I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that vocabulary is extremely important in every classroom, regardless of what grade level or content you teach. I imagine that is why you are here on my blog (or perhaps you are here because you find me delightful!).
Unfortunately, for a lot of kids, vocabulary is a huge struggle. (And for some adults, too! I hate to admit it, but my husband and oldest daughter can run circles around me!) The socioeconomic status of a child has the most impact on his or her vocabulary knowledge, and it is up to us as teachers to create a classroom environment that really increases that language!
A Few Ideas on How to Increase Your Students’ Vocabulary
*Make sure you are using vocabulary in your everyday teaching language. I remember when I was student teaching, one of my instructing teachers would often tell me that I was “speaking over their heads” and needed to “simplify” my language. When I got into my own personal classroom, I did not. (Yes, during my first year of teaching, I was a rebel. I was all about having that freedom to do things MY WAY. Yes, some things were challenging, but some things were liberating and highly effective.) Anyway, I didn’t use constant language that drove my students to frustration, but instead, it piqued their interest enough to start asking what it meant and to infer sometimes. They eventually began using it. It’s very much like when you start using bigger words around your toddler, and they pick it up. Act like those bigger words are super cool and a better way to say something, and they’ll be eating it right out of your hands.
*Do NOT – I repeat – do NOT have students copy words from the dictionary to learn their definitions. It’s been proven so many times in multiple studies that it is not effective to have students write down vocabulary words and their definitions to learn them. (I had this done to me as a child for learning and punishment…didn’t help obviously. Reread paragraph two.)
*Utilize activities that spark interest in words! These activities are engaging and help students begin to love words and seek them out. I have provided students with folders and alphaboxes where they can collect their own personal vocabulary word walls.
*Explicitly teach vocabulary in context. Relate it to their lives and use kid-friendly language. Repeatedly.
*Review activities and games – I think we all had this one in mind before the post even started, right? 🙂
*Read, read, read – The teacher should read aloud, the students should read. Everyone reads!
*Pre-assess students’ knowledge of words using this chart (which you can download free by clicking here):
Then, after a unit of study, you can do it again to see what vocabulary knowledge they have gained. I have also created one large chart with the columns on chart paper (or the board), and students have just placed their name on sticky notes under the correct column for one word (or using multiple words different colors of sticky notes correlating to each word).