In this lesson, we will discuss methods for growing our vocabulary and putting the new words into practice. We will also learn how to discover the meaning of words based on the context, the surrounding information.
Importance of a Growing Vocabulary
Have you ever heard the expression 'knowledge is power?' A large vocabulary unlocks doors for access into more knowledge. With knowledge, you can make wise decisions to get you where you want to go in life.
A baby doesn't even have the power to get the type of fruit he or she wants. If an adult lacks a sufficient vocabulary, career choices are limited, as well as many other aspects in life. School is not required to keep you busy but to give you new opportunities.
When you hear or see a word you don't know, you can grab a dictionary or use one of the many free online dictionaries available. Instead of ignoring a new word, take the time to look it up. A dictionary is packed with useful information about the word, like spelling, pronunciation, definition and synonyms. It is important to keep in mind that many words have multiple meanings, and we need to read through all definitions to find the correct one for the given context.
A thesaurus is another great resource that provides you with multiple synonyms and antonyms of a word.
In textbooks, there is often a glossary in the back that contains words related to the subject of the textbook and their definitions. This allows you to have a mini-dictionary in your hands while you read.
Another great way to increase your vocabulary is to read a variety of nonfiction and fiction books in your free time. Reading is one of the best ways to increase your vocabulary, especially when reading something you're interested in.
Gaining Understanding by Context
Turning to a dictionary isn't always practical and can be time consuming. It is important to learn how to make an educated guess on the meaning of a word you don't know based on the context. Context is the surrounding circumstances that help us fully understand the text. Let's look at the following text and figure out what the word 'refraction' means.
'The sun was strong that day. To Rob, in the boat, the reflection off the water was blinding. Jeremy, in the water, was able to see the beautiful coral reefs because of the refraction of the light. Though, when his head was above water, the reefs seemed to be in a different location than they really were. It made catching fish specimens difficult as he kept grabbing in the wrong place.'
1. What is the context?
This text is about sunlight, water, fish and coral reefs.
2. Are there similar words in the text?
'Reflection' looks a lot like 'refraction.' We know 'reflection' means 'light bouncing off of a surface.' I bet refraction has something to do with light.
3. Is there a cause and effect related to the word?
Jeremy can see the coral reefs because of refraction.
4. Are there clues for the opposite meaning of the word?
Words and phrases like 'even though,' 'but,' 'on the other hand,' 'despite' and 'although' indicate an opposite or contrast. He could see because of refraction even though things looked a little displaced.
Let's put our findings together. Refraction is about light but makes things a little displaced. Reflection is light bouncing off a surface, so maybe refraction is light going through a surface. Let's look at the dictionary to see our conclusion: refraction is the bending of light as it passes through a medium of differing density. We were pretty close!
Using New Vocabulary
Understanding a word, moving on, and never seeing it again is a great way to forget it! When learning a new word, connect that word to a visual and your prior knowledge.
Let's say you run across the word run-off in your science class while learning about the water cycle. Knowing the context of the water cycle, we can assume run-off is referring to water, not a race in the Olympics.
You can flip to the glossary at the back of the book and read the definition: 'water that flows across land leading to rivers and streams and eventually lakes and oceans.' Okay, let's picture water running across a playground, down a hill and into a stream. Now, can you remember a time you saw water running along the ground? That is how we can connect the word run-off to a visual and your prior knowledge.
The next step to solidifying a word into your memory bank is writing your own definition. Let's put run-off into our own words: 'water running along the ground to other bodies of water.'
The final step in truly learning a new word is to use it. This is partly why we need to write papers, speeches and do projects at school. Using what you have learned creates more memory paths to help you access the information later. Try using run-off multiple times and in various contexts, with friends, in school and when thinking. You can even have fun and play games, like Pictionary, Scrabble and Hangman.
In this lesson, we learned about using dictionaries, thesauruses and glossaries to learn new words. We learned techniques to make an educated guess on the meaning of words by observing the context. We also discussed the importance of increasing our vocabulary and how to solidify new words into our memory banks.
After you finish this lesson, it should be easy for you to:
- Recognize the importance of expanding your vocabulary
- Explain how to learn new words through observing their context