Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary

Read how teachers make their vocabulary lessons meaningful and engaging by using cue cards, games, student competitions and teaching Greek and Latin root words.

We had a great #2ndaryELA Twitter chat last night about how to meaningfully teach vocabulary to our students. Most teachers agreed that teaching vocabulary in context of the novel or unit your class is currently studying is the most effective strategy.

Read how teachers make their vocabulary lessons meaningful and engaging by using cue cards, games, student competitions and teaching Greek and Latin root words. At the end of this Storify teachers shared their best resources.

Q1: What vocabulary do you explicitly teach? From texts you’re reading? A root-based program? A separate vocab book? 
  • Sadlier-Oxford levels F & H. One unit every 2 weeks. Also teach vocabulary in context with reading
  • I teach new words as they come up in the texts we are using. I do not use a formal program
  • I prefer to teach root-based vocab but last year was required to use Sadlier Oxford Vocab Workshop 
  • I teach vocab from whatever we are reading.  Although now I will be focusing on test vocab since test season is almost here
  • I use a separate vocab book that includes short readings for each unit so that students can first see the words in context
  • Vocab in context with readings
  • We do two programs. A root based program a colleague and I created and chosen vocabulary from 500 Words for the SAT 
  • We use books that teach Latin and Greek roots in addition to the vocab. I also incorporate new vocab as it arises in units 
  • I teach vocab in context (novels, etc.) and also academic vocab (lit terms, drama terms, poetry terms).

Q2: How do you teach new vocabulary words as they arise? Share your strategies. 
  • Index cards. Alliterative sentences, images, poems, mnemonic devices- students choose what matches their learning style
  • I spend 2 weeks per unit (20 words) reviewing definitions and practicing usage. We then quiz on the words every other week
  • Games = big part of teaching vocab. Fun way to get students using words in different contexts. Some here: http://goo.gl/dLXFCK. Also use Cornell Notes & "word webs with a twist" http://goo.gl/qlM0Ia
  • We discuss words as they arise in context, and if it is specific new vocab I have used the Frayer model
  • I pick words that we can figure out using context clues then we'll record the definitions and any other important things like prefix, suffix etc.
  • Vocab posters (each student picks a different word off the list), skits, and sentence games
  • Games (dictionary wars is a favourite), using prior knowledge of roots, cue cards, using context clues, having a class recorder
  • Cloze activities are a favorite too
  • A building word wall and personal dictionaries! 
  • Students could use Kahoot as a vocab review if testing on the new words 
  • Look at examples of literary devices & talk about impact of word choice. Switch it up & see how it changes meaning

Q3: Do you use word walls in your classroom? How do you make effective use of them?
  • No word walls yet. No space
  • Instead of a word wall, I have a word tree to save wall/bulletin board space. See it here: http://goo.gl/Fzn9eh
  • I need word wall ideas! How do you get your kids to use them?
  • Word wall 
  • Never used one. Do students think it is too elementary or are they receptive? 
  • We use word walls for units, like #Shakespeare or poetry, but we don't have an all-year one. I would love ideas 
  • I have a word wall but I am not sure how effective it is.  It's a good reminder but I'd like it to be more
  • I thought about it being interactive with matching words and definitions
  • Mine are boring...large post its and I record the words as we go. But no printing or laminating necessary!! 
  • There are so many different ways to track words - check the secondary ones on Pinterest!
  • Word walls need to work for your students and your teaching styles
  • I think chart paper is a great way to put up words 

Q4: Do you encourage the use of paper or online dictionaries in your classroom? What are the pros and cons of each type?
  • Both dictionaries. I like online and phone app dictionaries because they pronounce the words
  • Paper vs. digital doesn't matter to me. More important is students putting definitions into words they understand 
  • I have paper dictionaries in my classroom and students can use their devices to look up words as well
  • I have been promoting digital since I know that's what they do at home 
  • Using a paper dictionary is an important skill in my opinion. It uses many literacy skills and no autocorrect to help 
  • Mostly digital. Students have iPads so it is quick and easy. No need to flip through 
  • We use online, because our paper ones aren't thorough enough. It's nice to be able to switch to a thesaurus quickly, so pro! 
  • Sometimes the thesaurus is more helpful than the dictionary definition

Q5: Share your favourite vocabulary resources that you use in your classroom.

  • Favourite resources are my own, but I recently discovered Vocab Gal, blog with teaching ideas, games, etc. http://goo.gl/FW4kEx
  • 500 Vocabulary Words for the SAT by Charles Gulotta
  • I love vocab posters because they double as artwork for your room.
  • A5 Marzano's Building Academic Vocabulary.
  • Vocab relay race: all the words & definitions are scattered on the ground at one end of a field & the students are at the other. The objective: race to the words and definitions, grab a matching pair, and take it back to the team. The next team member then rushes off to do the same. The team with the most matching pairs wins! Yes, this is played outside. Yes, they compete against one another on teams


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Read how teachers make their vocabulary lessons meaningful and engaging by using cue cards, games, student competitions and teaching Greek and Latin root words.


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