Every Lesson is a Vocabulary Lesson

I have come to realize that every lesson we teach is a vocabulary lesson. When students struggle with the meaning of key words or command terms in a task, it can derail the key objective in a lesson or result in an inappropriate assessment of the students’ knowledge. This was made evident again in two recent lessons, one English Literature and the other math.
In a math lesson where the main objective was double digit multiplication, the problem given to develop the students understanding was one of area. It soon became apparent that many students were confusing perimeter and area despite having worked with the concepts the previous day. Had the students been given time to construct a definition for area together and differentiate area from perimeter, they would have had the necessary tools to keep their table group from getting lost in the vocabulary.
In the English lesson the students were asked what they could infer or deduce about the characters, from the text. Before the reading began the students were given a few minutes together in table groups to talk about the words infer and deduce, and how they differ from the word know. The groups then shared their ideas and as a class came to an understanding of the two key command terms. It took less than five minutes for the class to come to a socially constructed common understanding that gave them what they needed to keep their group working on the real task of the lesson.
As a teacher it is easy to assume that students have a common understanding of the vocabulary they have been taught and that they understand the task they are asked to do. Often when you begin to analyze errors and find where students go wrong, you will find vocabulary is at the root. Giving the students time to socially construct the meaning of words and play around with them, even after an initial understanding, will broaden their ability to use language and participate in the content.

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