Repetition is Key! Working Towards Multiple Exposures of New Vocabulary

Anyone over 25 can surely remember making vocabulary flash cards, writing words over and over to learn the spelling, and generating example sentences to try and cement the meaning of new words. Today’s students have an endless supply of mobile vocabulary flash card apps to choose from, so they don’t have to carry around a lame pile of colored index cards. Regardless of the medium the method of repetition to learn new words is not likely to fade anytime soon, nor should it, according to mounds of research.

In a recent article in Education Leadership, Lawrence at al. explained that, “Probably the most consistent finding related to good vocabulary instruction is that students need multiple exposures to a word to learn it well.” The National Institute for Literacy has also highlighted the importance, noting that, “Once vocabulary words have been selected, teachers should consider how to make repeated exposures to the word or concept productive and enjoyable.” Ensuring that the multiple exposures are significant and engaging is an important priority for teachers, and fortunately there is a plethora of interesting and exciting ways to reinforce new words. And LessonWriter makes it easier than ever!
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Here are some ways to support multiple exposures of new vocabulary:

  • Make a lesson on www.lessonwriter.com and get a lesson with up to seven different exposures to new vocabulary. The pre-teach vocabulary section gives instructors an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary via whole class or small group instruction. Then students encounter the vocabulary in the context of the passage and in three separate reinforcement exercises (fill-in-the-blank, matching, and write your own sentences). Teachers can also easily create flash cards and word searches from these vocabulary words.
  • Try bringing flash cards to the next level. Have students go beyond the word and definition to also include lists of examples and non-examples. Ask them to draw a simple picture that reminds them of the new word or connect the word to a physical action.
  • Use concept maps to help students activate schema and build connections to new words.
  • Have students create word sorts. Differentiate the activity by letting advanced groups determine the categories.

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Feeling Confused?

confused monkey
At a seminar I attended recently, the presenter asked for an audience member to look up the word “leverage” to clarify a point. A helpful gentleman volunteered and read through four distinct definitions of “leverage” before finally reaching the one that accurately matched the presenter’s meaning.

When confronted with a word that has multiple uses, “looking it up” can add to the confusion.

In addition to multiple definitions for everyday vocabulary, there are subject-specific definitions which are especially challenging for ELLs in content-area classes, like most science and social studies classes.

In the article “Academic Language and ELLs: What Teachers Need to Know” Lydia Breiseth offers these examples of words whose meanings change by subject:

Word Meaning/Use
Table
  1. Lunch table (Social language)
  2. Periodic Table of Elements (Science)
  3. Table of Contents (ELA)
  4. Multiplication tables (Math)
  5. To table (delay) the discussion (Social Studies)
Plot
  1. Plot of a story (ELA)
  2. Plot of land (Geography)
  3. Plot ordered pairs on a graph (Math)
  4. To plot a government coup (History)
Branch
  1. Branch of government (Social Studies)
  2. Branch of a river (Geography)
  3. To branch out (Idiom)
Foot
  1. Your foot (Health)
  2. One foot in length (Math)
  3. Foot in your mouth (Idiom)
  4. Foot of the mountain (Geography)
  5. To foot the bill (Idiom)

For students already struggling with literacy and content-area knowledge, having to read through multiple definitions to select the right one is painful and distracts from the meaning of the text. Far more helpful is providing the precise definition for a specific context.

And it’s not just words!

Later in the same article, Breiseth brings up Debbie Zacarian and Judie Haynes, who coined the term TWIPs (Terms, Words, Idioms, and Phrases) in their book Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas, for important language structures. The article provides these examples that further illustrate how important content specific definitions are:

Terms The boiling point of water is 212° F.
Words The Declaration is now on display in Washington, DC.
Idioms She came to town once in a blue moon.
Phrases Based on the data, we agree with the scientists’ conclusion.

Analyzing texts, identifying vocabulary pitfalls, and developing instructional materials to address those challenges are the time consuming tasks that discourage you from using fresh, authentic materials in their classes.

LessonWriter automatically performs all those tasks on any reading material, so you can teach what suits your students best and still deliver high quality literacy support.

And with LessonWriter’s Differentiated Instruction options, definitions, jargon and slang can be taught as needed to some students and not to others where they may be inappropriate or distracting. Explicit instruction in slang, for example, is often helpful to second language learners but not to native speakers.

Join now to get started customizing language learning support for your students today.

3Haynes, J. & Zacarian, D. (2010). Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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