Vocabulary instruction has gone through some significant changes over the years. Some of you may recall when students were assigned a list of words, often the spelling list, and then required to write the definitions. A lot of students detested the tedious task of looking up words and copying definitions. Often the words in the definition were hard to relate too, so it became a copying task with little benefit to learning the definitions. Education theory has moved on to promoting meta linguistic awareness. Developing meta linguistic awareness can be especially beneficial when developing vocabulary. Research has revealed that promoting higher level thinking skills increases retention of information and allows students to integrate what they have learned.
For those of you who may need a refresher; Meta linguistic language skills are strategies that are applied, either consciously or automatically, to an oral or written linguistic interaction to allow one to think about language. It is our ability to think about language and manipulate it beyond it’s written structure. Remember the knock knock jokes and riddles young children attempt to tell around 6 yrs. of age. They often lack the punch line because they don’t grasp the idea of double meaning words. This is the age when children are just starting to figure out that words and phrases can be manipulated. When they acquire this thinking ability, they are demonstrating meta linguistic awareness.
Studies have found that reading comprehension and meta linguistic skills are strongly linked (Achugar, Schleppegrell, & Oteíza, 2007). If we want to get the most value from our teaching, we want students to develop thinking skills that can be adapted to various situations. You may have known a student or two who was an early reader with above average reading skills in the early grades. Although they were great sight readers in the early grades , they often faltered in the later elementary years. They could read the words individually but had difficulty comprehending within the text. As the paragraphs and sentence structure became more complex there were often hidden meanings. Things like double meaning words, satire, and unusual phrasing tripped them up. Students exhibited difficulties with meta linguistic development could not adapt to the word meaning changes that occurred within context.
So what does this mean when we are working with our students? It means we want to encourage our students to think about language, be flexible, and think about if it makes sense within the context. It is more than reading a string of words. The word meaning they memorized may not always work in every context. They need to think about a variety of possible meanings to get the best fit. It means we want them to question, make associations, compare descriptive features, and contrast meanings. We encourages students to be active thinkers and in the process the information stays with them.
For examples of speech activities using meta linguistics tasks, go to the top navigation heading and click on the section labeled Vocabulary. Making word association is a great task for encouraging meta linguist skills. There is a good sampling of cards for download in that section. There are free previews so that you can try some of them out with your students. You can get a pretty good tool box by just downloading all the previews and free cards. Click on the star for a free preview and download of the Word Association Bundle. Click on the blue print for a direct link to TPT. The cards on TPT are available with the digital down load overlays and self checking with bar codes that work with the task cards or digitally.
Finding what is wrong with Silly Sentences is another activity that forces students to think about facts and how words relate to each other. It provides opportunities for students to recognized when the meaning doesn’t fit and not take it at face value. This is an important skill for today when we are bombarded constantly with false facts in social media. There are several sets of those for free downloads in the vocabulary section. I hope the activities in vocabulary section help you to explore and enhance the way you work on vocabulary development with your students.