Vocabulary Instruction in Elementary School

Words are the foundation for communication-reading, writing, and speaking.  Elementary school is the foundation for students to begin their educational journey towards becoming successful readers, writers, and communicators, therefore, it is imperative that students in elementary school are exposed to rich, engaging, vocabulary instruction that offers them choice and multiple exposures to words.  This helps students to build schema, fluency, and meaning.  It also sets them up for the more complex reading they will have to do as they enter middle and high school.    With this in mind, give the following strategies a try:

1. Sound Walls–arrange words by first letter, followed by their phonetic sounds

2. Word Walls–arrange words by categories, units, complexity, etc.

3. Word Sorts–ask students to arrange words by specific (given categories).  Examples may include sounds, word endings, prefixes/suffixes, synonyms/antonyms, or tense.

4. Pictures–ask students to illustrate pictures that relate to the context of the words as well as their meanings.

5. Idioms–ask students to think about words in context through the venue of idioms to help them distinguish multiple meanings of words and/or words in context.

All of these strategies are great for your ELL learners as well!

Vocabulary Instruction in Middle School

Middle school is where students start to transition from learning to read, write, and speak in meaningful ways to using these modes of communication to learn.  The middle school years are where students’ academic level of complexity becomes increasingly difficult.   Students begin to struggle with comprehension (if they didn’t already), which in turn, causes them to act out or give up altogether.  Often, the root cause of these struggles begins with vocabulary acquisition.  Middle school students need rich, engaging vocabulary instruction with multiple opportunities to apply, synthesize, and engage with vocabulary across all content areas throughout the day.  Vocabulary instruction in middle school should not be taught in isolation.  Asking students to look words up in a dictionary does not work.  What does work is teaching words in context and allowing students to engage with those words as much as possible.  With this in mind, give the following strategies a try:

1. Frayer Model–this asks students to think about a word or concept beyond the definition by asking them to illustrate the word, come up with examples and non-examples, as well as use it in a sentence.

2. Semantic Mapping–this strategy helps students contextualize vocabulary and concepts in a visual way using their own organization techniques.

3. Ranking–ask students to contextualize the complexity of a word by ranking it in a visual way by using paint strips or colors to represent shades of meaning with the words.

4. Writing–as much as possible, as students to write across contents using the vocabulary words in context.

5. Games–middle school students are very competitive and don’t usually view school as “fun” like they did in elementary school.  To remedy this, engage students in fun, interactive games they will love (an learn at the same time) such as:

  • Charades–ask students to act out the word meanings
  • Scattergories–students need to list words in categories based on a given letter
  • “Kick Me”–no actual kicking is involved; rather, students are given a vocabulary word to wear on their backs.  They then have to find the student in the room who has a word associated with their own–could be a synonym, antonym, definition, theme, etc. After all students have found their partners the game is done.
  • Word Sneak–Inspired by The Tonight Show.  Print short vocabulary lists out for students. Ask them to secretly mark the words they feel they could “sneak” into conversations with each other. Pair students up, making sure each one has a different set of words. Let the students engage in conversation, trying to sneak their selected words in “seamlessly”.  The person who can do this the best in each partnership wins!  (Teacher tip–you may want to set a timer for each partnership; let students change partners for additional rounds if time allows).

If you would like to learn more about our PD programs, contact Karen Matso, Director of Professional Development/Demonstrated Success, at karen.matso@DemonstratedSuccess.com.