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Using Word Maps to Introduce Concepts

Teachers, are you wondering how you can use Visual Thesaurus word maps to introduce new concepts to your students? Check out this excerpt from Sharon Walpole and Michael C. McKenna's Differentiated Reading Instruction for some ideas.

CONCEPT OF DEFINITION

What Kind of Reader Will Concept of Definition Help?

Sometimes you will have to develop knowledge of Tier 3 words — words for which students have much less background. Concept of definition is a strategy useful for developing an understanding of words that represent entirely new concepts for young learners. It is likely to be especially useful for teaching content-specific vocabulary important to grade-level goals.

What Is the Instructional Focus of Concept of Definition?

The focus of this strategy is building conceptual knowledge by teaching new concepts in direct relationship to known ones. This strategy relies on the creation of a semantic organizer and is sometimes called word mapping. The word map that is created in the course of this instruction makes explicit the connections of a new word to known words and concepts.

Where Does Concept of Definition Come from?

This instructional strategy is based on an ancient idea, first discussed by Aristotle. He suggested that the definition of a noun must include the category to which the concept belongs as well as features that distinguish it from other members of that category. The notion of using a simple diagram to teach these relationships is far newer (Schwartz & Raphael, 1985).

What Materials Are Needed for Concept of Definition?

In order to implement this strategy, you need a word map that allows students to show connections. This word map might be drawn on the board, presented with an overhead projector, or duplicated on paper for students to use. A simple word map has a space for the word, the connections to its superordinate category (the class to which it belongs), its characteristics or attributes, and some examples. Figure 6.3 provides an example of such a map. In it, the word poultry is shown to be a member of the category meats. Specific characteristics are provided along with three examples.

How Do You Prepare for Concept of Definition?

This strategy is only useful when the target word is a member of a specific category, with particular characteristics and examples. However, many content-area terms are of this kind! The strategy is useful both for developing new concepts and also for teaching children to generate definitions as they are learning new words.

How Do You Implement Concept of Definition?

This strategy is implemented first with known concepts so that children grow accustomed to how the word maps work. Then, gradually, it is used to teach less familiar concepts. For example, you could introduce word maps with the concept of a flower, with which the students are already familiar. The word map would indicate that a flower is a type of plant and that flowers have petals, stems, leaves, and roots. The map might include roses and daisies as examples of flowers. In presenting the map, you would point out that grass (among other types of plants) is not included because it is not a flower. Once students understand what a word map is, you can use this strategy to teach words and concepts directly as part of your content-area instruction, or you can use it either before or after a read-aloud. We do not think it would be appropriate during a read-aloud, as teaching an individual word might take as long as 5 minutes — too long to stop during reading without compromising comprehension.

How Do You Know If Concept of Definition Is Working?

You know this strategy is working when children show evidence that they have learned the concepts targeted and when they can use the map on their own or during discussion to formulate and remember definitions. As with all vocabulary strategies, the goal is to teach the particular words deeply and also to teach wordlearning strategies so that children can benefit more from incidental word-learning opportunities.

From Differentiated Reading Instruction by Sharon Walpole and Michael C. McKenna. Copyright 2007 by Guilford Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of Guilford Press.


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