Teaching Vocabulary

We’ve all been, at least once in our lives, handed a long list of new vocabulary words and been forced to look up and write down the definitions, study them, complete a quiz, and move on.  We also all know that the process is far from an effective method of vocabulary instruction. It can be hard to know how to teach vocabulary to make it stick. Read below for some tips and activities to liven up your vocabulary instruction to allow students to not just memorize and regurgitate definitions, but actually consider, discuss, and have fun with new words.

First, vocabulary instruction is always more relevant if students select the terms whenever possible.  I usually have them peruse something we will be reading (novel, short story, poem etc.) and highlight terms and categorize them as either unclear or unknown words to create a short vocabulary list.

If you aren't reading a text to draw new words from, a fun and easy way to bring new vocabulary into your classroom is to have an interactive bulletin board that introduces a new word of the day/week.  This is a low-stress way to expose students to new vocabulary and provides a bank of terms for you to use for vocabulary instruction.

Avoid the traditional method of having students look up all the words in the dictionary.  This is usually a very dry process that doesn’t engage students.  Instead, provide a context for the term by teaching new words using images, stories, videos, or experiences.  For example, if you are teaching the word mortified you might consider the following:

- Tell students a story of when you felt mortified.
- Show them a picture of someone who is mortified
- Show a video clip from a TV or movie where a character is mortified.

After you feel you have provided students with a deep, engaging explanation of the new words, have them show their understanding to clarify any misunderstandings.  You can do this by having them share their understanding of the terms in their own words (aloud or in writing), write their own examples in sentences, or draw or find an image that represents the new words.  It’s important that students don’t simply restate your definition or ideas, but rather provide their own original examples to show that they fully understand the meaning.  Try this free vocabulary card to have students examine a word in great detail: FREE VOCABULARY CARD

You might also consider helping students deconstruct the word at this point if there are any prefixes, suffixes, or root words to examine.  

After students have learned and shown understanding of the new words, come back to the terms a few days later to have students engage with them in a fun and creative way.  Read below to see some of my favorite ways to engage students in vocabulary practice! 

Have students find or examine famous quotes that contain the words they have learned by searching for quotes that use the word online (example search: "mortified quotes").  I also use them as a way to introduce new vocabulary by having students guess the meaning of words in the context of how it is used within the quotation. Try this activity in your class by clicking here: FAMOUS VOCABULARY QUOTES

Have students interact with the new words by having them perform a short vocabulary theater skit.  Students work in groups to write and perform an original skit that includes the new vocabulary terms.

Have students play a game of “Word Sneak.”  Inspired by The Tonight Show game (click here to see an example), students will each get a unique short list of vocabulary words that they need to casually sneak into a conversation with a partner.  They check off the words they are able to incorporate for one point each.  It’s also fun to add a few silly words (ninja, guacamole, race car etc.) to each list to liven up the game.  

Have students play a game of Vocabulary Bingo.  Students write the words they learned into the bingo squares.  You read out the definition (or provide a synonym or antonym) of the word and students have to color in the appropriate word (or use paper squares or a bingo dabber).  When they get a line colored in, have them yell out, “I love vocabulary!”  A small prize is always a nice touch.  Use these free bingo card templates by clicking here: VOCABULARY BINGO

Play a game of Vocabulary Memory.  Give students small squares of paper (preferably a thicker paper to avoid cheating).  Students make matching cards, one with the vocabulary word and one with the definition.  They mix the cards up and place them face down on the table.  Each partner takes his or her turn to flip 2 cards over attempting to match the term with its proper definition.  If they make a match, they keep the card and earn one point!
If you are looking for other resources to teach vocabulary, the ladies of the coffee shop have you covered!  Click below to check out what they use to teach vocabulary. 

Vocabulary Poster Project from Nouvelle ELA
Free Vocabulary Cube Activity from The Daring English Teacher
Vocabulary Differentiation Flipbook from Secondary Sara

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