Working with a group of kindergarten students recently, one student said to me, “We don’t say “ABC order,” we say ‘alphabetical order’.” I smiled and said to the child, “So, what does alphabetical mean?” After a thorough explanation from the little one I shared the experience with the teacher. She explained to me that the district is focusing on the use of academic words and her kindergarten students have adapted quite well, not only using the words in conversation but also knowing what they mean. I thanked the teacher for providing powerful learning opportunities for her students.
Why teach academic vocabulary? Bob Marzano continues to emphasize, If schools systematically address academic background knowledge through vocabulary instruction, they can make major strides in closing the achievement gap between educationally advantaged and disadvantaged students. Vocabulary knowledge is synonymous with prior knowledge; teaching vocabulary is a powerful way to build background knowledge.
Through systematic instruction of academic vocabulary, students become word conscious learners; they have an awareness of and an interest in new words, their various meanings, and their power. As a result, students begin to take notice of words they read or hear and those they write or speak.
There are numerous ways to create word conscious learners; begin by using the Prevoke vocabulary strategy. The Prevoke strategy not only helps readers develop vocabulary but also, prediction skills. Readers are challenged to use specific words/phrases from the designated selection by categorizing them into predetermined categories. The categorized words then serve as the basis for formulating a prediction.
Follow these basic steps:
- Select an informative or narrative passage to read. Identify 8-15 critical vocabulary words/phrases from the text.
Example: The Real Story of Paul Bunyan
- Determine categories into which the words should be categorized (examples – story elements, story sequence, true/false, fact/fiction).
Example: Fact and Opinion
- Share the words/phrases with the students and discuss the general meaning of each one.
Example: Paul Bunyon, logger, mythical logging camp, mill operations, Pillsbury Doughboy type, Babe, sporadically, Paul Bunyan festivals
- Explain the categories into which the words are to be placed. Have students work with a partner to categorize the words and then formulate a written prediction. When working with young children the process is a verbal activity using a pocket chart to display the words/phrases with pictures.
- Read the selection orally or silently.
- After reading the entire selection, ask students to compare their list of categorized words/phrases to what actually happened.
- Discuss benefits of the Prevoke strategy with the students. “In what ways did this strategy assist your reading comprehension?”
Vocabulary strategies such as the Prevoke are a highly motivating yet a simple way to expand vocabulary and improve comprehension. For more information on the Prevoke strategy see Strategies to Engage the Mind of the Learner, 2nd edition, page 40.
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