Vocabulary instruction is important. Like so important.
Why? Well, our students are constantly being exposed to new words every single day. Elementary students are exposed to anywhere from 2,000 – 3,000 new words every year! That is a huge number of new words to learn and remember.
And if we really want to make sure our all of those new vocabulary words stick with our students, then we need to make sure that we know how to teach vocabulary in a way that will make it easy for students to understand and retain new words they come across in all the texts they read.
Regardless of your title, you are a vocabulary teacher. Call content teachers have specific vocabulary words they should teach to their students. We all need to learn how to effectively teach vocabulary.
Keep on reading to hear 10 tips that will help you improve the way you teach vocabulary to your students.
10 Tips To Help Improve How You Teach Vocabulary:
1. Explicitly teach vocabulary words
As a vocabulary teacher, you should select words that you want to explicitly teach your students. This could be a list of Tier 2 or Tier 3 words that you know your students will frequently see in their reading, or it could be a specific set of words you want students to use in their writing. It could even be content specific words you want your students to understand for an upcoming lesson.
Regardless of what the words are, be intentional. Don’t waste your time with a random list of word that will mean nothing to your students. Make sure your students understand the purpose and reason behind the words you are explicitly teaching them.
2. Engage students in word study activities
Research suggests that over 60% of words students encounter have recognizable words parts. This means that as teachers, we have the power to give students the tools to really improve their vocabulary. To effectively teach students vocabulary, we must spend time teaching them Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes, as other word parts that will help them have a deeper understanding of the words they read.
When students have these tools they will be able to apply them to their independent reading and improve their vocabulary all on their own.
3. Teach students how to use context clues
This is another skill that requires explicit instruction. When students know how to effectively use context clues to identify the meaning of unknown words they have the power to read and understand almost anything. To do this effectively, make sure students know the 5 different types of context clues.
I would take time to introduce and model each one. I would also make sure that students have plenty of opportunities to practice using context clues while they are reading. This is a skill that you can model during your read aloud or during guided reading. You can even pull students into a strategy group if they seem to need additional support with this skill.
4. Give students ample opportunities to read a variety of genres
This might be one of the most effective, yet most underrated strategies to teach vocabulary. We need to give our students time to read a variety of genres. The more students read, the more new words they are exposed to. AND the more exposure they have to new words, the more they improve their vocabulary. Independent reading also gives students the chance to independently apply all the vocabulary and word study strategies you’ve taught them.
5. Let students drive their vocabulary instruction
In addition to the teacher selecting words for explicit vocabulary instruction, let your students come up with words as well. I used to have an anchor chart in my classroom and students could add any word that they came across that they were curious about. Maybe it’s a word they read in a book or a word they read at home. If students are curious about words, we want to foster that curiosity and teach them how to explore words in depth.
Once a week or so we would look at the words on our anchor chart and take a few minutes to explore each word. I would ask the class if anyone could identify any word parts in that word or if anyone had seen that specific word before. We talked about our background knowledge of specific words and then would come up with a plan for how we were going to figure out what that word meant. This was a great opportunity to remind my students what they should do when they approach new words.
6. Provide students with multiple opportunities to engage with new words
If you really want students to add new words to their vocabulary, then they need to engage with those words multiple times before they become a part of their everyday vocabulary. You could consider incorporating a word of the week or word of the day routine, where students engage with the new word in a variety of ways.
7. Use and teach academic language
Academic language is such a huge factor in the success of our students. So often we don’t take the time to teach our students the correct academic term for the content we teach. I think a lot about math, how often do we skip teaching our students specific terms such as minuend and subtrahend and rather we say things like – the bigger number or the smaller number.
We are doing our students a disservice by not teaching them the specific academic terms. Academic language helps our students fully grasp the concepts we teach across all content areas. Our students can handle learning and using the academic terms associated with the concepts you are teaching them.
8. Assess vocabulary authentically
Assessment is an important part of any instructional process, we just want to make sure that we are actually assessing vocabulary in an authentic way. When thinking of assessing vocabulary, think about your ultimate goals:
- You want your students to be able to use new words in their discussions and in their writing.
- You want students to be able to understand and correctly use academic language.
- You want students to be able to correctly use their word study strategies to solve unknown words.
Rather than giving them a random multiple choice quiz, or weekly assessment that asks them to match terms to definitions, consider using a rubric or checklist to periodically assess students vocab growth. You could use a checklist during reading conferences or guided reading when you are listening to students read and solve for unknown words, or you could use a checklist when you assign your students a written reflection at the end of a lesson.
This is a much more authentic and effective way to see if your students are actually growing their vocabularies.
9. Display a classroom word wall
If you are an upper elementary teacher, you should consider adding a word wall to your classroom environment. If we want our students to regularly use vocabulary words in their discussions and writing, then we need to make these words easily accessible to students.
In lower elementary, word walls are often focused on helping students learn how to correctly spell high frequency words, but in upper elementary, the focus of a word wall should be on helping students to remember and retain the definition and meaning of a specific vocabulary terms. This is best done by providing not only the definition, but also a picture cue/clue to help them remember that term.
10. Make it fun
Word study can be so much fun. Vocabulary is not meant to be dry or boring. The more words students know the bigger their world becomes and the more books they are able to read, understand, and enjoy. Make your vocabulary instruction engaging and exciting. One way to do that is to regularly incorporate games into your vocabulary instruction. This is a great way to make it fun, but also
Do you feel a little more prepared to teach vocabulary to your students? I hope so! Just think about how much your students will grow as readers because you decided to focus on improving your vocabulary instruction. Keep in mind you don’t need to do all 10 of these things right away or every single day. But I would encourage you to make a list of where you want to start… and if you need a little help, I have a great freebie for you to grab below!
Grab Your FREE Gift!
Greek & Latin Root Word Reference Sheets
This root word reference sheet will help your students remember common Greek & Latin Root Words. The reference sheet includes the definition and examples of 40 common root words as well as picture cues! It also includes customizable spaces for students to add their own root words.