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Teaching Contextual Vocabulary

There are two main approaches to teaching vocabulary. One, the list approach, gives a list of words and their meanings. The list may or may not be related to the topics the student is currently studying. The second approach, the contextual approach, relies on students ascertaining the meaning of words through reading, and related activities. Both methods are useful, but I personally prefer the contextual approach for most cases. I will use the list approach when students ask me about the meaning of something I have said. On those occasions, I explain the word, put it into a relevant sentence and add it to our word wall.

Using Word Walls

Word walls are wonderful teaching aids. Unfortunately, space is often limited. What I do is keep a word wall for various subjects. We have one for Math, one for Science and Health, one for Social Studies ad one for Language Arts.

Each new word is written on an individual strip of card and added to the appropriate wall. You can add them chronologically, in the order they come up, by groups of associated words, by word type (nouns, adjectives, verbs) or even alphabetically. Chose the method that works best for you.

The word wall method has the advantage that the cards are visible throughout the teaching day and can be referred to constantly. The cards can also be removed, as space becomes limited and placed in vocabulary boxes. The boxes can then be used for a variety of games and activities. There is never a dull vocabulary moment in my classroom!

The word wall should not replace the notebook. Space limitations mean that adding the definition to the wall is nearly impossible. The notebook is valuable for listing the words and meanings, to be used as a reference tool.

The list approach is self explanatory, the students being given a list of words with meaning to learn. The contextual approach could do with a little explanation, though.

The following passage and exercises are designed to demonstrate how this method can be used. The student should first read the passage and then complete the exercises. It can be applied to any passage. In an individual setting the teacher can highlight the words in advance, and prepare the exercises. If you are using a library book, or other reading source that cannot be marked, or for large groups like school classrooms, the words can be put on the board, or jotted down on paper. In this case, ask the student to read the words first, and then look out for them in the text.

Sea Turtles: Context Vocabulary Passage

Exercise 1: Defining Words from Context Clues

Exercise 2: Word Puzzle

Vocabulary Exercise 3: Scrambled Words

Vocabulary Exercise Suggestions: Including Links to worksheet generating programs

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