Chapter 4 focused on eight characteristics of effective vocabulary instruction. In this chapter we consider how to apply those eight characteristics in a program to enhance academic background knowledge.
Assuming that a comprehensive list of critical academic terms has been identified (chapters 6 and 7 deal with this issue), I recommend a six-step approach to direct vocabulary instruction. Regular classroom instruction provides the context for these steps. That is, mathematics teachers teach selected mathematics terms in mathematics class; science teachers teach science terms in science class. Although this is no different from what many teachers do now, what is different is that all teachers use the same six-step process. Additionally, the students record the terms in their academic notebooks—the same notebooks described in Chapter 3 as the repository for students’ reflections during SSR. Those notebooks also have sections for subject matter vocabulary taught using the following six-step process.
Explanation, or Example of the New Term
During the first step, the teacher explains the target word. As we have seen, definitions do not appear to be useful instructional tools, particularly in the initial stages of learning a word. However, conversational descriptions, explanations, and examples are very useful to students when first learning a term. Ideally, the semantic features listed in Figure 4.8 (pp. 81-84) would guide the choice of information presented in these descriptions, explanations, and examples. That is, for each term the teacher would identify the critical features that form the basis