DictionaryEvery word has a story. The more pieces of the story you know, the more likely you are to remember the word’s meaning. For example, during this high season of political discourse, consider the word ballot. This word originated in Italy and translates to “small ball or pebble.” Italians once voted by casting a small ball or pebble into a box, which explains why, in English, a ballot is a device for casting a vote. To students learning the word ballot, the story of the ancient Italian voting system, as well as the connection to the word ball, will likely help them retain the meaning of the word better than if they were asked to simply memorize the definition. And wouldn’t it be fun to teach them these little clues and bits of trivia?

The article entitled “Vocabulary: Five Common Misconceptions,” which appeared in the June 2012 issue of the ASCD publication Educational Leadership, explains why the traditional approach to teaching vocabulary—rote memorization—is ineffective. The authors challenge five misconceptions that are common in today’s classrooms and offer a number of new ideas intended to make word learning both more effective and more fun.

For example, the authors assert that learning new words requires a synthesis of new information and familiar concepts. As such, the teaching of Greek and Latin roots in the primary grades, as opposed to in high school, can be extremely helpful. The authors explain, “One of the most commonly encountered roots in the English language is the Latin base mov-/mot-, which means ‘to move.’ Even the youngest learners know words like motor, motorcycle, or move. When they meet cognate academic words like promotion or motivate, students can apply the concept of movement to figure out the new words.” The article also emphasizes that word exploration should be fun. It includes links to several online resources for word games and puzzles.

Many of the ideas in the article, including the emphasis on familiar context and Latin and Greek roots, are supported in Read Naturally’s Take Aim at Vocabulary program. Take Aim was designed using a robust body of research on the most effective strategies for learning new words.

As you know, vocabulary growth leads directly to improved reading comprehension. If you’re looking for more effective ways to teach vocabulary, click on the links to read the article and learn more about Read Naturally’s Take Aim program.

How do you encourage word learning in your classroom? We’d love to hear your ideas!