Traditionally, publishers of textbooks have given a list of important vocabulary words at the beginning of a text to introduce to the students ahead of time. In the past, class time was used to pre-teach the words to students by looking words up in the dictionary and then using them in sentences. This practice can take away much needed class time that could be used to actually read the text. Teachers can find a balance between growing their students’ vocabulary knowledge and engaging in the reading if they keep a few guiding principles in mind.
First, limit the number of words introduced to the students before reading the passage. Look at the words listed in the text as suggested terms to pre-teach. Then, edit the list, deleting words for the following:
- DON’T pre-teach a term if its meaning can be figured out using context clues. Rather, recognize these as opportunities for students to apply their knowledge of context clues within nearby sentences, within nearby text features (e.g., pictures, charts, diagrams, footnotes, captions, etc.), and within the word itself. (Greek and Latin roots provide support as to a word’s meaning.)
- DON’T pre-teach terms that aren’t crucial to the understanding of the passage. These are referred to as incidental words. They are words students may not know, but their lack of understanding will not impede their overall comprehension. Rather, address these unfamiliar words as they come up during the reading. Simply provide a quick explanation or synonym and then move on.
Next, after eliminating several “suggested words to pre-teach,” follow each of these four steps for the remaining terms deemed critical for comprehension.
- Provide a simple explanation by completing one of the sentence stems recommended by Dr. Robert Marzano.
–is something that–
–is a concept that–
–is the idea that–
- Tie the word’s meaning to a kid-friendly example. Relate the term to the students’ lives at home, in school, or within pop culture.
- Connect the word’s meaning to the text. Explain how the word will be incorporated into the author’s ideas or the story’s plot.
- Assess students’ general understanding. Before reading the text, have students explain the word to a partner. Ensure they have a working understanding of its meaning before reading.
These four steps provide scaffold and support for new and critical vocabulary that students need to fully comprehend text.