How to Teach New Vocabulary

Instructor: Esther Bouchillon

Esther has taught middle school and has a master's degree in gifted education.

This lesson describes how to introduce a new vocabulary word and several sample activities for reinforcing the meanings of the terms. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary

There are many different ways to teach vocabulary. First it is important to decide what you actually want the students to know. Do you simply want students to be able to match a term to a definition? Or do you desire for the students to have a deep understanding of the term, be able to use it accurately and be able to generalize the term? Especially with standardized tests where the exact phrasing of questions is unknown to the teacher in advance, usually the second goal is necessary for success. Let's look at how two teachers approach a vocabulary lesson using some nonsense words. Decide which one you think better teaches the new term.

Mrs. Snores begins her vocabulary lesson by writing the word 'vort' on the board. She tells the students to copy the term into their notebooks then states that the definition of a vort is 'an extravagant, fancy covering for a sneen.' She uses the term for the students in a sentence by stating 'Your vort is beautiful!' She tells the students to write down the definition and sentence in their notebooks also. As they are writing, Mrs. Snores writes the word on the poster labeled 'word wall'. Mrs. Snores tells the students to write four sentences using the word vort for homework, then moves on to the next word.

Across the hall, Mrs. Clearly also writes the word 'vort' on the board and states the definition, but she also displays a picture of a vort. 'Yesterday we covered what sneen means, can someone remind us what this word means?' A student says that it is another word for head. Mrs. Clearly tells her she is correct and then asks someone to describe what extravagant means and calls on several students to answer. Mrs. Clearly concludes her explanation of the term by showing several examples of vorts including a derby hat and Native American headdress. She also asks the students to share some examples of things that are not vorts. Students reply with visor and baseball cap. Mrs. Clearly has the students write down the definition in their own words, list some examples and non-examples, and draw a picture that helps them understand the meaning of the word.

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