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Accelerating Young Mind’s Focus on Vocabulary

Of the many compelling reasons for providing students with instruction to build vocabulary, none is more important than the contribution of vocabulary knowledge to reading comprehension. Indeed, one of the most enduring findings in reading research is the extent to which students’ vocabulary knowledge relates to the mind images created through cognitive learning and real world experience. Given that students’ success in school and beyond depends in great measure upon their ability to read with comprehension, there is a urgency to providing instruction that equips students with the skills and strategies necessary for lifelong vocabulary development.

How many words does an elementary child need to know? To understand the magnitude of this task, it is necessary to examine what learning a certain number of words would require in terms of instruction. To directly teach students even 3,000 words a year would mean teaching, and the child remembering, approximately 17 words each school day (e.g., 3,000 words/180 school days). Estimates vary, but reviews of classroom intervention studies suggest that, in general, no more than 8 to 10 words can be taught effectively each week. This means that no more than approximately 400 words can be taught in a year. Using a simple calculation, 3,000 – 400 = 2,600, the conclusion is that students must find ways other than direct classroom instruction to learn words.

Text from book or other print Visual for word AYM Added knowledge from real visual and audio support.
  • plane
  • wing
  • passengers
  • suitcase
  • people leaving
  • people going on to plane
  • jet engine
  • mind images in brain
  • sound of word

The sad truth is that the vast majority of children who start behind, stay behind, leading to an increase in our nation’s dropout rate. For low-income children, early intervention is essential. Without the necessary literacy resources beginning in the preschool to early grades, children start down the slippery slope of non-achievement before they even have a chance to compete.

Young students who don’t have large vocabularies or effective cognitive word-learning strategies often struggle to achieve reading comprehension. Their bad experiences with reading set in motion a cycle of frustration and failure that continues throughout their schooling. Since these students don’t have sufficient word knowledge to understand what they read, they typically avoid reading. Because they don’t read very much, they don’t have the opportunity to see and learn very many new words. It is important to note that the squiggles on a page do not mean anything until they are attached to a visual. Words are just labels until there is a visual understanding. Further, words that will attach to long-term memory and provide the foundation for adding new related words will only be registered in the brain if the word is of a personal interest or use.

Text Visual for word AYM Added knowledge from real visual and audio support.
  • color
  • orange
  • text
  • connection
  • mind images in brain
  • word sound
  • fun carving activity together

English Language Learners

The increasing number of ELL students in our schools, coupled with the established importance of vocabulary to comprehension, suggests the need for an intensive research focus on which instructional methods are most effective with students who are either native Spanish or other language speakers.   These children make up an increasing proportion of our school-age population, but many of them have difficulty comprehending what they read due to their lack of understanding of English words.  Attaching those words to real visual images trigger existing knowledge of that image and therefore, the corresponding English word is more easily understood.  By providing real mages and sounds, the learning of English is a much easier and speedier process.

Text only Visual for word AYM Added knowledge from real visual and audio support.
  • ocean
  • snow/ice
  • diving
  • cannot fly
  • cold
  • group
  • mind images in brain
  • word sound

Cognitive Development of Vocabulary through Thematic Structure

Movement words

The four examples below indicate how delivery of new words are provided to the student

Primary word Sub category word Sub category word Sub category word Sub category word
harbor Animals machines nature structures
  • Seal, seagull.
  • Fish
  • pigeons, barnacles
  • Mussels
  • Ferry, fishing boat, tug boat, passenger liner
  • Freighter, fireboat
  • Tide, sea water, waves, ripples.
  • fog
market, dock, terminal, shop, restaurant,
Sports Baseball tennis soccer football
  throw, hit, base, run, bag, home run Racket, tennis ball, court, run, win Soccer ball, feet, kick, net, goal, uniform Field goal, touchdown, helmet, quarterback,
offence, cleats
animals Cats dogs birds Baby animals
  Cat, lion, tiger, cougar, cheetah
Collie, poodle, greyhound,
Spaniel, terrier, wolf
robin, wren, cardinal, hawk, eagle, cardinal Kitten puppy, calf, chick, duckling, colt
food Fruit vegetables bakery meat
  Orange, apple, peach, grape, cantaloupe, pomegranate Potato, celery, corn, spinach, carrot, zucchini Bread, donut, pie, cake,
maple bar,
Salmon, steak, hamburger, ham, trout,
prime rib