In the picture book The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, a boy named Selig collects interesting words, and I want students to become as excited about discovering new words as Selig becomes.
“An avid word-hoarder, Selig delights in discovering new terms, recording them on paper scraps, and stowing them in pockets…”
I am often asked how I teach vocabulary. Do I give students weekly word lists or front load challenging vocabulary from readings? Do I have students use any vocabulary building apps or games online?
Research shows that proficient readers use different strategies to help define words they do not know and determine whether the definition is pertinent to understanding the text. As word detectives, students use context clues, SPROOTs (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots), Connotation, and even outside connections to help them determine the meaning of words within a text. Additionally, teaching students how to use the dictionary and thesaurus, and showing them the range of information it provides is crucial to vocabulary development.
Rather than teaching students to be word collectors and word wizards with vocabulary lists, I believe that reading is what helps develop vocabulary. Vocabulary instruction needs to go beyond basic definitions and students must be able to apply the words in context.
What that looks like in my classroom depends on the reading and writing unit that students are working on. When studying the Japanese Internment there are key vocabulary words needs need to know to understand the complexities of this time in our history. I use active learning stations help to build background knowledge and word knowledge.
When designing vocabulary “lessons,” keep in mind the following:
- Avoid presenting a long list of vocabulary words to be learned before students are able to read the text.
- Choose only those words that are important to the meaning and/or will be likely to actually enter your students’ vocabulary.
- Consider a way of involving students in identifying their own vocabulary words.
- Try to give your students experiences in figuring out words in context, rather than simply memorizing them.
- If possible, devise a way for students to locate and define their own words, rather than relying on your choices and definitions.
- Consider alternatives to students’ learning definitions of words individually. Think about creating collaborative learning experiences, if possible.
- Find a way to evaluate what your students have learned without relying on a traditional vocabulary test (multiple choice or fill in the blank).
Considering ENLs, ELLs, and students with IEPs, word banks are helpful to front load important academic vocabulary. Students can use any of the Quizlet activities (Learn, Flashcards, Live) to learn new vocabulary words. Go beyond the traditional word wall posting definitions by creating walls displaying Wordart.com or sketch noting vocabulary words.
Looking for more ideas, check out these additional resources: