Teaching Content Area Vocabulary Essay Research Paper

Teaching Content Area Vocabulary Essay, Research Paper

To be successful readers of both narrative and expository text, students must have intense vocabulary instruction. If children have a wide range of vocabulary knowledge, then they can better interpret the text they read. Because experience helps form students vocabulary base, teachers must provide these experiences, both directly and vicariously, to their students. Students vocabularies will grow if they are given many opportunities to encounter new words and are given examples of those words within their given context. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999)

Vocabulary instruction is different in reading lessons and in content area lessons. First, content area vocabulary is closely tied to the lesson, so students must understand the vocabulary to understand the lesson. In reading, however, it is less important for students to understand the meaning of the vocabulary because they are more likely to infer the meaning from the text. Second, in content area lessons, vocabulary may or may not represent familiar concepts. Third, vocabularies in content areas are semantically related to one another; therefore, students must know all the vocabulary terms. (Armbruster, 1992)

Vocabulary instruction in content areas should be an active process, where students do not merely write down definitions, but are given opportunities to work with the words to integrate them into their existing knowledge. This instruction should be teacher-directed, provide many opportunities for student practice, and provide lots of exposure to reading and writing. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999)

There are several ways that teachers can present new vocabulary to their students. One, teachers should use students experiences as a base for the introduction of new words. By having students relate the concept to their own lives, they will be better able to remember the word. Two, teachers should use visual aids or concrete items to demonstrate unfamiliar terms. Three, if students know a related word, use that word as the base and expand until the new word is discovered. This will help students relate unfamiliar words with familiar ones. Four, teachers should demonstrate any transformations or variations a word may have. This helps students build their own concept webs. Five, if a word is sometimes used figuratively, teachers should point this out to students. Last, teachers should model making intelligent guesses about a word s meaning from its use in the sentences. (Journal of Reading, Jan 1989)

Teachers should know and use many strategies for teaching content area vocabulary. Effective strategies provide scaffolding for students to bridge the gap between prior knowledge and experiences and the content to be

learned requiring students to become engaged with content. (Spor & Schneider, 1999, p.223) Several strategic methods for teaching vocabulary are available and well suited to content area instruction because they focus on the relationships among concepts. These methods include semantic mapping, semantic feature analysis, visualizing information, concept wheel, and semantic webbing. These methods are all graphic illustrations of the concepts and their related terms, which help students build a rich semantic network of related ideas. (Armbruster, 1992)


Students use semantic maps to examine a new word and map any related words and phrases that may share meaning with the new word. These maps allow students to learn the connection among several words in order to provide a clearer definition of the concept represented. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999, p. 340) Semantic word maps group words by similar criteria such as ideas, events, characteristics, and examples and word best when teachers allow students time to brainstorm, generate a list, and participate in group discussion. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999)

Some examples of sematic mapping are used for monocot seeds and dicot seeds, words found in a fourth grade science textbook.


A semantic feature analysis helps students understand relationships among words, such as like and unlike properties. This approach is helpful when class or common features closely relate words. Students create a matrix comparing the common features by placing a (+) or (-) in the spaces. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999) Here is an example of a semantic feature analysis, using the terms conifer, fern, and moss.

Conifer + – - +

Apple tree + – + -

Fern – + – -

Moss – + – -

Pine tree + – - +


In visualizing information, students use illustrations to depict the new vocabulary being taught. Students are asked to draw pictures that are personal to them so that the image will be memorable to them as individuals. (Simpson, 1996) An example of visualizing information is given, using stamen, sepals, petal, and pistil, all parts of a flower.


The concept wheel builds connections between previous knowledge and the new word being introduced. Students draw a circle and place the new word in the upper-left hand corner. Next, one word the students already know is chosen to represent or describe the new concept, and it is written in the lower-right hand corner. Finally, two examples are written in the remaining spaces. This can also be used to have students place the correct vocabulary word in the blank, given all the other information. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999) An example of the concept wheel is given, using the term fertilization.

Most students do not learn from incidental learning, but can learn through teacher-directed instruction that teaches meaning by application. Successful vocabulary instruction builds on students background knowledge and makes connections between new words and concepts they already know. (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999) The goal, then, of effective vocabulary instruction is to expand students concept vocabulary and move the new words into their productive vocabulary. (Johnson & Rasmussen, 1998)


Armbruster, Bonnie B. and William E. Nagy. Vocabulary in content area

lessons. The Reading Teacher, vol. 45, n. 7, p. 550-551, March 1992.

Johnson, Andrew P. and Jay B. Rasmussen. Classifying and Super Word Web:

Two strategies to improve productive vocabulary. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 42, n. 3, p. 204-207, Nov 1998.

Rupley, William H., John W. Logan, and William D. Nichols. Vocabulary

instruction in a balanced reading program. The Reading Teacher, vol. 52, n. 4, p. 336 346, Dec 1998/Jan 1999.

Simpson, Phyllis L. Three Step Reading Vocabulary Strategy for Today s Content

Area Reading Classroom. Reading Improvement, vol. 33, n. 2, p. 76-80, Summer 1996.

Spor, Mary W. and Barbary Kane Schneider. Content reading strategies: What

teachers know, use, and want to learn. Reading Research and Instruction, vol. 38, n. 3, p. 221-231, Spring 1999.

Teaching vocabulary in content areas. Journal of Reading, vol. 32, n. 4, p.

368-369, Jan 1989.


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