Enhancing Student’s Listening Skills

School is out but we all know that if your students don’t “use it” they will “lose it” – their reading skills – that is.  As parents, we also are familiar with those “I don’t know what to do with myself” summer blues.  Listening to audio books may just be the answer.  If you student is looking for a relaxing way to spend some time this summer, have him or her check out www.audiobooksync.com.  This website holds a multitude of books  for students and families to listen to in audio mode.  This is great for the student who needs to enhance their vocabulary, English skills or who just want to build their background knowledge of classic books to better prepare themselves for College.  During the summer months from May 5th to August 17th, SYNC will be giving away 2 audiobook downloads a week based on weekly themes.  There is also a section for teachers with additional resources on the site.  This is a great way to help students enjoy reading, learn new vocabulary and keep those reading and comprehension skills razor sharp.

Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Learning vocabulary involves two concepts. The first is adding new words to one’s personal lexicon but the second is learning new meanings for the words with which one is already familiar. We must not only help students add new words to their vocabularies, but also help them expand their knowledge about word meanings. Words have connotative as well as denotative meanings so to really understand what we are reading, requires an extensive background knowledge about language and word meaning. For this reason, good vocabulary instruction includes not only exposure to totally new words but also instruction that deepens student’s understanding of the meaning of words they already know which may be used in many other conceptional ways.

We learn words most often during our every day life experiences. For example, a young child learns the word and the concept of “hot” by touching a hot surface and hearing his mother say, “No! Hot!.” After the tears subside, the child has a clear and memorable link to both the word as well as the concept of “hot.

People also learn words through movies, television, listening to conversations and by extensive reading. This is the reason that we need to have students read as much as possible. The more they read, the better they become at reading and the larger their vocabularies become. Snow, Burns and Griffin (1998) state that from elementary through high school, students learn approximately 7 words per day or somewhere around 2,700 to 3,000 per year. Reading aloud to students is also a good way to expand student vocabulary since students can listen to text several levels above what they might be able to read and comprehend on their own. Reading to our students in all content areas should be a daily experience. This will not only help our good students but is absolutely vital for our struggling readers or English-Language Learner students.

As adults, we often use our knowledge of word parts such as prefixes, suffixes and root words to analyze a new word that we encounter. For this reason, it is helpful for students to study and learn the meaning of affixes. Content area teachers should identify the important affixes that belong to their subject area and help students learn the various word parts so that they develop a greater understanding of how to analyze new words they encounter while reading. For example, knowing that “hydro” means water would help students unlock the meaning of many scientific words dealing with water that they might encounter.

Another good way to encourage vocabulary development is to pique student curiosity and interest in new words. Word walls in all grades and content areas can help call attention to special vocabulary that students need to be successful in the classroom. Gathering interesting words and playing with words can also be great ways to help students build a large storehouse of vocabulary. The more students can connect to, visualize and enjoy adding new words to their vocabularies, the stronger and more competent readers they will become.

Research on Best Practices in Primary Vocabulary Instruction

according to Juel and Deffes (2004), teachers can make vocabulary meaningful and memorable for students by anchoring new words in multiple contexts. Other researchers point out (Nagy & Scott, 2000; Nation, 1990) that knowledge of a word includes how it sounds, how it is written, how it is used as a part of speech, the word’s  multiple meanings and it’s morphology or how it has been derived. Comparing and contrasting words on the basis of these various features can help students organize and categorize words for more efficient memory storage and retrieval.

Juel and Deffes tested 3 different types of typical vocabulary instructional strategies with primary students to see which strategy worked most effectively. In what they referred to as a “contextual condition,” teachers related word meanings to students’ background knowledge. In the “analytic condition,” teachers related words to student’s background knowledge and engaged students in analyzing word meanings. The third instructional method was called “anchored condition” where teachers related words to students’ background knowledge, engaged students in active analysis of words and also called student’s attention to the words’ component letters and sounds. According to Juel and Deffes, they found that the analytic and anchored instructional approaches helped students learn the words more effectively than did the contextual instructional approach. Their final recommendations were that teachers “should take every opportunity to connect vocabulary words to texts, to other words, and to some concrete orthographic features within the word.” Read the full article by clicking on the article title below.

Making Words Stick

Strengthening Reading by Building Rich Language

Children love to be read to so a great way to expose children to a plethora of wonderful language that can build those verbal skills is by having them listen to stories online or on their iPods. Listening to oral stories can also strengthen visualization skills in young children. There are many free podcasts and even phone aps on iTunes that you can download for children to enjoy over and over again. Two of my favorite websites for great primary stories are www.storynory.com and www.thestoryhome.com. Both of these websites have wonderful selections of oral stories that can help stretch imaginations and build those important vocabulary skills. Be sure to check out the wonderful materials available there.

Building Vocabulary with A Class Thesaurus

A great way to build student interest in words is to develop as a class an oversized or “Big Book” class thesaurus. Throughout the year as students learn new words, have them look them up and generate some additional synonyms for each word. This can help students expand both reading skills as they search for new words and think about their meanings, but also enhance writing by learning about the subtle shades of meaning for various words. The students love making the book and finding new words. It is also a great way for English Language learners to expand their understanding of English words as well.