Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

Teaching Vocabulary: Make Your Lessons More Effective

Teaching Vocabulary: Make Your Lessons More Effective

By Stacy Zeiger

Vocabulary plays an important role in learning and helps improve reading and writing skills. Unfortunately, it often seems that vocabulary takes a back seat to other subjects, being relegated to boring instruction that has students memorizing lists of words and definitions.

Unfortunately, this common and traditional way of teaching vocabulary falls short of what it should be. It’s time to shake things up. Here’s how to make these lessons more fun and ultimately more effective.

More: 9 Steps for Using Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Finding Vocabulary Lists

One of the important parts of teaching vocabulary is choosing relevant words for students to learn. While knowing the definition of besom (a broom made of twigs tied to a long handle) may sound impressive, chances are students aren’t ever going to use that word. Instead, focus on words students will use.

Start with Dolch Sight Words, which helps teachers find some of the most prevalent words in the English language. Similarly the Fry Word List covers 1,000 high-frequency words that are divided into 10 levels. These types of words are called Tier II vocabulary words and can be taught in grades K-12. Help Teaching’s ever-growing collection of vocabulary worksheets covers many of these high-frequency words.

– Use Subject and Unit-Specific Vocabulary

Pull key vocabulary words out of every lesson, whether you’re teaching the planets or The Declaration of Independence. Introduce the list of words at the beginning of the unit and point them out as they pop up in the textbook or while completing other activities.

Online Resources

If you’re not sure which words to pick out, try copying and pasting a specific text into a word cloud creator that automatically highlights the most important words in the text. Try for this.

– Teach Words in Categories

Teach words in categories to help improve their understanding. While “word-a-day” calendars or other daily word activities may seem effective, learning words in groups rather than alone is actually more beneficial for students.

Online Resources

Find lists of words with the online Merriam-Webster visual library. Simply type in a theme, or choose from their list of preselected themes, and use this as a starting point for creating your own groupings.

– Find Words from Reading

The job of finding relevant vocabulary words also falls on your students. As they read, encourage them to keep a list of interesting or confusing words in a notebook.

While some of the words may be irrelevant, many of them will pop up in other books they read as well. The fact that students choose the word gives them a sense of ownership, making it more likely that they’ll remember the words and their definitions.

Teaching Vocabulary

Choosing vocabulary words is only half the battle. Use these creative techniques to teach them those words. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

– Pre-Teach Vocabulary Words

Go over every word with your students before the lesson. Share the definition and use it in a context-specific sentence. This gives students a point of reference when they see the word in a text or hear you use it in class.

– Analyze the Vocabulary

Students are often taught to simple think about the definition of a new word, but they’re more likely to remember it if they think about it on a deeper level. When teaching vocabulary in your classroom, ask them to answer the following questions:

  • Does it contain any suffixes, prefixes, or roots that I know?
  • What is the part of speech?
  • Does it have a positive or negative connotation?
  • What are some of its synonyms and antonyms?
  • Where have I heard or seen it before?
  • Does the word fit into any specific categories? (food, animals, etc.)

Asking these questions helps students make connections between the new words and words they already know.

– Be Artistic

Bring creativity into vocabulary instruction to help students make additional connections. For example, have students draw a picture to represent the definition of the word, which gives them a visual point of reference whenever they read it.

Less artistic students can find and caption photographs using their vocabulary words. Students can also write a song related to the word or find a song that uses the word to give them an auditory point of reference in their heads.

More: 10 Online Lesson Planning Resources

– Use the Words

Using vocabulary words in context is one of the most effective ways for students to learn. Get students to use these new words regularly with these tactics:

  • Reward students for catching a vocabulary word used in class or for using a word properly.
  • Incorporate the words in essays and stories.
  • Highlight words in classroom texts.
  • Keep word journals and write down specific examples of words in context.

– Make Words Visible

The more students see words, the more likely they are to remember them. You can make them visible in the classroom with large vocabulary posters, a word wall, or lists in the front of their books and binders.

Make a point to regularly add to the classroom word wall, categorize the different words, or let students add their own pictures and examples as they find them.

Most students won’t learn vocabulary words by studying flashcards or simply looking up the definition. Teaching vocabulary is more effective when you choose relevant words and add an interactive component. This not only builds students’ vocabularies but also ensures that they retain the new words that they learn, which is the most important part.

Get students excited about reading and vocabulary with our free teacher tool, Whooo’s Reading.

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