IS in Schools: Putting it All

Word semantics map

Teachers all over look to Gerald G. Duffy, EdD, for his expert advice on how to teach reading, and part and parcel of Duffy's reading strategies is his focus on vocabulary. In this excerpt from his best-selling text Explaining Reading, Duffy demonstrates how semantic maps can help students visualize how word meanings can be categorized.

As students progress in school, subject matter becomes more complex. Correspondingly, word meaning becomes more complex.

It becomes more and more difficult to provide direct experiences with new words because, instead of learning words by directly experiencing them, it is much more typical for new concepts to be learned through vicarious experiences. That is, we read about the new words and talk about the new words, but we do not directly experience them.

Second, vocabulary learning becomes more complex as kids progress through the grades because words are organized into categories and subcategories. While organizing ideas and concepts according to categories is "natural" in the sense that good verbal learners all do it, learning to categorize can be complex and difficult for some students.

Semantic mapping is one way to explain how to categorize word meanings. It remains essential to identify key attributes distinguishing one word from another. But semantic maps provide the additional benefit of helping students visualize how word meanings can be categorized. The following is an example of how this might be done.

This example assumes a third/fourth-grade combination. Students are working together on a science unit on rocks. Their ultimate goal is to take a trip to a local museum and to be able to identify the different rocks on display there. As part of their study of rocks, the teacher orally reads Joanna Cole's (Scholastic, 1987). In the discussion following the teacher's reading of the book, it is clear that students cannot distinguish among the various categories of rocks. The teacher decides to provide an explanation of how words can be organized into categories as a means for enriching word meanings.

Lesson Introduction

Say something like: "In The Magic School Bus story we just heard, Ms. Frizzle and her students found lots and lots of rocks. It is hard to remember the names of all those rocks. Let me show you how I remember these new words. The secret is to think about how they are alike, to think about how they are different, and to think of a single box with a single name that we could put certain words in and another box that we could put other words in. Let me show you how I do it with the first three words and then you can try it with other words."

Modeling the Thinking

Say something like: "When I am trying to understand the meaning of words like sandstone, shale, and limestone, I try to build a picture in my mind of how the words are alike and how they are different, and then I try to decide if something is an example of one of the words. I can map the picture in my mind like this. I think to myself that sandstone, shale, and limestone are all rocks. So they are alike in that way, and I can show it this way:

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