Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pairing Informational & Narrative Texts to Develop Content Vocabulary Knowledge

Vocabulary development plays a critical role in young children's learning to read, however, it continues to be one of the most difficult skills to teach.

Word meaning does not exist in isolation, rather vocabulary learning is connected to acquiring sufficient knowledge of the world and allowing children to talk about their vast experiences in it. The instructional implication for this is that content vocabulary must be taught within the context of building knowledge (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Nagy, 2005).

Recent studies in shared book reading showed improved oral language development and vocabulary acquisition when new words were explicitly taught in the context of related science concepts and organized around high-priority content knowledge (science themes), varied text genres (informational and narrative texts combined), and explicit interactive discussions of content words (those involving science-related words) (French, 2004; Leung, 2008; Spycher, 2009).

So then, how can we teach content words to young children in ways that are effective and that accelerate learning?

We can begin by helping young children understand the relationship between new words and their connected concepts. For example, it would be difficult to understand the importance of watching out for the tight end, the offensive player who can either block or catch the ball, without knowing something about the sport of football. Therefore, effective vocabulary instruction needs to help young children understand the relationships between new words and connected concepts while deepening their knowledge of the world.

Two research-based ways to do this are to integrate informational and narrative text in order to provide young children with multiple exposures to new words and concepts and to provide ample opportunity to talk about connections made between the words and concepts.

What does this really mean and what does it look like in the classroom?

Let's say you are getting ready to do a unit on the earth. You might pair the informational text The Earth (vocabulary- earth, river, island) with the narrative text Over in the Meadow (vocabulary- meadow, shore, pond).

I had trouble locating The Earth by Trent Johnson. Another possible option is Earth by Thomas K. Adamson.

For a look at several different versions of Over in the Meadow, check out the  post Over in the... from the blog Pen Pals & Picture Books here.

Day 1
From the narrative, introduce three new theme-related words with connected concepts. Introduce each of the three words using picture cards.
          A meadow is a place outside with lots of grass where animals live. 
          A shore is a part of the ground that is next to water. 
          A pond is water with ground all around it where animals can live.
Since Over in the Meadow is a narrative, review the characters in the story (all of the animals that live in the meadow) and the big event that occurred (the mother animals told the baby animals what they could or could not do on the earth).

Introduce the book, do a picture walk, and have students make predictions about what they think will happen in the story.

Read the book, stopping briefly to define words when they appear on a page. After reading, have children discuss the book while trying to use the target words. Facilitate and scaffold the discussion as needed to ensure students are using the target words in their discussion.

Day 2
On the second day, reread the story and review important words and concepts.

Day 3
Have students examine pictures of the earth's surface.
Discuss the new theme and build background knowledge.
         "This week we are going to read books and learn about the earth. Our earth           is where we live. It is made up of land and water. Look at these pictures.              This is land and it is part of the earth. This is water and it is part of our                   earth. You will listen for three magic words in the book."
Point to the first picture or concept card- earth
          "This is a picture of the earth. The earth is a place where we live that is                  made of land and water."
Have children share what they already know about the earth. (Most likely- it has land, it has water, it is round)
Point to the second picture or concept card- island
          "This is a picture of an island. An island is a place where only a little bit of           land has water all the way around it."
Focus the discussion on what an island looks like- islands have land and palm trees.
Preview the last picture or concept card- river.

Children predict what they will learn about the land and water on the earth as they look at the pictures in the informational book, The Earth (Johnson, 2001). Read the book.

By pairing the informational text with the previously read and discussed narrative text, you provide students with multiple exposures to the target words and concepts are connected. By beginning with and spending two days on the narrative text, you help students build background knowledge before reaching the informational text.

Another example, is a pairing of the narrative text Moonbear's Shadow (Asch, 1999) and the informational text All About Light (Trumbaur, 2004) to study the topic of light and what light can do.
Use Moonbear's Shadow to introduce the words shadow (a dark spot when something gets in the way) and sky (the air that is up high with the sun and the clouds). 
Use the informational text All About Light to introduce the words light (what the sun and lamps give us make to help us see), dark (when there is no light and it is hard to see), shade (a cool place with little sunshine). 

You follow the same steps as above for days 1-3. On day three, connect the following concepts-
           There is a difference between light and dark. 
           There is a relationship between shadow, light, and dark. 
           Shade is connected to the word shadow, and both words/concepts imply a            quality of darkness or condition of no light. 

Learning words may have a smaller impact when young children do not have the language base that is strong enough to allow them to participate in deep discussions (Beck & McKeown, 2007). One strategy that facilitates opportunities to talk about words and connected concepts is having children make comparisons- to describe what is similar or different about word features or concepts.

For example:
Teacher: "What is the difference between light and dark?"
Possible responses: "It is hard to see outside when it is dark." or "Light helps us see."

Teacher: "You are right. Light does help us see. At night, is it mainly dark or light?"
Students: "Dark"

Teacher: "Yes it is very dark at night. Would it be dark outside if the sun was shining in the sky?"
Students: "No, the sun is light."

Teacher: "You are right. The sun gives up light during the day. Now get ready for the big question- What do we use to help us see at night when it is dark outside?"
Possible responses: "lights on the street," "a flashlight," "stars in the sky"

Teacher: "Yes, at night there are stars in the sky that give us light. There are also street lights and flashlights that can give us light too. Remember- dark is when there is no light and it is hard to see."

Research shows that opportunities to talk about connections between words and concepts via associations and inferences are beneficial to young children's vocabulary learning. Specifically, the more time spent on vocabulary-related association talk (What is the difference between light and dark?", the more benefit realized in children's receptive and expressive vocabulary.

Other possible text pairings-





I was recently given a Purposeful Pairs kit from Teacher Created Materials. This kit already pairs texts for you for teaching science themes and content vocabulary. It is a great resource and one that you may want to look into if your campus has money to spend. Learn more about the Purposeful Pairs kits here

You can read more about developing content vocabulary, knowledge networks, and text pairs in the article listed below. 

Pollard-Durodola, S., Gonzalez, J., Simmons, D., Davis, M., Simmons. L., & Nava-Walichowski, M. (2011). Using Knowledge Networks to Develop Preschoolers' Content Vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 65 (4), 265-274.

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