Robust Vocabulary Instruction

How can I teach vocabulary in a meaningful way so that students will learn and use it?

This is a question that I ask myself and often have parents ask me how I am teaching vocabulary in my middle school classroom. Research shows that vocabulary best practices include:

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).

 We know a wide range of vocabulary activities and routines . . . involve students in content-rich collaborative tasks. Here are 8 strategies to help students become word nerds.

Word Wizards – Students gain points by bringing in evidence of hearing, seeing, or using target words outside of the classroom.

In the Media – A revised version of Word Wizards. Students are asked to find target words in any media source – video games, newspaper, on the web.

Idea Completions – Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation. 

Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.” 

 -Winning a million dollars. 

 -Earning a gold medal. 

 -Walking to the post office. 

 -Cleaning your room. 

 -Having a picture you painted hung in the school library. 

Frayer Models – Have students generate examples and non-examples for the words. This can be dones with visual or kinesthetic illustrations as well as descriptions.

SPROOTS – Proficient readers use different strategies to help define words they do not know and determine whether the definition is pertinent to understanding a text. SPROOTS stands for Suffix, Prefixes, and Roots of the words. Students can use etymology and parts of speech to help make sense of the word.

Illustrate It – Show pictures or video clips that demonstrate the meaning of the word. Have students draw and label something illustrating the meaning of the word.  Chrome Extensions like Read&Write offers illustrated dictionaries for students.

Multi sensory Instruction – Have students act out the words and create kinesthetic definitions or play charades.

Want more, check out these two additional blog posts on vocabulary.



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