Featured Article Classroom Caper Announcements Survey Dictionary Resources

Why Your Students Need to Develop
Their Vocabulary

By Paula S. Stone, MA, BS-Ed, NCTMB, LMT, ARCB-CR

Memorizing vs Learning
A professional once asked me, "Do you have any tips for memorizing <some subject>?" My response was "Learn the material, don’t memorize it." The real (unspoken) issue is this: the person didn’t know how to study, learn, and apply the material. All three processes together produce highly competent professionals.
   This example illustrates the need to know the difference between memorizing and learning. Memorization involves retaining or recalling information. Learning is "acquired wisdom, knowledge, or skill."1 Students who learn material, know the material. This means they understand it, can demonstrate their understanding, and can apply the material on examinations and in practice.
   The issue on the table is: How can educators help students learn? First and foremost, teach students study skills. (This critical subject demands its own focus. It is covered at another time.) Second, teach students to build their vocabulary. Each person must invest time in developing one’s own vocabulary. Once a word is learned, understanding and application increases exponentially.

Vocabulary is Essential to Learning
It is impossible to learn something without knowing the concepts–and words define the concepts. Each word a person knows the meaning of, and can apply that meaning, is a concept that person really understands and can use for life.
   I recall an adult learner who could not understand what the brain is and what it does. The textbook said the brain was like a computer. When asked, the student thought a computer was email. (Email is but one of many functions a computer can perform, hardly the definition of a computer.) The student could not define nor state the meaning, application, or examples of "tissue" and “nerves.â€
   Without knowing the words, brain/computer analogy used in the textbook had no meaning for this student. The student would memorize words about the brain, but could not understand and apply any knowledge or skills to the brain or its functions. Worse, the information was crammed into short term memory for a test and then forgotten.
   Once the student really understood the definitions of the words used in the text and how to apply each word in the text, the student began to understand what the brain is and what it does. And, the student could apply this information.
   Vocabulary is essential to reading, understanding, and applying information. The core issue is that vocabulary must be developed. And that requires knowing how to use a good, professional dictionary.

All Dictionaries are not Created Equal
The best way to increase personal literacy is to learn how to use a good dictionary, use it liberally, and work diligently to improve one’s mind. A good dictionary features the word, pronunciation, parts of speech, definitions, usage sentences, usage notes, derivation, and more.
   The dictionary is the word authority. The objective is for the student to fully know the correct definition of the word so it is understood in any context. Asking another person relies on someone else’s interpretation, which is not necessarily the correct, full, and accurate definition of the word. While this may seem simplistic, I’ve personally observed that most people do not know how to use a dictionary. And, even fewer know how to use it to improve their vocabulary.
  Free Online vs Print Editions vs CD Editions
The purpose of study is to learn something. This is best accomplished free from distractions with a sharply focused intention to study. Free online dictionaries evaluated thus far are beset with inadequate content and advertisements that distract the student from study focus, consume valuable study time, and provide inadequate definitions.
   A look up of "plane" in a popular online dictionary showed an abundance of online travel sites, followed by inadequate definitions, no illustrations, no sentences showing correct usage, no derivations, no usage notes.
   The best print editions (and companion CD Editions of the print edition) offer a complete definition that is useful for the student. Keep on hand specialty dictionaries, such as Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, a derivation dictionary, and a professional quality visual dictionary or reference book/CD/online resource.
   A number of on-line dictionaries provide the basics, and some even derivations. Examples include thefreedictionary.com (less advertising and distractions than others) and dictionary.reference.com (intrusive, often irrelevant advertising approaching 30% of page content interspersed within content). What each one fails to do (as of this writing) is to provide examples of usage for each definition. Here again, information is presented without full application, which leads to partial (incomplete) understanding of the concepts words represent.
    In searching "therapist," the student learning the word needs to focus on what that word means and how to use it. The student doesn’t need to locate a mental health counselor, take a survey, or get distracted by words totally unrelated to "therapist." A necessity to learning is focus, and because online dictionaries are advertisement driven, there are too many distractions. There is a price. They are not truly free. On the other hand, purchasing a dictionary downloadable to one’s computer, eliminates distractions and provides a wealth of information that’s conveniently accessible.

Final Words
Words have power. Words have the power to take a concept and make it concrete, precise, and specific. Developing vocabulary and the power of the intellect is a lifelong endeavor. "They know enough who know how to learn," writes Henry Brooks Adams in The Education of Henry Adams.2 Henry Adams was the grandson of U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and the great-grandson of John Adams, who, along with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, crafted the Declaration of Independence. This family knew the power of words, the power of education, and the relationship between the two.

