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  Weekly Feature: (February 4, 2001)


Vocabulary Attack Skills and Strategies
L's Weekly Feature

L's hot links and tips.
Interactive Grammar Review
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.

 Mrs. Glosser's Math Goodies
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 word.

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 participation.

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 clearer. 

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 respectively. 

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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