Two ways of learning vocabulary
Most vocabulary is learned indirectly. That is,
children learn words in three principle ways:
- They talk every day. When they converse with
people, they hear words used repeatedly. Adults who enjoy words and who relish
using new and fascinating ones are the people who can best teach children an
extensive oral language.
- They are the audience of adults who read to them.
This is one of the reasons why you have heard so frequently that it is important
for parents to read to their children daily. It is through reading and
discussions of these books that children learn new words and incorporate them
into their own vocabulary.
- They read independently. When children read
on their own, they discover new words. It is through this process that they
build a more extensive vocabulary.
While most vocabulary is learned indirectly, as
explained above, there are also many words that need to be learned via direct
instruction. This process refers to children’s being taught (a) specific words
as well as (b) strategies for learning new words.
In some cases, such as in the content areas of science
and social studies, it may be necessary to precede the reading with the teaching
of certain words. In this way, when a child encounters such a word as
"photosynthesis," she knows that it refers to a process that is happening in a
plant, and she can focus her attention on the concept being taught rather than
puzzling over the meaning of a word she doesn’t understand.
It is also helpful to teach children strategies for
learning new words. Some of these strategies include:
- proper use of dictionaries to look up words;
- figuring out what a word means by its context in the
- examining the meanings of word parts -- prefixes, roots,
and suffixes -- and relating those parts to known words so that they can
figure out what the new word means. Once a child learns that "re-" at the
beginning of a word means "again," he has a valuable piece of information that
he can apply to many words he encounters with this prefix.