Developing vocabulary through active engagement

Here is the first of three extracts from our primary title Beyond Early Reading by David Waugh and Sally Neaum to give you a taste of the content and the approach. Let us know what you think.

International perspective

The activities described above involve developing vocabulary through active engagement and through incidental learning. They offer a range of different ways to draw children’s attention to vocabulary, just as those described later in the chapter do. Consider the findings of the National Reading Panel in the USA as you reflect on them and read about further classroom activities. The Panel summed up research on vocabulary development by citing nine implications for reading instruction.

  1. Vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly.
  2. Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important.
  3. Learning in rich contexts is valuable for vocabulary learning.
  4. Vocabulary tasks should be restructured when necessary.
  5. Vocabulary learning should entail active engagement in learning tasks.
  6. Computer technology can be used to help teach vocabulary.
  7. Vocabulary can be acquired through incidental learning.
  8. How vocabulary is assessed and evaluated can have differential effects on instruction.
  9. Dependence on a single vocabulary instruction method will not result in optimal learning.

(National Reading Panel, 2000 , 4–27)

Activity 2

Focus, in particular, on the fifth point in the panel’s findings above. What kind of activities might engage children’s interest? How might some of the other points be drawn upon to enable this to happen; for example through use of computer technology?

Bunting ( 2000 ) makes numerous suggestions for activities and word games that have the potential to engage children’s Interest and develop their vocabularies. These include exploring words from other languages that have become part of the English lexicon such as yoghurt , tobacco , menu , bungalow , anorak and mosquito . To these we might add a number of words that are so commonly used now that many won’t be aware that they were unheard of by some of our grandparents. Names of foods from other countries, in particular, become common parlance and include pizza , pasta , spaghetti , masala , paella , tacos , fajitas , kebab and sushi . By exploring such words, children can begin to understand that grapheme–phoneme correspondences vary around the world and that when learning another language they need to be aware of this.

Bunting also suggests word games such as inventing onomatopoeic words for everyday sounds, giving the example of the noise a shower makes as it starts. We might add our own ideas such as creating words for the sounds of the following:

  • windscreen wipers going back and forth;
  • a mobile phone ringing;
  • a glass breaking;
  • an aircraft flying overhead;
  • children on the playground.

Another of Bunting’s ideas that may appeal to children who have watched programmes like Eastenders, The Only Way is Essex and Only Fools and Horses , is the creation of new rhyming slang. Cockney rhyming slang, which was originally used so that locals could disguise their (sometimes dishonest) activities from outsiders, has spread as people outside London have watched films and television. Phrases include:

  •  read for money (bread and honey – money);
  • donkey’s for years (donkey’s ears – years);
  • loaf for head (loaf of bread – head);
  • rabbit for talk (rabbit and pork – talk).

Rhyming slang is not restricted to east London: it can be found around the world. Children could create their own rhyming slang and in doing so explore rhyme and vocabulary.

Click here for details of  Beyond Early Reading by David Waugh and Sally Neaum

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