Thursday, March 8, 2018

Building Vocabulary: The List-Group-Label-Add Strategy

This post is the third in a series on vocabulary instruction. You can find Part 1: An Overview here and Part 2: Teaching from a Conceptual Base here.

In the last post in this series, I discussed the importance of teaching vocabulary from a conceptual base. The idea is that children learn new words best by being able to place them in a conceptual framework, so that they can add new words to a concept they already possess and thus develop a broader, more sophisticated, more specific set of words built around a single concept. Thus a small child may have a rather simplistic notion of the concept pet that may include words like dog and cat, but over time will expand to include many other types of animals and other words from leash to litter box, from domesticated to veterinarian.  Vocabulary instruction from a conceptual frame becomes then a process not of learning individual words, but of connecting new terms to already existing knowledge.

One of the best strategies I have discovered over the years for teaching vocabulary from a conceptual framework is List-Group-Label, suggested by the great social studies teacher, author, and researcher, Hilda Taba, in 1967. While originally intended for use in social studies and science classes, the strategy can be used in any content area. In my own teaching, I have expanded the strategy to include an opportunity for students to add on words as they continue to read and learn about a concept, so I call this adaptation List-Group-Label-Add. Here is how it works.
  1. Choose a word that represents a fairly broad concept. Often these words will be the basis for a unit of study. Water evaporation makes a good concept for this activity, while dew is a word we will encounter in this study, but not broad enough as a concept for our purposes. In the example below, I will use the concept community.
  2. Write the target concept on the board: community. Point to the word, say the word, have the children say it with you and then tell the students the meaning of the word. By the way, we should follow this procedure with all new words we introduce to children. Research has shown that student memory for the meaning, pronunciation, and spelling of a word is enhanced if we follow the simple see it, hear it, say it, talk about it paradigm. For this exercise I defined community as "a particular area with all the places in that area and all the people who live there."
  3. Next I will tell the students, "Take a few minutes to jot down in your notebook any words or phrases that you connect to the idea of community. For example when we think of community we might think of the fire fighters who help us, but we might also think of the fire house that houses the fire engines. We might think of the public library and the librarians, we might think of houses and apartment buildings. "What do you think of that connects to this idea of community?"
  4. After the students have had a few minutes to make their lists, I ask them to share words that they have written. As a students share, I write the words on the board under the umbrella term community. I keep going until I have 25 -40 words on the board. Let's say that we gathered the words in Figure 1 below from the children.
  5. After gathering the words from the students, I put a numeral 1 next to one word, in this case police, and ask the children which words they would also put a 1 next to because they have a similar function in the community. After gathering a group of "1s", I move on to group 2 and 3 and so on as illustrated below. This is the grouping part of the activity. See Figure 2 below.
  6. Next for labeling, I point out all the words in Group 1(police, fire fighters, crossing guard, minister, teacher) and ask the students to give the group a name. Perhaps we come up with community helpers. The process is continued until all groups have a label (play areas, shopping, public buildings, etc.). The specific labels are not as important as the activity of grouping and looking for commonalities. 
  7. Once we have grouped the words and labeled the categories, I take the list and organize it into a concept web and display it in the room or on a Smart Board (See Figure 3).
  8. As we continue our study and reading about community, we then add any new words that we learn to the concept map, determining which category the new words belong to or adding new categories as needed, New words are written in a different color to show that these words are new knowledge acquired during the process of learning more about the concept of community.
After guiding the students through the process in this manner a few times, it is a good idea to turn the grouping and labeling parts of the process over to the students working in small groups to come up with logical groupings and labels for the generated words. As new words are learned, students may find they need new categories or that category names need to be changed to accommodate the new knowledge. 

Figure 1

Figure 2
Figure 3