Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Teaching Vocabulary and Comprehension

I observed three teachers and discussed how they treat content vocabulary and checking for comprehension with their students. All of the teachers I’ve observed teach vocabulary in context. During his talk, Jamie stopped to define difficult or challenging words. He first he repeated the word/term and asks for volunteers to explain what they thought the word meant. Then, he confirmed, corrected, or added to what the students shared as their previous knowledge and comprehension.

Like Jaime, the other teachers I observed used read-aloud, shared reading, and think-aloud—modeling how they comprehend what they read and strategies for defining and using words. Teachers additionally had students read independently, out loud, and for information gathering. All of the assessments (formal and informal) create a picture in the teacher’s mind of each student’s comprehension and vocabulary.

In the language acquisition class I observed, the teacher defines academic English with English learners in the following process.

1.      Teacher reads the purpose

2.      Teacher identifies a difficult academic word from the sentence

3.      Students say the word chorally

4.      Teacher asks for a definition of the word and chooses from volunteers until the word is defined correctly.

5.      Students write the definition or synonym under the academic term

6.      Students list more synonyms for related academic words and has the students select one they will use in a sentence

7.      Teacher reads the sentence frame

8.      Students chorally read the sentence frame

9.      Students fill in missing words from sentence frame with the word they selected to use in a sentence.

10.  Students  rewrite the sentence frame as a complete sentence

11.  Students partner, share their sentences, and write each other’s responses, then tell-back what they heard

12.  Everyone discusses their sentences as a group
In English literature and composition, students need to know the technical language of short story and novel reading and writing: plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement), conflict (man against man, man against nature, man against machine, and man against self), character (protagonist, antagonist, and narrator), point of view (first-person, second-person, third-person omniscient or close), voice, style, and setting. Also, essay writing terms (thesis statement, introduction, and conclusion—not to mention all of the text structures). These terms are found in the language arts standards for high school students and are industry words used in education and professional study and demonstrations of literature and composition.

Before reading the text, I define comprehension as being able to understand something to the point that you can use it with mastery and explain it correctly (in multiple ways) to someone else. Before reading the text, I decided that I currently teach and reinforce literary and writing terms and elements by asking students to connect to prior knowledge, define, discuss, interact with, identify, and give examples of terms.

I took the Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory from the article, From Practice to Preaching: Helping Content Area Teachers Teach Comprehension. My scores were high for global (57, 4.4 mean), problem-solving (36, 4.5 mean), and support strategies (32, 3.5 mean).

The overall average 4.13 indicates that I use reading strategies when reading academic materials. I use global strategies most often; therefore, I could consider using the lower-scoring (underused) support strategies of reading aloud to myself, read slowly and carefully, adjusting reading speed, using a dictionary, and going back and forth in a text to find relationships. I noticed that some of my underused reading strategies are the strategies I use highly in editing.
After reading the text, the implications for my own teaching greatly expanded. Initially, I wasn’t sure why my co-teacher used read aloud and shared reading more than having the students read the text out loud, popcorn, or chorally. Now, I better understand the value and trend with read aloud and shared reading.  However, in my observation, the teacher read the much more than one to three paragraphs of the most interesting text. It seems a good method would be to start the students off with read aloud or shared reading, and then move to group, pair, or individual work so that students can practice using the strategies they just saw modeled.

Which ideas suggested in these chapters am I most likely to apply in your own teaching? The easier question to answer is which ideas am I the least likely to apply! There were so many excellent examples. I appreciate learning and being reminded of the many strategies available to me as I teach vocabulary and comprehension. I plan to apply the following, among others.

·         Make copies of the text books for students to annotate as they read

·         Explicitly model, think aloud, and discuss reading strategies—possibly have the students take their own reading strategy inventory. Display the strategies in the classroom. Give students a reference.

·         Explicitly model, think aloud, and discuss, and give multiple examples of reading comprehension strategies. Display the strategies in the classroom (pp. 63-64 and 69). Give students a reference.

·         DR-TA to plan reading-thinking activity planning (pg. 68)

·         4-Square vocabulary cards

·         Total physical response (pg. 48), semantic feature analysis (pg. 47), Vocabulary Jeopardy (avoid overuse), and structural word analysis (pg. 44)

·         Help students be actively involved in word learning, make personal connections, be immersed in vocabulary, and consolidate meaning through multiple information sources

·         Vocabulary self-awareness (pg. 41)


Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2011). Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work. Pearson, Merrill, Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Mari Beth Bennett (September 2003). From Practice to Preaching: Helping Content Area Teachers Teach Comprehension. Voices from the Middle, Volume 11, Number 1.


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