Paula Stone is an educator, researcher, and author of Therapeutic Reflexology: A Step-by-Step Guide to Professional Competency (Pearson Education, 2011). Contact Stone for workshops on study skills, how to use a dictionary, how to read a book and other topics. www.TheStoneInstitute.org.

1. Riverside Webster’s II New College Dictionary. p. 625. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.
2. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography. p. 314 Oxford University Press, 1961.
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 Classroom Caper 
Title: Build Vocabulary

Objective: Students learn to use a dictionary to build vocabulary.

  1. Students identify several words to look up from their textbooks. Words can be common words, specialized vocabulary, or words that just look unfamiliar in some way.
  2. Students write down their reactions when encountering the word in the text.
  3. Each student looks up a word in one or more professional dictionaries. The student reads all the definitions and selects the definition that meets the usage.
  4. The student returns to the text and re-reads the text with the word. The student notes any change in reaction when encountering the word.
  5. Repeat several times.
Suggested Basic (and often poorly understood) Words: body, life, massage, responsibility, science and specific chapter terms.

Note:Once the student understands the meaning of the word, the student’s reaction to the text changes. For example, confusion is replaced by comprehension.

Small Group Discussion: Invite students to share initial reactions to unknown or misunderstood words, and reactions following using the dictionary to arrive at applicable and accurate meanings.

Large Group Discussion: Invite students to share how a well cultivated vocabulary can improve their study and professional performance.

Note:This caper represents a portion of the steps in learning to use a dictionary. Full training takes longer, but is well worth the effort as it provides students with study skills and a better foundation for successful study.

Approximate Time: 60 minutes (or longer, depending on number of words).

Materials Required: An adequate number of hard-copy professional desk and specialty dictionaries for students. This Classroom Caper is an excellent caper to use library resources.

Source: Paula S. Stone

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Updated Student Success Guides

Our Student Success Guides
now include the six-phase Student Success Checklist. We are glad to send you some that are 8.5 x 14 trifold brochures or you can download a PDF and print a 2-page 8.5 x 11 condensed version directly from the Teacher’s Corner section of our website.
Check These Out
Earn Money Teaching Self-Care
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Results from Last Month's Survey Survey
Does your organization provide a formal teachers’ orientation for new instructors? Take our survey  on professional organizations.
Yes                                           76.0%
No                                            24.0%
Respondents = 25

If yes, what is the approximate duration of the orientation?
1 hour                                       21.4%
2-4 hours                                  42.9%
5-8 hours                                  35.7% 

Other                                        7 Respondents
  1. Need to observe in at least 5 courses, and teach all the
    sections of the course. Each potential instructor must feel confident in their ability  to teach the material and be aware of potential challenges that might arise during each segment.

  2. Not nearly long enough.
  3. Generally the instructor has to be in the class as an assistant prior to taking over a class - any where from 1-2 semesters.
  4. 2 weeks.
  5. The must attend orientation, for which they are paid.
  6. It is usually incorporated into an Instructor meeting at the start of the semester - approx. 1 hour of a 3 hour meeting.
  7. Orientation lasts 2 weeks and then instructors work with their mentor over a period of 2 years.
Win a Backnobber II

When you fill out the online survey for this month you can enter a drawing for a free Backnobber II provided by The Pressure Positive Co.



Congratulations To Our June Winner

Sandy Grover Mason won an Omni Pillow

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Dictionary Resources
Medical Dictionaries in Print and CD:
Mosby’s Medical Dictionary

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary

General Dictionaries in Print and CD:
Webster’s New College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.

The American Heritage Desk Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1991.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Free Online Dictionaries:
Tips for Helping Students Love Literacy

  • Create an Open, Sharing Environment. Critical to success is creating an open, trusting environment. No one is literate in every subject, including the instructor. Create an environment where eagerness to learn the meaning of words is respected, valued, and promoted.
  • Don’t Overload Students. Give students time to look up, learn the meaning of new words, and how to apply them. In increasing literacy, students’ ability to read, understand, apply, and retain the material will improve.
  • Reward Learning. Provide a way to reward students for learning all words to improve literacy.
  • Make Resources Available. A wide arrange of print resources are essential to literacy. Include electronic resources that meet the definition of "complete." This includes dictionaries and thesauri written at different levels (e.g., children’s, middle school, high school); derivation dictionaries; foreign language dictionaries; specialty resources such as medical dictionaries, encyclopedias, visual and pictorial guides; and so forth.
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