Vocabulary Attack Skills and Strategies
L's Weekly Feature
L's hot links and tips.
This is a grammar site. The grammar terms and rules are very
clearly explained in this easy to navigate site. Once you've
learnt the rules, there are many interactive quizzes that will
test your understanding.
This math site provides clear explanations of math operations
with good examples and quizzes. I used this for my GED math
lesson last Friday.
New Software at PALC
The Pearson Adult Learning Centre has just received the
Sunburst Roots, Prefixes and Suffixes package. It is a CD and
worksheet package containing short, clear lessons on how to
use word-analysis strategies together with context clues. Ask
any instructor at the Pearson Adult Learning Centre for the
package to try it.
Vocabulary Attack Skills and Strategies
What do you do when you meet a difficult
word in your reading? Some people immediately look it up in a
dictionary. Some try to guess at the meaning by trying to see
how the word relates to the other words in the sentence or
paragraph. Others will try to break the word up into parts and
try to analyze each part to guess the meaning of the whole
Is there a "best" strategy? I think we need
all three methods - with the dictionary coming last. My
feeling is that the more you think and struggle with a word,
the more real and personal it becomes. Merely looking up a
word in the dictionary is a mechanical process that is quite
different from what is needed for real learning. Real learning
is a creative, thinking process that requires a more active
When you use context clues and try to figure
out the meaning of a word in relation to other words in the
sentence, you are also trying to make sense of the sentence,
the paragraph and the entire passage. The result is greater
comprehension of what you read and also a better understanding
of how the word can be used. This is how most people learn
their first language. The understanding and appreciation of a
difficult word become refined each time you see the word again
in different situations.
Pretty soon, you will get a truly accurate
and sophisticated understanding of the word together with how
it should and shouldn't be used. The trick with using context
clues is that the reading must be at a suitable level. If you
do not understand most of the words, you are not going to be
able to get enough of an understanding of the passage to help
you form educated guesses about the meaning of each difficult
word you meet.
Breaking a long word into separate parts and
analyzing each part to guess at the word meaning should be
used carefully together with context clues. Although using
etymology, the study of word parts, is not as reliable as
using context clues, it does offer us a chance to reinforce or
confirm our guess after studying the context.
Like everything else in life, the more you
use this strategy, the easier and more effective it becomes.
As your knowledge of word roots improves, you will be able to
use this strategy in more and more situations.
Once you have been able to make an educated
guess of the meaning of a word using the two earlier
strategies, the next step is to check it out using your
dictionary. If you do this after you have already thought and
struggled with the word, the correct meaning will be a lot
Often, a word has multiple meanings listed
in the dictionary. Without studying the word in its context,
it is difficult to choose the correct meaning. The additional
bonus is that you will probably be able to remember the word
for a long time and also be able to use that word in your own
writing in the future.
Ready for an example of how to use these
strategies? Read the passage below once
through quickly. Don't worry about difficult words. You are
just trying to get a general picture of what the writer is
trying to say.
Next, read it again and stop at each
sentence that contains a difficult word. If not knowing the
difficult word does not stop you from understanding the
sentence, there is no need for you to worry about the meaning
of the word. If you find the word interesting anyway, and
would like to learn more about it, that's wonderful!
Let's try the words bilingual and
trilingual. If the learners are trying to learn English as
their third or fourth language, it must mean that they already
know 2 or 3 other languages. Lingual sounds like it might be
related to language. You might already know of other words
that use bi and tri, such as bicycle, binoculars, tricycle,
and triangle, and guessed that they mean 2 and 3
When the two strategies confirm each other,
it gives you a lot more confidence that your guess is correct.
Checking your dictionary will confirm your guess and also give
you other interesting words, such as multi-lingual and
polyglot, which will further enrich your vocabulary.
Try to use the same strategies to guess the
meaning of the other words in bold print.
Many of my learners are already
bilingual or trilingual and are trying
to master English as their third or fourth language. Instead
of apologizing for their English ability, they should be
commending themselves for their determination
and courage in going back to school at the age of 30, 40, or
even 80. These students realize that to be
successful in Canada, they need a good command of English -
and they are ready to commit their time, energy and heart into
mastering English in their quest to become more
active and productive members of society.
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