The ultimate goal of learning new vocabulary is to understand the words you are reading and to be able to use them in context and make the words part of your speaking and writing.

The strategy of mining vocabulary assists students in classifying words into groups to uncover their meaning.  When introducing a unit of study or a new non-fiction text, consider identifying one over-arching word.  Then have the students mine keywords that might be associated with that over-arching word.  I’ve found non-fiction texts to be especially great for this type of activity.

For example, if introducing a text about deserts, the over-arching word may be climate.  As students engage with the text have them look for words that help them understand climate.  There are several ways that students can connect other vocabulary words to the keyword – climate.  

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Write the word climate on a large sheet of chart paper or a white board as a reminder of words they are mining for.  Words that would be expected might be arid, humidity, heat, etc.  This activity works best if students first read the entire text and then re-read it searching for words associated with the word climate.  We want students to first develop an understanding of the text and then engage with unique vocabulary words.  If caution is not exercised, there is a risk that students will be in a contest to simply find words for the sake of finding words which diminishes the goal of understanding.  I recommend that students write the keywords they find on post-it notes to stick them next the over-arching word.  A class discussion about the mined words as they relate to the over-arching keyword should follow.

However, an individual approach to word mining can also be employed.  As students read, each student can maintain a list of words associated with climate or the keyword. There are also extensions for this type of strategy.  Students might be asked to identify synonyms or antonyms to the words that were “mined.” The better students understand a word and its meaning, the more likely it is that students will use the words as part of their own conversations and/or writing.

Words, words, words.  We love them and use them every day. By enriching students’ vocabularies, we help give them to tools to both understand what they read and the ability to express themselves in meaningful ways.  What three new words will you commit to highlighting in your class this week?  How long do you think it will be until these words become a part of the tapestry of your students’ language?

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Pamela Musick

Pamela Musick

Teacher, Administrator, Consultant

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.