"Give them the gift of words"

Sep
23rd

Use Clusters to Boost Comprehension

Categories: SAT Vocabulary, Vocabulary Building Words, Vocabulary for Success, Vocabulary Improvement Tips |

When you learn words in groups, you improve the way you learn to read and use them. That’s because your brain makes connections between the words, and that makes it easier to remember those words – and even easier to make more connections with new words in the future. Not only that, but learning groups of words is a great time-saver. Words that are connected by meaning or by topic naturally align themselves in mental order, and you’ll find that it’s just as quick to learn five connected words as it is to learn two words that aren’t related in any way.

Working with word clusters also helps you fine-tune your knowledge of definitions and usage. For example, look at these words:

distinguish
distinguished
distinguishing

At first glance, you might not thing that they’re all that different. After all, there’s a main word (root word) and that same word, which is a verb, with two different suffixes, one that generally refers to the past tense (-ed) and one that is used in the present tense (-ing). Doesn’t that mean that it’s three forms of the same verb?

Well, yes, that’s true. However, the verb itself has several different definitions, so even simply starting with the root word means that you’re already learning multiple meanings, and clustering those meanings around the base word.

Definition 1: to identify something based on a specific feature
Example 1: “An hourglass-shaped mark on the back will help you distinguish the poisonous spiders from their harmless relatives.”

Definition 2: to act as an identifying mark of such a difference
Example 2: “Blue flowers distinguish the hydrangea bushes that are planted in very acid soil.”

Definition 3: to barely see something against its background or surroundings
Example 3: “It is almost impossible to distinguish the mottled sculpin in the water when it sits motionless on the pebbles of the riverbed.”

Definition 4: to stand out due to achievement or accomplishment
Example 4: “She will distinguish herself and bring honor to her school as a whole if she wins the prize.”

In addition, the words distinguished and distinguishing aren’t just different verb forms, they’re also different parts of speech when they’re used as adjectives. Here’s the difference:

Verb: “The scientist distinguished two kinds of reactions in the chemical process.” (to identify something)
Adjective: “The distinguished scientist received the Nobel Prize for his research into the chemical process.” (standing out, being renowned)

Verb: “This lesson will teach you about distinguishing the different types of transitive verbs in Japanese and Korean.” (identifying something)
Adjective: “Heavy use of garlic is one of the distinguishing features of the cooking in this region.” (what makes something different)

And you don’t have to stop there with this particular word cluster! Add the words distinctive and distinct and distinction, distinctly and indistinct, and you’ll learn five more words that are also all related. You’ll stand out from the crowd when you’ve got word power like this!

Cross-posted at the 7 Speed Reading blog.