Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary

Instructor: Lindsey Pierron
Vocabulary instruction is an essential component in language development. Using a variety of teaching strategies, including vocabulary journals, foldables, word walls, and games, helps teachers increase student engagement and vocabulary retention.

Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary

Think back to when you were in elementary school. Your teacher had written ten vocabulary words on the board, and it was your responsibility to write and define them in your notebook by the end of the week. You enjoyed learning new words, but looking them up in the dictionary every week felt tedious and redundant. As you reluctantly opened the dictionary, you thought to yourself, 'Ugh, more boring vocabulary words.'

Vocabulary is a key component of language development, and its instruction has changed dramatically over the last few years. While many teachers still rely on word lists, glossaries, and dictionaries to teach new vocabulary, other teachers are taking a more creative approach to instruction. Utilizing vocabulary journals, foldables, word walls, and games, teachers can make vocabulary development more exciting and meaningful for their students.


One common instructional tool is a vocabulary journal. Vocabulary journals can be set up in a variety of different ways, depending on age level and language development stage. In elementary settings, it is best to use visual aids to accompany vocabulary words as frequently as possible. A suggested format for a primary student's vocabulary journal is shown below.

Notebook pages can be divided into four squares for vocabulary practice.
Vocabulary Format

New words should be instructed as they are introduced. Imagine a young teacher, Mr. Hanson, presenting a vocabulary word to the class. He writes the word on the board, then asks students if they know its meaning. As students offer suggestions, the class defines the term as a group. The class definition may not match a dictionary definition, but it is more meaningful because discussion of the word built understanding. Mr. Hanson models using the word in a sentence. Then, students use the term to write their own sentences in their journals. Finally, Mr. Hanson draws a picture that he relates to the word. Students draw pictures of the new word in their journals. In ten minutes, Mr. Hanson taught his class a new term, and his students demonstrated understanding of its meaning.

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