Hello, it’s Jen Bengel here from Out of this World Literacy! Today I’m going to go over 8 layers of understanding a word. Before we dive into these layers, or shades if you will, id like to explain why I’m going over this. Often times when I talk with educators about providing direct vocabulary instruction they say things like “Oh my students already know that word” or “how can I differentiate these words because they all seem so simple, or hard, for my kids” These are great points and I value the thinking behind these questions. Each word in our English language is so much more than just one definition. So if a student “knows” a word I would say do they really know and understand that word. Do they know that word for all 8 shades of meaning it holds? Let’s get into these layers of understanding words.
The first layer is the student does not know the word or has not heard the word at all. The word is really just a brand new word for them.
The second layer is the student remembers hearing the word, but that’s it. They’ve heard the word before but they really have no idea what it is or what it means.
The third layer is the student has a hypothesis for one meaning of the word, but they’re not really sure. So they’ve heard the word, they think they might know what it means, but they’re not really sure about it.
The fourth layer is the student has a familiarity with the word. Like knowing it has a positive or negative connotation. It can be placed into a meaning box with other known words. Take example the word agitated. Maybe the student has heard the word, knows the word, and knows it means something that’s not right. The word maybe feels like something fussy or mad to them. They can feel the word but they don’t really know how to define it.
Then the fifth layer of knowing a word is the student knows the meaning of a word in only one context and is unable to use it any other way. For example the word spam. They might understand that that word describes emails that you don’t need but they don’t know that the word actually refers to a type of canned meat as well. So there’s more than one meaning but the student really can only use it in one context.
The sixth layer of knowing a word is the student know one meaning of the word well and can use it in some other context but not all the time and not always in an accurate way. So maybe they don’t understand the slang meaning to a word or a different type of context of that word. This is a lot of times what happens to ELL students.
Number seven is the student understands and can use the word in some context and knows one or two definitions of the word.
The final shade of a word is the student understands the word in context and in isolation. The student knows multiple meanings, multiple connotations and the figurative language that is used for that word.
After going over this list of 8 shades to a word I hope this helps you think more deeply about whether or not your students truly understand the complexity of a word or they just know one definition. Think about the words your teaching them and ask yourself if they’re at that eighth shade of meaning for the word. I hope this has helped you think deeper about word understanding today.
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It was my pleasure to share this with you today. Please know I’m the biggest fan of the work you and your students are doing. If you enjoyed today’s lesson you can find this post and many more on iTunes, Spotify, or Alexa Briefings. Click here to listen!