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Why Teach Vocabulary Through Literature?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3328 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Why Teaching Vocabulary Through Literature?

We may consider creating an anthology of literature for secondary, young adult, and students studying English as a foreign language. It may include authentic poetry, essays, plays, and short stories, whose writers represent a diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and points of view.

In addition to providing students with skills for understanding and appreciating literature, the application components complement and reinforce each other by giving students integrated practice in key language skills.

Literary fragments offer multiple activities for students to access background knowledge of the themes and ideas presented in the literary pieces, and poses questions for them to consider as they read. In post-reading activities, students check comprehension of main ideas, and discuss and interpret the more subtle points of the selections. In special Focus on Reading and Focus on Literature , students practice reading skills and identify some common literary devices. Also, they provide students with ideas for creative writing as well as opportunities for critical thinking and values clarification. Moreover, they emphasize sharing and peer feedback, giving students a real audience for their work.

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The paperwork takes the approach that giving students a genuine opportunity to experience literature and encouraging their direct, active participation in discovering literature are the best ways to engage them. It promotes the importance of personal experience and pleasure in the teaching of literature and vocabulary and embraces the notion that literary pieces should also serve as models and catalysts for generating students’ own creative writing.

The selection of contemporary literature pieces offer a diversity of experience and opinion, allowing for comparison and contrast of different writing styles, literary elements, and ethnic and gender issues.

While the specific activities for presenting each poem, story, essay, or play vary, there is a predictable lesson format for introducing, reading, discussing, and reacting to each piece.

The purpose of the pre-reading is to activate students’ background knowledge regarding the theme and key ideas or issues raised in the particular literary piece.

Having students share their personal experiences before they read serves several functions: it encourages group knowledge, generates useful language for discussing the piece, and prepares students to make personal connections with the reading.

Discussion include films or illustrations and questions. Since the purpose is to elicit students’ ideas and help them share knowledge, it is suggested that you discuss these questions as a class. However, if you have a large class, some students may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas in smaller groups. In this case, you can ask each group to present its ideas to the whole class. If students seem reluctant to talk, you can “break the ice” by relating a personal experience or observation regarding one or more of the discussion questions.

Vocabulary support in the lessons with poems consists of a gloss below each fragment.

Providing definitions for some potentially difficult or unfamiliar words and expressions (such as idioms and slang) helps students understand and appreciate the larger meaning of the text.

In the lessons with stories, poems , essays or plays-which typically include a heavier vocabulary load-a vocabulary exercise is provided in addition to the glosses. These exercises encourage students to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words and expressions from context.

The purpose of reading is to pose one or more questions for students to consider as they read the piece, giving them some aspect, feature, or idea on which to focus their attention. Students are referred back to these questions after they read and discuss the pieces to confirm their understanding.

Post-reading questions enable students to clarify their ideas through activities that focus on specific reading skills and literary elements. The activities offer students guided avenues for interpretation, while giving them space to make their own personal connections to the literary pieces.

Comprehension questions check students’ understanding of the main ideas and the more “objective” or literal aspects of the extract they have read. Some questions require students to identify details in the piece and to make inferences.

Focus on Reading highlights important reading skills such as getting meaning from context, making inferences, distinguishing between fact and opinion, and identifying pronoun referents. Some Focus on Reading presentations treat linguistic features as they relate to literature, such as the uses of reduced forms and register. As a class or in small groups, students read a short presentation on a specific reading skill or linguistic feature, then do an activity to practice it.

Focus on Literature helps students identify key literary elements such as metaphors, similes, personification, and alliteration. After reading a short presentation describing a particular element, students do an activity to demonstrate their understanding.

Expansion questions are interpretive and require critical thinking. They are designed to probe the more subjective aspects of the pieces. These questions lend themselves to various interpretations, and allow students to connect their personal experiences to the literature. Sometimes questions in this section deal with issues of values clarification, requiring students to reflect on their personal values as these relate to the unit themes. Because of the personal and open-ended nature of these expansion questions, it is suggested that students discuss them in small groups, where they may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas, values, and feelings.

It may sometimes happen that a student feels uncomfortable discussing – or has no opinion about – a particular question, such as one relating to personal values or perhaps some aspect of his or her culture. Accordingly, it is important to let students know that they always have the chance to opt out of discussing any question, for example by saying, “I pass”, or “I have no opinion”. Other students need to be encouraged to respect these responses.

