Vocabulary Instruction for Students with Disabilites

Saturday, January 16, 2016





Are you tired of messing around with traditional vocabulary instruction?

Vocabulary is such a hard skill to teach our students with disabilities. Typically the tradition routes don't work. Over the years I've had several kiddos who can read any word you put in front of them. One of my 3rd graders was able to decode all of the words in the Brigance Assessment all the way to 10th grade. 
The problem was though that the words he could decode got lost in translation.... or should I say comprehension. Vocabulary is the essential foundation of comprehension. Many of our students struggle with comprehension because they lack the essential vocabulary to make sense of what they hear. 

As teachers I think it is hard to remember that just because our students can decode words doesn't mean that they can comprehend them. That's a key distinction that many of the first and second year teachers I work with sometimes forget. 






So how do we tackle it? There are 4 easy steps! 


1. Listen UP! - Students should be able to HEAR their teachers give a student friendly definition. The teacher should then MODEL the word in a sentence for the student. This explicit instruction will aide in the understanding of the vocabulary word. 

2. Practice and Feedback - Students should have plenty of opportunities to practice the new vocabulary word in sentences with a peer partner or teacher. The teacher should give feedback as to whether it is being used correctly. 



3. Practice Makes Perfect - (or at least Vocabulary understanding) - This section is my favorite! Have fun practicing the word. Have students spell it with scrabble tiles and tell someone the meaning. Another way I have students practice vocabulary is by helping them to "think" in pictures. I find pictures of the word, and type the word over top of the picture. I make it into a slide show and then practice the words by reading them in the picture of the word. Having students work with it on the computer helps to increase engagement and attention to the task at hand. I've found fairly good success using this method! Here are some examples of what I mean below. 










In practicing with students I typically have them say the word, and then give me the word in a sentence to tell me about the picture. 


Here is an example: "I see the rain on the window"

Here's another example: 



"The sky is blue. The grass is green." 


With positional words that hardly have pictures I typically use objects around the classroom. 

So for the word "BETWEEN" I would model what the word was and looked like. To show understanding of the word I would ask the student to put something "between" two shelves. 


4. The last step is to practice using the vocabulary in writing or in talking with others. 


After we build our vocabulary up, I typically use my Reading For:  packs to help tie the vocabulary in with sequencing of a story as well. By teaching vocabulary first, our students are building a strong reading foundation that we can continue to use to help grow comprehension!

What sorts of things do you do in your classroom to build vocabulary knowledge? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Happy Reading!







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