How to help children figure out new vocabulary words when they read

Children need strategies to learn new vocabulary words when they encounter such words in their reading.  Here are several strategies:

Definitions: Sometimes, definitions are given immediately after a new word.  Definitions can be separated from the word with a comma (An avalanche, a quick moving mass of snow,), with a dash (An avalanche—a quick-moving mass of snow—), with the words “that is” (An avalanche, that is a quick-moving mass of snow) or with the Latin abbreviation for that is, i.e. (An avalanche, i.e. a quick-moving mass of snow,).

Comparisons: Sometimes a word is compared to another word or idea which is similar.  “A zebra is similar to a wild horse but with different markings.”

Contrasts: Sometimes a word is contrasted with another word or idea which is different from the new word.  “A mug differs from a tea cup because the mug is taller and contains more liquid.”

Context clues: Sometimes a new word can be learned from other words in the same sentence or nearby sentences.  “The car crash caused one fatality.  A woman not wearing her seat belt died.”

Examples:  Sometimes a word is explained by the example which follows it.  “Academic vocabulary is the kind tested on the SAT and ACT.  Some examples include obstacle, complement and mollify.”

Similarity to a known word: Sometimes a word will sound like or remind a student of another word.  “The child clasped her mother’s hand.”  Clasped sounds like “grasped.”

How to recognize these clues to the meaning of new words needs to be taught to children, and they need practice using each clue.  Knowing the clues will improve children’s reading comprehension, since comprehension depends so much on understanding vocabulary.

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