Teaching Semantics

Our goal is to help students develop linguistic and metalinguistic awareness of words in relation to other words, and in context. This awareness is to enable them to make meaning of words, use words appropriately in speech and, by extension, in writing.

CCSS states that SMBAT

  • determine or clarify the meaning of grade-appropriate words encountered through listening, reading, and media use;
  • come to appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings, shadings of meaning, and relationships to other words; and
  • expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content.


One example of a useful strategy is semantic mapping




Our Semantics Routine: Before Reading


  • Introduce the word depopulate.  

Show the word card and have students say the word.

  • Define the word:
    • Depopulate means to greatly reduce or decrease the number of animals or humans in an area.
  • Provide the Spanish word (despoblar).  Have students notice similarities between English and Spanish words.
  • Guide students to apply morphology (word part) strategy:
    • What word parts do you notice in the word?  Does this word sound similar to another word? (e.g., population of a country or school)
    • Preview word use in context and ask students what they think that means.  
    • In this book, wolves are depopulated from Yellowstone National Park through extermination. Screen Shot 2016-09-21 at 2.12.13 PM.png

Our Semantics Routine: During Reading

Suggested questions:   

  • After page 3: Summarizing:
    • The text says “the wolves were gone.”  Another way to say this is the wolves were exterminated or depopulated.  Why were the wolves exterminated or depopulated.? How do you know?


Strategies: Clarifying, Questioning, Inferencing, Summarizing, Using Text Structure

-Comprehension strategies are practiced during close reading of the text

-Teachers should provide additional explicit instruction and practice as needed