The writing response activities provide a venture for students to connect personally and creatively with aspects and elements of the literary piece they have read. As with the previous post-reading discussion activities, the goal of these writing activities is to offer students starting points-to suggest ways of responding to the poem, story, essay, or play-while encouraging them to use their imagination and explore their own feelings, impressions, and interpretations in crafting their personal responses.

While students are given a choice of three writing response activities for each piece, you should feel free to give them the option of creating a response of their own choosing related to the piece. Since the purpose of an anthology is to encourage students to connect their experiences to literature, they should not feel restrained or discouraged from connecting creatively in their own ways with the different pieces. Of course, you may want to check a student’s idea before he or she writes to make sure the response is appropriate to the piece and/or lesson theme.

Peer Response activities are pair or small group activities. Students read each other’s writings, comment on them, and, as appropriate, offer suggestions for improving them. The emphasis here is on giving and receiving positive and constructive feedback-for example, pointing out what they like best about a classmate’s writing, indicating if some part of the writing is unclear, or asking for more information. Moreover, by sharing their work, students are writing for a real audience-for their peers, not just for a single teacher. Finally, students stand to gain additional insights into a literary piece through their classmates’ personal responses.

About the Author biographies give students information about the authors of the pieces they have read. Students who enjoy particular pieces may be moved to read other work by the authors, or to search the Internet or library for more information about particular authors.

On Further Reflection

These consolidation and extension activities appear at the end of every unit in a text book. They provide additional opportunities for students to react and relate their experiences to the different literary pieces in the unit-for example, to compare the way the characters in different pieces reacted to a similar or a totally different situation, or to explore further some values that may relate to a particular theme. There are also suggestions for relating aspects of the unit theme to a larger area.


Writers choose their words very carefully to create a particular mood or feeling; often, they do this to help the reader see, hear, taste, smell, or feel what is being described. This kind of sensory language and description is called imagery.

Authors also use words to communicate ideas above the common, or literal, meaning of the words. This use of words to create a special kind of meaning is called figurative language. Some examples of figurative language include metaphor (a comparison between two things), simile (a comparison between two things, using the words “like” or “as”), and personification (giving human qualities to an animal, object, or idea).

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Vocabulary items may be unfamiliar. One of the underlying principles of an anthology is that students should be encouraged to figure out unfamiliar words and expressions from the context, and in some cases, to accept uncertain definitions. The vocabulary exercises in the lessons support this idea, and they are written to help students apply this reading strategy. To help them become more fluent and independent readers, students should be encouraged to read through the literary pieces without stopping to look up words in a dictionary. If, after reading a piece, they have questions about some words, they can use their dictionaries to look up definitions.

Student participation and group work help build students’ confidence. The more comfortable students are with their peers, their teacher, and the overall classroom atmosphere, the more confident they will become in sharing their ideas and opinions as a class and in groups. Whenever possible, encourage student participation.

Another guiding principle is that, in studying literature, readers’ experiences and points of view are as important as those of the writers-that reading literature is a cooperative and interactive activity, whereas everyone’s experience and ideas are valid in contributing to understanding the larger meaning of a piece.

Using the literary fragments as models is a way to stimulate students’ imagination and elicit their personal connections. An anthology is intended in part to serve as model for students who wish to produce literary works. Not all students may choose to write, or to write literature in response to every literary piece.

Even the title of a book suggests that an important purpose of literature is to make us feel a sense of wonder about life. The writers remind us that life is a special gift: one full of possibilities and full of unique and wonderful people, places, and things.

The themes should be selected as to explore both common and less common topics that people everywhere can understand, think about and respond to.


Literature is a way to pass on good stories. All of us know good stories, but most of us don’t write them down. If we don’t write our stories down or tell them to others, when we die, our stories disappear with us. Without some written record, how will we remember the stories of our own and others’ lives? How will future generations know them? ‘

Literature connects us to something greater. Reading literature connects us to other points of view-lets us see life through others’ eyes-so that we may know and appreciate more of it. Literature lets us “walk inside other people’s shoes” and discover how that feels. Literature introduces us to people so completely different from us that we discover how much we have in common.

High-school language teachers have many responsibilities. In addition to teaching literature and reading comprehension, grammar and the writing process, they must also teach vocabulary. Vocabulary instruction is not an easy task. Sometimes it is difficult to teach because students tend to be unwilling to learn new words as they grow up in a society where sophisticated language can be deemed undesirable. Manzo, Manzo, and Thomas (2006) reported that the influx of reality television, rap and hip-hop music, and other pop-cultural factors make those using intellectual language appear conceited. Similarly, the increase of students coming from lower socio-economic families and from diverse backgrounds is on the rise. The state of deprivation means that educators need to make instruction as meaningful as possible because, no matter the obstacles they may face, students are expected to become productive citizens, and the development of a compelling vocabulary encourages reading comprehension and allows people to contribute to society. Teachers have to be willing to teach students the value of improving their vocabularies in order to close the gap between the reality of the child’s life and the expectations of the child’s school (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2004).

