In special education, we first look for skills gaps. If we can identify the skills gaps we can easily remedy them. I am surprised how many times we identify gaps in vocabulary knowledge!
In fact, research has shown us that if a teacher uses direct vocabulary instruction with a student who was reading at the 50th %tile, they can be expected to improve to the 83%tile. In contrast, students who did not receive targeted vocabulary intervention can be expected to remain at the 50%tile. (Steven Stahl and Marilyn Fairbanks)
Reading instruction is actually pretty straightforward. I mean it’s incredibly complex, but it has a sequence with the 5 big areas of reading, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. There are TONS of resources for phonemic awareness and phonics, but when it comes to vocabulary, instruction gets a little bit trickier.
If we think about how vocabulary, word association and word networks are attained, it’s really logical how students with learning disabilities struggle. So much vocabulary is incidental learning. Kids from literacy rich homes have larger vocabularies than those who aren’t read to as often. But once a student starts to not understand incidental language and they start to struggle to use context clues to figure out what a word means they will fall further and further behind their peers because they lack that basic understanding of how to make meaningful word associations.
For example, if your goal is for a student to “Infer” something, you could use words such as “conclude, deduce, generalize, infer or reason.” All of those words could mean slightly different things depending on your content area and how you use the word. If your activity or assignment is to “infer” something and the student doesn’t know what it means, they won’t be able to appropriately complete the assignment.
Great vocabulary instruction comes from experience with the words. Tier 2 words are sometimes more difficult to teach because – really – how do you “experience” an inference? It really takes some time to think through how to make a student experience these more complex words.
Tier 3 vocabulary is content specific. This is the vocabulary that textbook publishers really target, which makes sense. However, for our struggling learners, until they understand the more basic language, comprehension with content specific words just isn’t going to happen very easily.
I created this 9 week long, scaffolded instructional teaching resource based on the Tier 2 words that Robert Marzano and Julia Simms identified in their book, “Vocabulary for the Common Core.” (Link at the bottom of the post- it’s a GREAT book!) This resource is not really grade specific, although it would be best upper elementary on up. It is based on 9 weeks and there is a specific lesson for each week that increases in complexity from day 1 to day 5. Lesson objectives are included using Bloom’s taxonomy.
In this resource, the instruction is all based on best practice for teaching, including modeling the correct response, practicing with support from the teacher and then applying knowledge of the word independently, in a fun activity! The hard part is done for you already!
How do you teach vocabulary?