Activities to Support Vocabulary Development

Now that you have a great user-friendly vocabulary
definition, how do you help your students “own” the meanings? How do you
support their learning of these vocabulary terms?

Beck, McKeown and Kucan’s Bringing Words to Life is one of several books we love that gives practical suggestions for supporting vocabulary learning. In it, the authors give activities that can be used to
support the understanding of the vocabulary terms. Likewise, in Developing Vocabulary and Oral Language in Young Children, Silverman and Hartranft list activities to help students "play with words."
To give you some examples of how to use these activities,
we’re going to use words from our InferCabulary2 iPad app: conspirator, din, horde, and
. You could work with the student on these four words using
InferCabulary2 and then engage in activities to support the learning of these
four terms. 
Activities could include:
Word Associations
This is a commonly used method for reinforcing and
supporting the understanding of vocabulary terms by speech language
pathologists. It looks something like this:
  • ·     
    Which word goes with “thief?” (conspirator)
  • ·     
    Which word goes with “a loud unpleasant noise?”
  • ·     
    Which word goes with “gang?” (horde)
  • ·     
    Which word goes with “grieving?” (mourner)

Asking important questions of your students to help them “associate”
the meaning of the words helps the student process the information and creates
a deeper understanding of the vocabulary word.
Relate to Personal
This question activity helps a student associate his own
experiences with the vocabulary word.
  • ·     
    Have you ever done something wrong with a friend
    and gotten in trouble? (conspirator)
  • ·     
    Have you ever heard a really loud noise? (din)
  • ·     
    Have you ever gone to a large concert? (horde)
  • ·     
    Have you ever gone to a funeral or lost someone
    you love? (mourner)

      Often students can’t relate to the words because they don’t
know how to associate the word to their own experience. Your job is to help
them find that connection.
Word Lines

Put the word and its synonyms on a word line or continuum. Using
the word horde, I created a word map using Inspiration Maps for iPad. You could
also do this low tech using paper and pencil or sticky notes.
Talk about which is “more,” crowd or horde, mob or multitude, gang or horde? The student will begin to understand how their new vocabulary word relates to synonyms of the word. Adding a new set of words to the meaning "a large group," will enhance the meaning and establish a deeper knowledge of the word.

Have the students act out the word. For example, conspirator could be acted out by brainstorming ideas of what friends could get into trouble doing. Use all the verbs from the vocabulary list and have the children act out each word in order for other students to guess.

No matter what activities you use for vocabulary learning, make it fun! When kids are having fun, both sides of the brain are engaged leading to deeper learning and retention of words.

Tweaking Vocabulary Definitions

Have you ever wondered how the dictionaries came up with their definitions and why are they so unfriendly to users? Beck, McKeown and Kucan's Bringing Words To Life gives background on how definitions came to be.

Definition practices date back to the 18th century and involve first describing the word by class and then how it differs from other members in the class. They give an example of the word bachelor which is defined as, "a man who is unmarried." Another consideration is space - dictionaries try to use as little space as possible for each of the thousands of words. 

Many of our students with language-learning differences struggle with definitions because of how they are worded, the lack of information because of space and the fact that there are tier two vocabulary words embedded within the definitions.

For example, the word prominent, is defined by Webster's Dictionary as:

prom-i-nent 1: sticking out beyond a surface or line 2: easily noticeable e: distinguished

Right off the bat there are 2 tier two vocabulary words embedded in the definition - surface and distinguished - making the definition difficult for a student to access. The definition itself is not worded in everyday language. 

I like to use the online Cobuild Dictionary and it has this definition for prominent: 

prominent (adj) something that is "prominent" is very noticeable or an important part of something else. 
Then I tweak the definition to add more information:
prominent (adj) is someone or something that is very noticeable, stands out or is an important part of something.
My definition will be longer than the dictionary definition and will almost always use the words: something, someone or describes at the beginning. Our InferCabulary apps use photographs to provide multiple contexts to broaden students' understanding of their words. It can be used as another tool for deeper understanding.

Don't be afraid to tweak the definitions for students, so they develop a deeper and broader understanding of the terms. Once they understand deeply, you can help them associate that meaning with the definition given in their classroom to maximize learning.

Vocabulary using Active Involvement

We are excited to have added Rebecca Silverman and Anna
Harnanft’s new book Developing Vocabulary and Oral Language in Young
(2015) to our arsenal of vocabulary tools.  In it, Drs. Silverman and Harnanft share
several activities for reinforcing vocabulary including “Example/Non-Example,”
“Related Words,” and “Double Jeopardy.”

All of these activities require active involvement on the
part of the student, which research supports is a “must” if we want students to
“anchor” and truly own new words.  These
games and activities help students prune and/or expand their understanding of
the new vocabulary words so that they have a deeper and broader understanding.
In Example/Non-Example,” students hold thumbs up or thumbs
down for each word the teacher/SLP offers for a newly-learned term.   For older students, this might look more
like, “can veto laws, can make treaties with Senate approval and can issue
executive orders” and thumbs down to “writes laws” if studying “Executive

For an
elementary example, if the term is “vehicle”, students would hold thumbs up for
“airplane, train, scooter,” but would hold thumbs down for “playground.”

In “Related Words,” connections are made between new
words, and words already in the vocabulary “store”. By building connections, we
help students store and retrieve vocabulary more effectively.  In this activity, young children would
brainstorm (and a bubble map could be drawn on the board or on paper) words
that go with the new vocabulary (e.g., vehicle). The teacher or SLP would help
demonstrate how these words can be further organized by subcategory. For
example, “car, crash, plane, train, subway, boat). 

For older students, this might be useful for demonstrating
types of shelters (temporary, permanent) to include vocabulary such as
apartment versus condominium, teepee versus tent, or mansion versus shack.
In “Double Jeopardy,” students anchor understanding of
multiple-meaning words, while having to formulate questions.  A board is set up, similar to the game
Jeopardy. Students answer questions such as, “A word that means two things: a
flying animal and sports equipment you use to hit a ball.” The student must
think flexibly to retrieve the question: “What is a bat?” 
We are so excited to see how much focus is being placed on
the important skill of developing vocabulary. 
Get creative, and engage in cool activities like these ones, rather than
just having students memorize definitions on index cards. They will thank you,
and their vocabulary stores will broaden and deepen!