Because it can be difficult, especially for overwhelmed teachers, to create an effective vocabulary program, they sometimes rely on their colleagues for previously-given vocabulary tests, or they may simply use school-adopted materials (Brabham & Villaume, 2002). “Consistently, the most common recalled vocabulary instruction centers around receiving an arbitrary list of words on Monday [and] looking up the definitions of the words in a dictionary” (Rupley & Nichols, 2005, p. 240). However, this type of word study is unproductive when the students take the initial definition and try to make sense of the word. For instance, if students took the definition of “brim” to be “edge,” they may think that, “The knife has a sharp brim,” is a logical sentence (Brabham & Villaume, 2002). Furthermore, the vocabulary words may mean something entirely different when used in another context, or the definition of the vocabulary word may contain words that the students do not recognize (Rhoder & Huerster, 2002). A similar method of instruction involves students completing drill-and-practice activities like workbook exercises, but these should not be the only strategies to teach new words (Venetis, 1999).

With these word-lists/drill-and-practice approaches to vocabulary instruction, students often forget the meanings of the words and do not develop the skills necessary to use the words in their own speaking and writing. Even if memorization is mastered using this technique of instruction, that does not suggest that the students have enough knowledge of the word to apply its meaning to their own writing. Dixon-Krauss (2002) observed that even after ninth-grade students had taken their vocabulary tests, they had problems incorporating the words into writing, and their papers suffered from incorrect usage and incoherent paragraphs. Francis and Simpson (2003) reported that students were able to respond correctly to multiple-choice questions about vocabulary words, but they were not able to relate words to texts that they were reading or to write significant paragraphs. There was a need for teachers to consider another technique of vocabulary instruction that might assure students learned a word’s meaning and also how to use the word properly in speaking and writing.

Another method of teaching students vocabulary is through reading, and students who read widely have expansive vocabularies (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2004). However, all students do not read extensively, and many only read what they are required to read for school classes. Francis and Simpson (2003) reported that the average high-school student is assigned about 50 pages per week from assignments for their content courses. That number will increase to nearly 500 pages per week when that student reaches college. Additionally, by the time students reach college, professors expect them to be able to learn the text independently “because they do not have the time or inclination to discuss the information during class”. What does this report mean for high-school teachers? They are faced with the duty of not only developing their students’ vocabularies, but also helping them create strategies to learn vocabulary on their own. “A serious commitment to decreasing gaps in vocabulary and comprehension includes instruction that allows all students to learn and use strategies that will enable them to discover and deepen understandings of words during independent reading” (Brabham & Villaume, 2002).

To approach the instruction of vocabulary through literature, teachers often choose to teach vocabulary through context. Teaching vocabulary through context simply means to look for clues in the sentence that might tell the reader something about the meaning of the word in question; furthermore, researchers have studied the impact of visual and verbal clues on learning words in context. Terrill, Scruggs, and Mastropieri (2004) studied mnemonic strategies used in vocabulary instruction for eight 10th-grade students with learning disabilities and found that using keywords with pictures that hint at a word’s meaning increased the students’ vocabulary test scores. By the end of the study, students had learned 92% of their vocabulary using this strategy compared with 49% of words learned using the word-list approach.

Several other studies have been performed that examined the contextual method of vocabulary instruction together with the word-list approach to vocabulary acquisition. Dillard (2005) explored definitional and contextual methods of vocabulary instruction in four secondary English classrooms with a mixture of students in grades 10 through 12 and found that students using the contextual method of instruction outperformed the ones using the definitional, word-list approach on three of the four tests given in the study.

In order to really know a word, students must be able to use it in more than one context; it must be used in writing, speaking, and listening (Rupley & Nichols, 2005).

Having presented all these, indeed, literature is one of the best ways of teaching vocabulary. Both students and teachers benefit from the advantages of a rich language literary piece . For teachers is a pleasure and for students can be the beginning of a new passion – reading. Every teacher`s of language dream is to have students who enjoy reading, accomplishing that simplifies the daily class routine and serves the purpose of obtaining performance.


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