Strategy 4: Teach "Life Words" as They're Needed

(before reading)

Systematic, direct vocabulary instruction of “life words” is one of the most important instructional interventions that teachers can use, particularly with low-achieving students (Marzano, Pickering and Pollock). Without sufficient vocabulary knowledge, “reading to learn” is very limited and often frustrating. Direct instruction on words that are critical to new content produces the most powerful learning.

Guide your vocabulary instruction with these generalizations (from Classroom Instruction that Works):

1. Direct instruction in new words enhances learning those words in context.
2. Students must encounter words in context more than once to learn them.
3. One of the best ways to learn a new word is to associate an image with it.

The LINCS approach to learning new words (from SIM: The Vocabulary LINCing Routine, Ellis) is shown below. It can be used as a whole class activity. The teacher and students analyze the new term together and construct memory devices for it. This kind of pre-reading instruction helps students get more out of their reading.
To use the LINCS approach, scan their reading assignment for words that might be difficult for them. Put those words in the first column. Start by giving them an example and discussing uses of the word. Then, as a class, have them come up with a reminding word and a drawing to go with the word. Make appropriate suggestions as needed. After they have created the mental images and reminders, then develop together a definition. Have them write a sentence that uses the word appropriately. Remember that they will need repeated exposure to new words and repeated opportunities to use them, so this pre-teaching should be followed, after the reading, with more opportunities to read the word in context and use it in writing.

Part 1: Read through the first page of the article from Discover Magazine in the handouts and identify several "life words" that you would want to pre-teach. Create your own LINCS chart and come up with student-friendly reminders and an appropriate definition for each term.

Part 2: Use this strategy with an authentic piece of text that your students need to read for class. Your lesson plan for that day should include about 10-20 minutes for the vocabulary teaching (depending on the number of words), then an appropriate amount of time for the reading, and then 10 minutes or so for students to talk about the experience of learning the difficult "life words" first. You may want to have students keep a Vocabulary Journal of these words.

Part 3: Record students' comments and your own reflections on this strategy on the discussion tab for this page. If you find additional ways to reinforce the use of the new words, tell us about that too.

Teaching about deep concept words - The Frayer Model

Pre-teaching the deep concept words in science or social studies might acquaint students with the words before they do a reading, but students don't learn the meaning of these important concepts solely by defining them before they read. Words like photosynthesis, energy, matter, democracy, culture, slavery, etc. are concepts that are learned through many classroom activities and over time, making connections as appropriate to other concepts and real-world examples. There are some strategies that can help keep track of concepts words as they are learned over time through class instruction, including the Frayer model, which is presented here.

Click here to download a stand-alone packet of vocabulary strategies. vocabulary packet.doc