Check out this new article on vocabulary instruction:



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"By the time a student reaches high school, they possess almost a million words in his/her vocabulary; struggling readers may only possess 100,000 words." (Nagy & Anderson, 1984)


Karen Tankersley (2005) has identified three strategies for effective vocabulary development in grades four through twelve.
  1. "Promoting broad and intensive reading and oral discussions,
  2. Encouraging students to experiment with words, and
  3. Explicitly teaching word meanings and word-learning strategies."

Through the promotion of intensive reading/oral discussions, students have an opportunity to engage in stimulating conversations on a regular basis. Recommended literacy practices include:
  • Graphic organizers/concept maps will allow students to see the connections of new vocabulary and provide memory cues.
  • Another great practice is the use of vocabulary notebooks. Students may organize these alphabetically or topically. Students should record any interesting words, interpretations, pictures and definitions. This is an excellent strategy that allows students to leave your class with an entire volume of new vocabulary terms; this also shows growth over the year and encourages student participation in the process.
  • Triple entry journal templates could be used to document new vocabulary terms and inserted in to a three-ring binder/dictionary.
  • Vocabulary trees begin with a root word at the bottom and allow students to fill in the branches with words that stem from the root.
  • Mnemonics can be utilized to build "memory links" to terms, such as my-dear-aunt-sally in mathematics or every-good-boy-does-fine in music.
  • Semantic maps and word sorts give students the opportunity to sort terms into categories of words. This serves as an excellent building activity where students may work individually or in small groups prior to a class discussion.
  • New to me encourages students to find a predetermined number of words that are new or unknown words. Students are then asked to provide a best definition and discuss with two classmates to see if the definition was close or not. These terms can become the basis of a bulletin board or word wall.
  • Word races assign a single term that has many synonyms to a team of students and see how many they can record in a set amount of time.
  • Bookmark recorders may be used for students to note unknown words as they read or may be pre-printed with meaning terms that students need to know.
  • Share a word invites students to bring a word to class, discuss where they found it and why it is meaningful. This activity can lead to great discussions and serve as a spring board for several great activities.

Looking for a way to encourage students to experiment with words, try activities designed to pique curiosity and be fun.
  • Act It Out is a fun way for students to "act out" or pantomime word meanings to the rest of the class. These representations serve as excellent memory clues for students.
  • Be the Author asks students to read picture books, observe styles and create similar unique stories.
  • Crossword Puzzles of key terms can be created easily online and exchanged between students.
  • Visual Vocabulary allows students to visually define words in a creative way. For example, writing the word wavy in wavy letters.
  • Definition Bee is formatted like a spelling bee, but with definitions that become more difficult as the bee progresses.
  • Round Robin Word is an activity that allows the teacher to select a common word and challenges students to provide synonyms. If the student doesn't furnish a term, he/she are out. Repeat until only student remains.
  • Palindrome Challenge gives students an opportunity to work in teams and identify words that are spelled the same forwards and backwards, such as kayak.
  • Jeopardy is always a wonderful fun option that can be customized to any subject and unit.
  • Which Term Doesn't Belong provides students with a cluster of words (four or five) and requires them to select the term that doesn't belong.
  • Password divides the class into two teams with two coming to the front of the room. A term is written down and shown to a student from each team without the front participants seeing it. A second team member take turns stating one-word clues to the front participant until the round is won. Four new participants come to the front of the room for the next round.
  • She Did What? Revising for Connotation (A ReadWriteThink Lesson)
  • Time's Up is another team activity where students write down as many words (in the declared category) as possible in the given time period. Teachers select a category and time frame. Category examples are sports words, items that are yellow, fruits that begin with A, et cetera.

Significant studies have proven that the old method of assign, define and test are inadequate for classroom vocabulary development (Allen, 1999; Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). It is critical, however, that the students are able to attach prior knowledge to words and the vocabulary should be actively embraced in the classroom. Here are a few good ideas that encourage students to interact and internalize new vocabulary. Please see me for any additional ideas, of which there are many.
  • Create a three-column table with these headings (term, what it means to me, what it means in __ (subject area)). This strategy identifies the multiple meanings word hold and distinguishes the appropriate meaning for your class.
  • Using prefixes places students in teams to generate a list of words that begin with prefixes. Teams must be able to demonstrate the difference between words that begin with prefixes or simply terms that begin with those letters.
  • Triple entry journals provide an opportunity to illustrate the term, as well as define.
  • Shades of meaning is a nice tool for discussing connotations of related words. Students may rate from nicest to harshest and provide rationale. (e.g. overweight, plump, fat, obese)
  • Student dictionaries are wonderful creations, but you must be vigilant in checking to make sure students are writing their own definitions and not merely copying them from a source.
  • Word sorts challenge students/partners/teams to connect and categorize vocabulary. This is a nice springboard for classroom discussion.
  • Frayer model lends itself to vocabulary development. I recommend four quadrants for definition, characteristics, examples and non-examples with the word written in the center of the rectangle.
  • Foreign contributions requires students to identify foreign words borrowed by our language. Words tare then compared and contrasted to native meanings. This also makes a great bulletin board/word wall.
  • Be the Teacher and give students the opportunity to shine. Teachers provide a list of 10-15 new words and take a seat. Partners examine words, discuss meanings and write short definitions and examples.
  • Word meanings web illustrate the multiple meanings behind common terms.

Games for Step Six of Marzano's Academic Vocabulary Plan
is the Question?
Online resources

Templates & Lesson Planning Tools

Presentations & Webinars

Academic Vocabulary Programs (complete with lesson plans)