How to Learn Vocabulary Words
We received an e-mail from our client Jean:
I’m wondering if you can help with a recurring problem. My son, Daniel, gets 20-25 vocab words every couple of weeks for his Language Arts class. For the test, he has to pull the words out of his head, spell them correctly and write the correct definition. In other words, the test is not matching or multiple choice. The teacher is very kind and wants the students to retake the test if they score below a certain percentage, but then Dan has several lists of words to study. Anyway, Dan’s been having trouble passing the tests the first time. I’ve encouraged him to write sentences using the words so that he can relate the word to something meaningful in his life. I’m wondering if you have any other suggestions.
Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!
I responded to Jean:
First the most effective thing for Daniel would be to see if the teacher would modify the assignment. Students of all ages should focus on learning one thing at a time, either spelling or meaning. It’s a major task for the brain to call up the right spelling and the right meaning for an unfamiliar word at the same time. Many ELA experts say that students should be reading a word fluently for two years before they are expected to spell it.
Almost nobody actually teaches vocabulary that way. But you can see why this assignment would be best to modify for all students. It also sounds like too many words at once, and you don’t mention any apparent connections between them.
Writing sentences is a good idea. If there is any common theme to these words, then a concept map is also great for vocabulary. The main idea/concept goes in the middle of the map and all of the words are written around it. Then, the student draws connections between all of the words and writes a sentence describing how one word relates to another. This strategy is ideal for learning science, social studies, or math vocabulary words that are all tied to the same concept. It won’t be quite as successful, however, if these 20-25 words are randomly selected.
The other thing that comes to mind is to use Google Image Search for words. You can search Google images for pictures related to each word and pick a picture that matches the meaning. This would create a visual connection to tie the word and definition together. He could copy/paste the pictures and create a study guide. Visuals are very powerful memory aids.
If you do search Google (or any other search engine) remember to turn on Safe Search or some other filter, and restrict your search to the first page or two of results—you might be unpleasantly surprised by some of the images an unfiltered search can turn up, even for innocuous search terms. As a parent, you need to use caution and discretion whenever you use the internet as an educational tool.
Connections are the life-blood to learning! Every new bit of information we learn, is only learned after we connect new information to something we already understand. The SOAR® Study Skills program is built on this concept of “learning by connections”.