Using Examples and Non-Examples in Teaching Vocabulary

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Learning vocabulary is a more complex skill than just remembering the definition of a word, you need to have an understanding of the concept being taught.  One way to teach concepts then is to give examples and non-examples of the words. When one gives an example and the opposite it allows the student to compare and contrast the two words. This helps to highlight the attributes of the word being taught that makes it different from other words. This helps the student develop the skills of understanding key features, applying what they know to new words,making an analysis of words they encounter and evaluating whether the word or concept meets the criteria of the definition.

When one gives an example and the opposite it allows the student to compare and contrast the two words. This helps to highlight the attributes of the word being taught that makes it different from other words. This assists the student in the development of the skills of understanding key features, applying what they know to new words,making an analysis of words they encounter and evaluating whether the word or concept meets the criteria of the definition.

If you think of your brain as a type of filing cabinet in which items in the cabinet are organized by categories and then further defined by specific attributes in the file it might assist you in understanding how examples and non-examples work. If you consider the tier two vocabulary word ‘amusing’  you might file this word with words such as ‘funny’ or ‘entertaining’ but you would not file it with the word ‘sad’ or ‘horrifying’.

A strategy then might be to have the child put a thumb up if the situation is ‘amusing’ and a thumbs down if it is not.

  • You are watching a funny cartoon. ( thumbs up)
  • You lost your favorite hat. ( thumbs down)
  • Someone told you a joke.( thumbs up)

It is also powerful for the student to create their own list of examples and non-examples. If they have errors in this you will be able to see their misunderstanding and be able to make the correction. When a student does this exercise themselves they are reinforcing the concept being taught. This assists the students in drawing from their prior knowledge to make the connections.

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