How to Teach Vocabulary Words

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  • 0:04 Scaffolding Vocabulary
  • 0:50 Word Walls
  • 2:38 Word Maps
  • 3:15 Flashcards & Bingo
  • 4:40 Lesson Sumamry
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Marquis Grant

Marquis has a Doctor of Education degree.

Without a rich vocabulary, students have little foundation to understand what they are reading. This lesson highlights vocabulary strategies that can be used to develop student vocabulary skills in elementary, middle and high school.

Scaffolding Vocabulary

When you take up the task of teaching vocabulary, remember not to assume that students come to us knowing word meanings and usage, because, to be quite honest, this may not be the case. They will need a foundation for words in order to be successful in the classroom.

Vocabulary exposure should be scaffolded. Consider limiting vocabulary study to no more than five words per week, which will result in 20 words per month. By focusing on a small group of words each week, teachers will be able to explicitly teach word meaning and word usage in context rather than overwhelming students with a slew of words that they will never fully understand.

Let's look at some different ways vocabulary can be taught, including word walls, word maps, flashcards, and vocabulary bingo.

Word Walls

A word wall is a group of words displayed, usually literally, on a wall. These can range from simple words taped to any wall of the classroom to more elaborate, alphabetized systems where words are color-coded. How a word wall is displayed is generally up to the teacher, but they can be organized in a number of ways, such as:

  • Alphabetically
  • Based on a theme or unit
  • According to parts of speech, like nouns or verbs

For example, a parts of speech word wall may have a noun section with the word 'nouns' printed on a piece of card stock. Under the nouns section could be words like 'girl,' 'school,' 'house,' and 'car.' The verb section may include words like 'run,' 'jump,' 'think,' and 'breathe.' Theme-based ideas, like a popcorn word wall where the words are on cards shaped like pieces of popcorn or individual word walls for each student (elementary-level), are creative ways to get students interested in learning vocabulary.

However featured, the word wall is the perfect opportunity to present everything from basic sight words to content-related terms that students need to know for grade level proficiency.

With a word wall, the teacher would teach the words first. For example, say students are reading about plants and the word 'photosynthesis' is one of the vocabulary words in the text. The teacher may define the word or have the students look up the word themselves, but once there is a definition and its importance to the text is discussed explicitly, the teacher would write the word 'photosynthesis' on a note card and add it to the vocabulary word wall.

The teacher will add words throughout the year and frequently revisit them (weekly, semi-monthly, monthly) to make sure students have a firm understanding of each word. This allows students to actually build their vocabulary as the teacher uses the wall to teach and reteach words and concepts.

Word Maps

A word map is a graphic organizer that allows vocabulary to be scaffolded, or broken down into smaller chunks, to support student comprehension of the words. Typically, vocabulary used to complete the word map is unfamiliar and requires explicit instruction on the part of the teacher.

For example, a teacher might break down the word 'monologue' using a word map by defining the word, using the word in a sentence, finding synonyms or antonyms of the word and, finally, have students draw a picture of the word. Word maps are great for the explicit teaching of vocabulary concepts in any subject area.

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