Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Using the Internet to Improve Students’ Vocabularies

Research about vocabulary acquisition is plentiful and varied, yet nearly all of it agrees on certain facts about learning new words. One of the most important conclusions drawn by researchers is that the lion’s share of a student’s vocabulary comes from words learned through incidental exposure (i.e. words whose definitions a student figures out from context, either in reading or from oral speech).

Even the best language arts teachers cannot impart more than 300-400 words to students in a school year through formal, explicit instruction, yet by the time students reach 8th grade, they should know about 25,000 words! That means that most words and their meanings that students absorb come from informal, daily interactions with language. Research indicates that reading widely (about many topics and in many genres) and deeply (thoughtfully and reflectively) is one of the best ways for children to learn vocabulary incidentally.

A recent article in The Reading Teacher, by Bridget Dalton and Dana L. Grisham, provides suggestions for ways these research-based principles can be married to newly available technology to enhance students’ vocabulary acquisition. We were interested to learn that Dr. Dalton had previously served as Chief Officer of Literacy and Technology for CAST, a non-profit research and development organization that focuses on universal design for learning theory and practice. Dr. Yellin is a member of the Board of Directors of CAST. Some of the favorite technological tools mentioned by the authors are:
  • wordle and wordsift. To help them visualize relationships between words, students can create enhanced word clouds to help them make sense of the vocabulary in a text.
  • vocabulary and Both of these sites boast a wide selection of motivating games that allow elementary school students to have fun while they learn.

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