Every adult has his or her own unique vocabulary. Like fingerprints, no two vocabularies are the same. Writers clothe their ideas in bigger words than most of us use in daily conversation; therefore, it is not surprising that students encounter unfamiliar words during their textbook reading.
However, students should remember that authors tend to use the same supply of words throughout the text. Engaged students, then, should learn words the first time they appear so that they are not confused when the author uses that particular word again. Reuse of these words lends the student an advantage; several repetitions of a new word build students’ vocabularies.
Adopting a systematic approach to vocabulary development will benefit every student.
Here are several ways to handle new words:
- If authors deliberately use a word they know is unfamiliar, they usually define it in the text. Students should underline or highlight both the word and its definition.
- Sometimes authors define the word by its context (the sentences around it). In this case, students should write the meaning in the margin of the page for future reference.
- Occasionally words are not defined clearly. In this case continue reading. Usually the meaning becomes clear in a page or two. If this doesn’t happen, look the word up in the glossary or a dictionary and write the meaning in the margin close to the word.
- Students should plan time after reading (up to 10 minutes is usually enough) to check meanings and pronunciations of underlined words.
- Check the glossary for further classification. A glossary is usually found in the back of the text and acts as a built-in dictionary for the subject. Key words are listed alphabetically and can be used for vocabulary review or to study key concepts.
- Students should make vocabulary development a part of their regular study time, reviewing underlined words to keep them fresh. (Odd bits of time between classes are good for this activity.)
Remember: You will meet some of the deepest thoughts of the finest minds in your reading. Developing a good vocabulary increases the effectiveness of the communication between you and the author.