word Ladder (Semantic Gradient)
Word List

Ladder

murmur

scream

mumble
proclaim
state
shout
scream
whisper

whisper

Synonym/Antonym Word Ladder (Semantic Gradient)
Word List

Ladder

murmur

scream

mumble

shout

proclaim

proclaim

state

state

shout

mumble

scream

murmur

whisper

whisper

See: Rasinski, T. & Cheesman, (in preparation). Vocabulary Ladders. Teacher Created Materials

Synonym/Antonym Word Ladder (Semantic Gradient)
Word List

Ladder

stingy

extravagant

extravagant
generous
economical
wasteful
thrifty
lavish

stingy

Synonym/Antonym Word Ladder (Semantic Gradient)
Word List

Ladder

stingy

extravagant

extravagant

lavish

generous

wasteful

economical

generous

wasteful

economical

thrifty

thrifty

lavish

stingy

Variation on a Synonym/Antonym Word Ladder

obedience
sneakiness

crime

From: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Word Lists for Focused Unit – Law and Order
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

compliance
forensic
culprit
circumstantial
surveillance
perpetrate
prosecution
alibi
injurious
acquit

restitution
accomplice
perjury
constable
statute
duplicity
constituent
complicity
jurisdiction
supplicant

liable
impartial
mediate
lenient
retaliate
infraction
reconcile
extenuating
ultimatum
exonerate

From: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Word Lists for Focused Unit – Law and Order
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

compliance
forensic
culprit
circumstantial
surveillance
perpetrate
prosecution
alibi
injurious
acquit

restitution
accomplice
perjury
constable
statute
duplicity
constituent
complicity
jurisdiction
supplicant

liable
impartial
mediate
lenient
retaliate
infraction
reconcile
extenuating
ultimatum
exonerate

From: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Variation on a Synonym/Antonym Word Ladder

obedience

compliance

sneakiness

duplicity

crime

infraction

From: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Concept Map for Sleep

Where We Sleep
Bed
Crib
Cot
Mattress
Cradle
Pillow
Couch
Rocking Chair

Sounds for Sleeping
Crooning
Yawning
Lullaby
Soft Singing
Whispers
Snoring

SLEEP
When We Sleep
Nighttime
Nap
Car Rides
When We’re Tired
When We’re Sick
In the Dark

How We Sleep
Snuggled
Curled
Buried
Nuzzled
Nestled
Wrapped-up
Bunched-up
Snug
Stretched-out
Cuddled
Dozing

Topic:
Examples

Feature
1

Feature
2

Feature
3

Feature
4

Feature
5

Topic
Presidents

Washington
Jefferson
Lincoln
T. Roosevelt
Wilson
F. Roosevelt
Kennedy

Nixon
George W. Bush
Obama

President
during a
major
war

War
hero

From
Virginia

Republican

Policies
resulted in major social
change

Topic
Presidents

President
during a
major
war

Washington

War
hero

From
Virginia

X

X
X

Jefferson
Lincoln

X

T. Roosevelt
Wilson
F. Roosevelt

X
X
X

Republican

Policies
resulted in major social
change

?
X
X

X
X

Kennedy
Nixon
George W. Bush
Obama

X
X
X

X

X
X

From: Rasinski & Zutell (2010). Essential Strategies for Word Study Scholastic.

Understanding Non-Literal Meanings and Uses
Thematic Idiom Collections
Figurative Language

Thematic Idiom Collections
Procedures:
1. Choose a Theme
2. Provide Examples
3. Have Students Brainstorm and Share
4. Add More Examples if Necessary

5. Post Idioms on a Word Wall
6. Enter in Student Word Study Journals
7. Find Ways to Use Them in Everyday Activities
8. Have Students Incorporate Them into Writing
9. Review at End of Time Period
From: Rasinski & Zutell (2010). Essential Strategies for Word Study Scholastic.

Thematic Idiom Collections
Examples - Ducks:
Like a duck takes to water.
Odd duck
Quack
Lame duck
Sitting ducks
Water off a duck’s back
Lucky duck
Get your ducks in a row
Lovely weather for ducks

From: Rasinski & Zutell (2010). Essential Strategies for Word Study Scholastic.

Thematic Idiom Collections
Examples – Body Parts:

Chin Up
Stiff Upper Lip
Lend an Ear

From: Dale & O’Rourke (1971). Techniques of Teaching Vocabulary. Field Educational Publications.

Thematic Idiom Collections
Examples – Body Parts:
Chin Up
Heads Up
Stiff Upper Lip
Stick Your Neck Out
Lend an Ear
Split Hairs
A Finger in Every Pie
Tongue Lashing
Back on Your Feet

From: Dale & O’Rourke (1971). Techniques of Teaching Vocabulary. Field Educational Publications.

Types of Figurative Language
Personification: Giving human qualities to non-human
objects.
Example: a weeping willow tree
Simile: An explicit comparison, often using words like like,
as, than.
Example: He fought like a tiger.

