Intentional vocabulary development for secondary aged students contributes to school success and establishes the foundation for the best possible future. The emphasis on reading proficiency by fourth grade often means that students who still need support get little attention thereafter. Sometimes students who did fine with elementary reading begin to show strain as reading expectations increase at the secondary level. Fun activities, using online software programs, can help grow vocabulary. The best way to help students become good readers isn’t to focus exclusively on academic reading. In addition, expanding reading to cover the multiple areas of interest in their lives increases their funds of knowledge and reveals the real contribution that reading can make to a full life.
Students who struggle with reading may give excuses like noisy surroundings, task difficulty, unfair teachers, or various forms of interference. These stem from a fear of lacking expected skills. They may avoid reading, by forgetting the books they need, claiming other work is more important, or simply procrastinating. Knowing words help readers appreciate narratives and that often helps reintroduce the pleasure of reading. Reading support grows confidence so students are better able to ask for help when they need it.
Ongoing vocabulary development ensures that students have support as reading assignments change: Quizlet allows students to develop their own vocabulary lists (Wordly Wise 3000 has a variety of activities and partners with Quizlet to help reinforce learning); Membean provides focused word building with an algorithm that recognizes when to repeat a word so that it sticks in memory. These vocabulary development activities are easy additions to a student’s educational routine.
Adolescent literacy requires more than fluent-sounding reading and context-based vocabulary explanations. At the secondary level, students need to develop the reading skills to recognize inflections of meaning. Sentence style and tone comes from the author’s vocabulary choices as well as word order. Recognizing such details helps students grasp the underlying meanings of a passage. The subtle distinctions among synonyms also contribute to text analysis.
Reading assignments at the secondary level are longer and more demanding. Textbooks may subdivide sections and provide key word boxes to help students learn new terms, but they do not show how to apply those words or understand their use them in other contexts. Guiding readers through the major vocabulary, however, shows them crucial concepts, develops stronger understanding, and eventually allows them to compare learning topics. This last skill is crucial to success on SAT subject tests and reading portions of standardized tests.
Literature readings shift away from chapter books to dive into texts from historical periods, global cultures, and an assortment of genres, each with their own formal vocabulary. Even contemporary short stories may prove difficult as postmodern plots and various devices create unusual narratives. Students often skip words they don’t know in an attempt to manage the length and density of the assignment. Unfortunately, that avoidance tactic increases confusion. As adolescent years are full of social anxiety, students typically avoid asking vocabulary questions in class where they are in front of their peers.
For a student missing a word in each paragraph, important information gets lost. With each passing page, they lose background context. Such students then struggle to make the kinds of inferences that are expected at the secondary level. Vocabulary development activities like membean or Quizlet provide an immediate response for this situation, but more is necessary. Guided support in how and when to apply background information or call upon a personal response to a passage, among other interpretation strategies, helps students regain confidence and become the independent readers that they need to be as they prepare for college.
Secondary level students who struggle with reading need reading motivation. This is where working with texts and topics that interest them is crucial. Here, they expand the vocabulary relevant to the area that already engages them. They learn how to read with concentration for an extended period of time. They discover when personal responses are appropriate or distract from a focus on the text. They adopt positions from which to argue or defend an interpretation. They recognize the value of research or background knowledge in discussing the topic. Through conversations based on the reading, they begin to produce more convincing arguments by learning how to present information in an orderly fashion.
Vocabulary development for secondary aged students helps them become engaged and proficient readers by cultivating motivation, decoding skills, language comprehension, and personal transactions with the text. Most importantly, it ensures they have the skills for success at school and for the rest of their lives.
By Charlotte Kent, Ph.D. and Private Tutor, and Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed. and Learning Specialist
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