Alternatives to Traditional Vocabulary Instruction

Imagine that you are teaching “Use of Force” by WIlliam Carlos Williams.  As the teacher, your task is to devise a way of teaching vocabulary for this story in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of the text.  

What ever text that you are teaching the old school concept of vocabulary lists on Monday, definitions on Tuesday, sentences on Thursday, and quiz on Friday are not effective in terms of student retention or usage.

When designing vocabulary “lessons,” keep in mind the following:

1. Avoid presenting a long list of vocabulary words to be learned before students are able to read the text.

2. Choose only those words that are important to the meaning and/or will be likely to actually enter your students’ vocabulary.

3. Consider a way of involving students in identifying their own vocabulary words.

4. Try to give your students experiences in figuring out words in context, rather than simply memorizing them.

5. If possible, devise a way for students to locate and define their own words, rather than relying on your choices and definitions.

6. Consider alternatives to students’ learning definitions of words individually. Think about creating collaborative learning experiences, if possible.

7. Find a way to evaluate what your students have learned without relying on a traditional vocabulary test (multiple choice or fill in the blank).

For more ideas about teaching vocabulary, Janet Allen’s Words, Words, Words and Word Savvy by Max Brand are fantastic resources. 

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