Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enhancing Vocabulary with Computer Technology

Vocabulary lessons at any level are a challenge. Which dictionary do I use? Do I have enough dictionaries? Before computers I was lucky because I taught in one room. I felt sorry for those teachers who had to move from room to room to teach, carting dictionaries in addition to the texts used.

How do I comprise that vocabulary list for the class? I have found I use a couple of vocabulary lists. I always use VETY, a list of 300 words, Latin and Greek, root words. My VETY lesson provides my scholars with an understanding about the family of words. I found by providing this context, vocabulary study became more meaningful than vocabulary lessons based on lists of words based on their part of speech or randomly selected SAT words. VETY showed them how words that used the same root, had a relationship and that by looking at the parts of words, they came to understand the whole word. For example, once the scholar knew that "auto" meant "self," all words with "auto" in it had "self" as part of the meaning. Here are some lists of words I use for quizzes. They may help you in better understanding VETY.

Another important aspect of VETY in the English class is that it transfers to the scholars' other classes like math, science, history. VETY helps the scholar breakdown new large unfamiliar words by analyzing the parts of the word. For example: "autobiography" is made up of three root words: "auto," "bio," and "graphy." This ability to be able to see the parts of the word and to know those parts, helps the scholar define the new word encountered.

Finding a good print dictionary isn't hard. It is more of a matter of being able to afford a class set of good dictionaries. I buy my dictionaries only if the entry contains the Etymology information of the word.

If I have a choice of computers to use, the Mac or a PC, I use the Mac. The Mac has a superb Dictionary built in. Click on the image below to see the entry from the Mac Dictionary for "annihilate." "Nihil" is the first word on the VETY list. The entire presentation of the word is very pleasing and thorough. I am most concerned with the Origin part that appears towards the bottom of the definition. As the scholar reads the Origin section, s/he will find the meaning of the root word "nihil" towards the end. "Nihil" means nothing. Now the scholar records this information and knows that any word that has "nihil" as part of it, the word will have "nothing" as part of its meaning.

click image to view

Now if I must work on a PC, I may have a dictionary loaded from a CD that was included with the purchase of a print dictionary like Merriam-Webster. With an Internet connection on a Mac or PC, many good online dictionaries can be used that provide the etymology of the word. I have a collection of online dictionaries and find the Online Etymology Dictionary very useful.

As I have said, I use a couple of vocabulary lists. VETY is my foundation. Another vocabulary lists comes from our readings. Another source that is always fun is a list of eponyms. Eponyms are fun because these words have interesting stories behind them. The reading of the stories augments reading and writing skills while concentrating on vocabulary acquisition. A fun exercise is to ask the scholars what the meaning of a word derived from their name would mean.

Maintaining the vocabulary lists, scholars can use index cards (one index card for each root word), a composition book/notebook, electronic tools. Technology provides some interesting and useful tools as well. Scholars can create a website where they post their vocabulary. This will not be interactive, so try a blog or even a wiki. With a blog the scholar can get feedback from others. On a wiki, the scholar can allow others to edit the page, much like wikipedia. Starting a class wiki could be a very dynamic project for VETY or any vocabulary lesson.

Vocabulary is the foundation for any subject taught. I hope this page has provided some ideas about how to use the technology available today to enhance vocabulary lessons. In 1992, I was called an iconoclast in an article in the New York Times for doing this lesson.

1 comment:

Art said...


I have been using VETY for years. In fact, I am using it with my freshmen right now. I agree that the importance of root word knowledge cannot be overemphasized. It is so key to increasing not just vocabulary, but reading comprehension. It also aids in vocabulary acquisition. I play and have more than once come across a word I have never seen before, but I can correctly guess it because of the root(s).

Thanks for introducing me to VETY lo those many years ago. It has helped out hundreds of Alabama students (& Georgia students as my uses it in her science classes) over the years.