Metaphor: An implicit comparison without using words like
like, as, than.
Example: Night fell quietly in the tiny village
Allegory: Extended metaphor
Hyperbole: Extreme or exaggerated comparison.
Example: I was scared to death by the loud noise.
Adapted from: Dale & O’Rourke (1971). Techniques of Teaching Vocabulary. Field Educational Publications.

Types of Figurative Language
Euphemism: Avoiding less pleasant way of saying
something by putting it in amore pleasant way.
Example: Lying as misinformation
Metonymy: Using one thing to substitute for another.
Example: The White House announced the new
policy.
Synecdoche: Using a part to stand for the whole.
Example: Great minds think alike!
Litotes: Opposite of hyperbole; understatement often used
with the negative.
Example: It was a jewel of no small value.
Adapted from: Dale & O’Rourke (1971). Techniques of Teaching Vocabulary. Field Educational Publications.

Learning New Words and Using Them Precisely
to Convey Increasingly Complex Ideas
Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy

Word Wizards
Building Word Study Notebooks
Teaching Vocabulary as a Writing Prompt
Language for Debate and Critical Thinking

Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy:
Students search for and nominate words for
study. Those decided upon are then studied
systematically throughout the week. (Ruddell &
Shearer, 2002)
Word Wizards:
Students gain points and reach different
levels by reporting occurrences of vocabulary words
outside the classroom. (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan
(2002)

Content Area Words: Social Studies
Social Studies What does it
Word
mean?

Where did it come How was it
from?
made?

boycott

to refuse to have
dealings with in
order to express
disapproval

Charles Boycott
(1897)

Eponym: Irish
tenants boycotted
Boycott when he
refused to lower
rents.

acquaculture

cultivation of the
natural produce of
water, e.g., fish

agriculture

Coined word by
analogy (1867)

fjord

a narrow inlet of
water

Norwegian

Borrowed word

Content Area Words: Science
Science Word What does it
mean?

Where did it come How was it
from?
made?

volcano

an opening in the
earth through which
molten rock
reaches the surface

Latin

plankton

tiny plants and
animals that float in
the ocean

Greek

AIDS

a condition
associated the
breakdown of the
immune system

Acronym

Eponym: Vulcan
was the Roman god
of fire.

Made word: The
Greek word
plantos means
"drifting."
Acronym: acquired
immune deficiency
syndrome (1982)

Content Area Words: Math
Math Word

What does it
mean?

Where did it come How was it
from?
made?

fraction

a piece of a whole

Latin

Made word: The
Latin word fractus
means "broken."

zero

nothing

Arabic

Borrowed word:
The Arabic word
sifr means "empty."

Teaching Vocabulary as a Writing Prompt
(Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002; Duin & Graves 1987, 1988)

• Select a set of ten or so words that lend
themselves to writing about a particular topic.

• Involve students in rich and robust activities over
several days: Define the words, compare them to
other words, examine the contexts to which they do
and do not apply, play games with them , etc.
• Have students write an essay in which they use as
many of the words as possible.

Downloaded from the internet 5/2/11:
http://www.slideshare.net/andrewrummel/graves-presentation

Word Lists for Focused Unit - Sight
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

spectacular
visit
sense
signal
evident
alert
unforeseen
fascinate
glance
distract

spectator
significant
visible
revise
especially
view
signature
signify
suspicious
suspect

mysterious
example
extinguish
mirage
trace
album
scope
extinct
display
symbol

From: Zutell (2013). Word Wisdom. Zaner-Bloser Educational Publishers

Language for Debate and Critical Thinking
Use a Shared Inquiry or similar approach to group
discussion:








“Debatable” reading selection
Interpretive Question
Writing an Opinion
Working in Smaller to Larger Groups
Listing Arguments for and Against
Opportunities to Change Sides
Large Group Debate
Teacher as Moderator and Summarizer
Final Writing

Key: Use critical thinking terms throughout (e.g.,
positions, claims, evidence, reasoning, counterclaims).
Adapted from: Temple, Steele, & Meredith (1998). Further strategies for promoting critical
thinking, Guidebook IV. Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Project, The Soros Foundation

Language for Debate and Critical Thinking (1)
Use a Shared Inquiry or similar approach to a reading activity:

Use materials that prompt discussion and that can be
interpreted differently from different points of view.
Ask an interpretive question - one that is open-ended,
may be reasonably answered in at least two different
ways, and that invites students to think more deeply about
the text.
Have students respond to the question in writing, taking
one position and offering reasons for their point of view.
Adapted from: Temple, Steele, & Meredith (1998). Further strategies for promoting critical
thinking, Guidebook IV. Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Project, The Soros Foundation

Language for Debate and Critical Thinking (2)

Have students work first in pairs and then small groups,
using a graphic organizer to list reasons for and against
a position.
The students form two groups to debate the positions,
Each group has the opportunity to offer arguments
and counter the arguments of the other side.
Throughout the process students may change sides when
they feel the other side has the stronger case
The teacher summarizes the arguments offered in the
debate, calling attention to the main points made, and the
logic by which they were used to support a conclusion.
Students revise their initial writing to reflect their final thinking.