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Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary Skills

written by: Barbara • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 1/5/2012

Students from elementary to secondary school have listening, speaking, reading and writing vocabulary lists that they use daily in and out of the classroom. Capitalize on all the different ways students absorb new vocabulary and build on their memorization skills.

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    Direct and Indirect

    Students learn vocabulary directly and indirectly. A student's vocabulary portfolio increases from the age of speaking through the ages of structured learning in a classroom environment. Having active vocabulary lists can increase a student's ability to read and comprehend their world in books, activities, communication and listening. As a student's vocabulary increases so does his/her ability to read and comprehend learning materials, textbooks, and interpretation of the world around them.

    Teaching vocabulary skills requires vocabulary instruction that is understood in terms of the following:

    • Reading vocabulary - words are imperative in understanding the context and the content in reading materials from flyers, books to school textbooks.
    • Verbal/Speaking vocabulary - children from pre-school to secondary school have an accrued vocabulary list of words that are used in generic conversation and more directed communication.
    • Writing vocabulary - students learn how to start with the basics of writing sentences to the complexity of constructing research papers and reports.
    • Listening vocabulary - in earlier grades, students are engaged in active listening skills that contribute new words to their vocabulary. As students transition from grade level to grade level, vocabulary words gained from active communication increases or decreases dependent on the student's intention to learn new words and use them and the teacher's ability to facilitate the learning of new words.
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    Reading and Writing

    Teachers can use specific vocabulary learning objectives in teaching reading vocabulary to students from elementary to secondary grade levels. Teaching strategies can range from simple activities to more complicated project collaborations for students.

    • Pre-reading vocabulary lists - teachers can have students create pre-reading vocabulary lists when new material is introduced in the classroom or during prescribed reading times during class.
    • Spelling assessments - assigning students weekly or daily vocabulary lists for assessments not only increases the student's vocabulary, but also their ability to spell words correctly.
    • Comprehension word walls - teachers can assign each student a word of the day and have each student look up the definition of the world and post the word and its meaning on a designated word wall. Building comprehension increases a student's ability to understand what they're reading.
    • Multiple word contexts - when students can see words used in a diversity of contexts, then it will enhance their ability to retain the world and use them in different reading experiences.
    • Journaling vocabulary words - having students put a word a day in their journals is great, but having them use the word in active writing assignments is even better for word usage and retention.
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    Verbal Speaking and Listening

    If you read students a passage from a book, article, or selected written material, teachers can ask them to write down at least three words that are either new or somewhat familiar. Teachers can use the following strategies to help students learn vocabulary from active speaking and active listening engagements:

    • Reading passages - in order to train students to actively listen for vocabulary words, teachers can use a selection of reading passages that range from simple to complex to strengthen vocabulary skills.
    • Student selection of reading material - allowing students to select their own reading material with an assignment that requires them to list at least 10 vocabulary words with definitions will help them construct a vocabulary portfolio.
    • Using assistive technology/references/resources - with any vocabulary experience, students should have designated assistive technology or software or reference materials to look up words and define them.
    • Teaching word parts - an active listening tip would be to teach students how words are constructed into meaning by breaking them down into word parts (i.e. reconstruction vs. deconstruction are great examples).
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    Mini Lesson Plans

    The best way to get your students to memorize new terms is to introduce them in conjunction with a lesson objective or a new chapter in a textbook. Here are some tips on increasing student comprehension.

    • Introduce the word: Teachers can use a number of techniques to introduce new words in the classroom. From elementary to secondary students, teacher can provide word pre-assessments by either verbally introducing the word or writing it on the board. Either way, the teacher states the word "Okay students, put down your pencils and concentrate on the word that I am going to say or write on the board. I want you to think about what comes to mind when you hear or read the word for 10 seconds and then take out your journal and brainstorm your thoughts."
    • Use graphic organizers: When students are provided with a differently organized method of brainstorming thoughts using a graphic organizer, then connections can be made and additional information included that will enhance the word understanding and memorization.
    • Pair-share words: Have students take a minute to talk to their neighbor and share their words and graphic organization of the words to see if they are similar in meaning and understanding. For example if the word "spiral" is one of the words of the day, then some students may have words like "notebook (spiral notebook), curvy, helix, wiggly circle, and being out of control" along with squiggly lines and swirls as visuals.
    • Class presentations: Asking for at least five volunteers from the class to put their definitions and visual thoughts on the board with explanations can show students that words can be used in different formats as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs when used in written materials. The word spiral is a great example because teachers can have another set of students look around the room to find artifacts that can be used to provide visualizations of the word such as a notebook.
    • Written activities: Whenever new words are introduced, teachers can provide written activities for students to practice using the word(s) in sentences and in conversations. Students can write a sentence for each new word or do a pair-share and use the word in a conversation. Students should also have resources to look up the meaning of each word to insure correctness when memorized.
    • Assessments: Whether there are weekly spelling tests or assignments that require the usage of the weeks' new vocabulary in writing a story, completing a worksheet or creating a screenplay, students memorize words that they use consistently and are held accountable for on a daily or weekly basis.
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    Your best bet for reaching all types of learners is to use many different types of teaching methods. Introduce new vocabulary words by creating word context, content, meaning and application that will prove beneficial and powerful as the student grows to understand the importance and application of words.