Elementary First-Grade Vocabulary
There are five main components to reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. A student must master all five of these skills in order to be a successful reader. Kindergarten and first grade are crucial ages because this is when the foundation for reading is established. First grade instruction should focus primarily on phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary skills. These students should be working on letter-sound recognition, sound manipulation, vocabulary, discussions, and listening to stories being read aloud. All of these activities will help students develop reading skills. First grade teachers should also focus on vocabulary building. Reading comprehension is closely linked to word knowledge. Students can not comprehend what they are reading if they do not know the meaning of words. Students should learn an average of 2,000 new words per school year. These skills will build a solid foundation for young readers and they will be better equipped to understand reading comprehension and fluency.
Vocabulary development is essential to any solid reading program. Developing vocabulary at any grade level can be difficult because students come into every grade with vastly different levels of word knowledge. So teachers must ensure that their classrooms are “word-rich” environments (the alphabet should be displayed and books should be easily accessible). Teachers must directly and explicitly teach vocabulary on a daily basis. It includes providing definitions (for younger students the simpler the better) and context to the word (discuss the word in context to the text). Teachers should involve the students in learning words instead of having them write down definitions. Students could come up with antonyms or synonyms for the word which would encourage a deeper processing of the word meaning. Students should also encounter the vocabulary words in multiple contexts and they should be provided with different opportunities to utilize the word (either written or spoken). Two other important components of vocabulary development include morphemic analysis and contextual analysis.
Morphemic analysis is the ability to draw the meaning of the word by examining the meaningful parts (example: prefixes, suffixes, roots). Contextual analysis involves making predictions or inferences about an unfamiliar word based on the context in which it is used. Teachers should model how to use context clues in order to draw predictions about word meaning. These two components will help students develop vocabulary skills, which will encourage stronger readers with a more defined sense of independence.
Vocabulary instruction should also include the use of sight words. Sight words are words that readers should know instantly because they are used constantly in text. These words also do not sound as they are spelled, which makes it impossible to use phonics (the, that and you). These words should be openly displayed and taught to students in conjunction with phonics.
Phonics and Phonemic Awareness
Students need phonemic awareness in order to understand phonics instruction. These two components are often times confused with one another. It is crucial to understand the difference between the two; a simple way to remember is to associate phonemic awareness with the ears and phonics with the ears and eyes. Phonemic awareness focuses simply on the sounds. Students are not shown any print during this time. Young readers should be able to hear, manipulate and understand the sounds in words spoken aloud. The teacher can ask students to identify the beginning, middle, or end sounds. What is the beginning sound in the word cat? What is the ending sound in the word dog? Phonics is the connection of the sound to the symbol. Students are shown letters and then taught the sounds of the letters. When students are asked to “sound out words” they are using their phonics skills. Learning phonics is the prerequisite for reading (decoding) and writing (spelling). The teacher would point to a letter such as “B” and ask students what sound “b” makes. Teachers can use tools such as letter flash cards and BINGO games.
Students who have the ability to decode words can now move on to learning reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is simply the ability to understand text. Reading comprehension instruction would include rereading text, discussions, retelling, vocabulary building, thinking aloud, and summarizing. Students should be able to identify major components of stories: characters, sequence, major plot points, and details (graphic organizers are useful tools in helping students with reading comprehension).
The teacher must also help students develop strategies that they can use when they are having difficulty comprehending the text. These strategies will help create independent readers who have tools they need when encountering reading challenges. Students can take notes while reading, write down questions or highlight unknown words. Students can use their own graphic organizers to help them understand story sequence and character development. It is also helpful if students create a mental picture of the story in their heads, it can help them to better process the information. Students can draw pictures after they have read in order to recall story details and establish comprehension. If students are having difficulty they can always reread the text.