What is a definition?

In his Science and Education article, Daniel Willingham (2014) points out:

"Kids don’t learn important information that’s right in front of them unless an adult is actively teaching them." 

Willingham points out vocabulary instruction is based on categorization. "Understanding that objects can be categorized is essential for kids’ thinking."

For example, consider the word puddle.  To use this word accurately and flexibly the student needs to begin by categorizing it at its most general level. While the first association that may come to mind for the word puddle is rainwater, the most general association (i.e., semantic feature) for puddle is not water but a collection. The details that further define the collection include: 

  • small
  • isolated
  • undifferentiated or unstructured material 

With an appreciation of these semantic features the word puddle can be used in a number of ways:

  • a puddle of water
  • a puddle of toxic waste
  • a puddle of light
  • a puddle of extra fabric

In the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™, all 7 domains of literacy are covered in each lesson, including the vocabulary (semantic) domain:

1. Sounds & Letters

2. Decoding and Spelling

3. Word Parts

4. Vocabulary 

5. Sentences

6. Comprehension

7. Sentence Writing 

In Station 4, vocabulary is taught explicitly using the Definition Building Procedure that guides the student to develop a formal, 3-part statement of a word's meaning:

  1.  The word
  2.  The word's most general category 
  3.  The word's distinctive features or details (that set it apart from other words in its category)

Here is an example of how the Definition Building Procedure works in the Lexercise Structured Literacy Curriculum™  (Level 9) using the word script:

First, select the word to be defined:


Second, specify the word's category:

Third, list the details that set the word apart from others in its category:


Finally, use boxes 1, 2, and 3 to write the definition, and write an example sentence:




Willingham, D. (2014). Children Need to Be Taught. Daniel Willingham's Science and Education Blog.




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