One major challenge that students face in understanding nonfiction text is that the vocabulary is often unfamiliar.  Students need to be taught word learning skills so that they can infer the meaning of new words. There are some interesting ways that you can enhance vocabulary teaching in your classroom.

It’s Greek (or Latin) to Me

Word learning skills include teaching students about affixes (prefixes, roots, and suffixes).  Ninety percent of English words with more than one syllable are based on Latin roots.  The remaining 10% are mostly Greek. A single Latin root generates 5-20 English words. Using traditional methods of memorizing vocabulary, you can only learn about 8-10 words a week. From a single root, students gain 5-20 words.   When students understand roots, they can analyze word meaning.

For example, teach students that “terre” means land.  Then have students figure out the meanings of: terrain, terrace, terrarium, terrestrial, extraterrestrial, subterranean, Mediterranean, terracotta, and terra nova.

Students love challenges.  Here are a few simple word learning activities that promote comprehension:

Before Reading

  • Categorizing Vocabulary: Write new text vocabulary on the board. Students work in pairs to group these terms in categories to figure out what the text will be about. They can check to see if they were correct as they read.
  • Word Splash: Choose key words and concepts from the text. Write these groups of words in boxes on the board. Have students predict how these words/concepts work together. After reading, they can discuss how their ideas changed and why.

While Reading

  • Visualize Vocabulary: Have students identify words they feel are important as they read, and draw pictures to depict their importance.
  • Word Webbing: Have students create webs to show they understand the connections between different words.  Here’s an example for the animal kingdom:
  • Word Riddles: Have students select words from the text and write riddles with 3 or more clues, such as synonyms, number of syllables, root meaning, antonyms, etc.

After Reading

  • Word Theater: Write new vocabulary on the board.  Give each student a “secret” word from the list to act out.  See if their classmates can figure out what they mean.
  • 20 Questions: Place vocabulary words cards in a bag.  The person who’s “it,” picks a word. Others guess by asking up to 20 yes/no questions.  Person who figures the word out is “it.”