Local area urban teachers are working feverishly to try to improve our students’ vocabulary, including a better ability to make concept-based word associations, which will in turn aid them in being better readers and writers. It is difficult, if not impossible, however, to catapult our inner-city students fully up to speed on such a critical and prerequisite skill that is developed slowly over time, not just in a few cram sessions.
What does it mean to make concept-based word associations, and how does this fit in with vocabulary? It’s being able to identify, comprehend, and explain how two words, among a few or several, are related, how they are quite different, and why they are best matched over the other words. For example, ‘fish, fin, milk, spider’. Granted, an oversimplified example, but you would be surprised at the number of our urban students who struggle with this skill set.
You might ask, can’t a simple weekly vocabulary quiz suffice in broadening our local city students’ word knowledge base? Well, no – not exactly. The problem with a low socio-economic demographic is that students simply don’t have the wide variety of vocabulary-enriching experiences that allow them to make vast-reaching connections. Indeed, this is one of the biggest challenges for inner-city teachers.
Vocabulary is developed in two basic ways: life experience contributing to general knowledge (that is, what cannot be taught in a classroom) and reading. Of course, there are many ways to acquire the former, including upbringing, travel, and even watching certain television programs. Reading affords less latitude in that there are fewer shortcuts to being well-read. Students actually have to read to accomplish this! Imagine that. Whether they read from the internet or a hard-bound book, or just peruse their email or texts from friends each day is entirely up to them. However, the extent to which students read along with the complexity of material they choose will either add to or detract from their vocabulary level.
A good vocabulary is vital to our local urban students in creating more virtuous readers and writers. Making concept-based word associations, a big part of that, can only manifest over time. Reading contributes to general knowledge and while it can’t replace life experience, it may, for many local area city students, compensate for the lack of comprehensive vocabulary-fostering experiences in these underprivileged children’s lives.