The Best way to Teach Vocabulary

Doing It Differently: Tips for Teaching Vocabulary

Our English instructor would have us replicate a list of 25 words that she had written on the board every Monday in 7th grade English class. After that, we’d look up the definitions in the dictionary and write them down. In order to complete our homework, we would rewrite each word seven times.

You now understand what I’m talking about. The test will be on Friday, and those 25 words will never be seen again. Poof. Yes, it’s a little dated. Yes, it is a routine task. Is it true that it worked? I’m not sure what happened. Most likely not.

The practise of copying definitions from the dictionary is not an effective method of learning vocabulary, as we would all agree. Passive learning is almost never the case. Because it’s how we learned, it’s natural for us to fall back on these methods while teaching, rather than taking a close look at student data and the most recent research and then trying something new, which is a mistake.

However, as research has shown, kids require many and varied exposures to a word before they completely comprehend and can apply it to their situation. They must also learn terms in context, rather than learning words from a list that changes every week or two. Of course, the most effective approach to acquire new terms in context, or implicitly, is to read and read some more. (This is why every classroom should have a fantastic classroom library, which should be stocked with high-interest, age-appropriate literature.)


Oh, there are so many words and so little time. Choosing which terms should receive more teaching time is something we don’t have to do on our own. One of the most common mistakes we do as teachers when it comes to vocabulary education is selecting all of the words for the students without allowing them to have any input.

Before my tenth graders began reading Lord of the Flies during my first year of teaching, I went through each chapter and produced lists of all the vocabulary phrases I believed they would have difficulty with, so that I could pre-teach them before they began reading.

The thought of looking at those long lists made me feel a little sick to my stomach. How am I going to teach all of these vocabulary while still having time for all of the other things we need to do in class? First and foremost, rather than wasting my time making lists, I should have allowed the students to browse over the text in chapter one and choose their own phrases to emphasise.

Then, when the pupils have chosen their own words, here’s what you should do:

Create a chart for each youngster in which he or she writes down terms of choice and scores each one as “know it,” “kind of know it,” or “don’t know it at all.”
Then, on the same piece of paper, ask them to write a definition or “my best guess on meaning” for each of the words they know or are familiar with (don’t use dictionaries!).
Instruct students that turning in these pre-reading charts is not about “being right,” but rather about giving you with information that will help you manage the next steps in class vocabulary learning.

Read through them all and use the results as a starting point for your formative evaluation. This information will show you which words they are familiar with, which ones they have a vague comprehension of, and which words are absolutely unknown to them.

The words have been chosen and scored by the children, and it is now your time.


Take, for example, Isabel Beck’s practical method of dividing vocabulary terms into three levels, which can be used to determine which words require the greatest instructional attention:

Tier One words are those that are used frequently and do not require much instruction (door, house, book).

The second group of words is composed of words that appear often throughout a wide range of areas and are essential when speaking in mature, academic language (coincidence, reluctant, analysis).

Three-tiered classification: These terms are used infrequently and are often restricted to specific fields of study (isotope, Reconstruction, Buddhism).

According to Beck, pupils will benefit the most academically from education that focuses on tier two terms (since these appear with much higher frequency than tier three words, and are used across domains). As a result, you should take a look at the pre-reading vocabulary charts that your children developed and select terms that you consider to be tier two words that are “sort of” and “don’t know anything about.” You may choose some content-specific words (tier three), but only those that are directly relevant to the chapter, article, short storey, or whatever you are about to read should be considered.

You now have a list of vocabulary words. It’s time to get to work.


I’d like to introduce you to Robert Marzano, in case you haven’t heard of him before. This individual has spent countless hours monitoring pupils and teachers, and he is rather extraordinary. The author, an education researcher and teacher, underlines the importance of direct vocabulary training across the curriculum and proposes six strategies to do this:

Step one is for the teacher to explain a new word in greater depth than just reciting its definition (tap into prior knowledge of students, use imagery).

During the second step, the students must rephrase or explain the new word in their own words (either verbally or in writing).

Students are instructed to produce a non-linguistic depiction of the word as part of the third step (a picture, or symbolic representation).

Step four involves students participating in activities that help them to deepen their understanding of the new word (compare words, classify terms, write their own analogies and metaphors).

Step five is for students to discuss the new word they learned (pair-share, elbow partners).

Sixth, students should play games to review new vocabulary on a regular basis (Pyramid, Jeopardy, Telephone).

The six phases outlined by Marzano are groundbreaking in the field of vocabulary learning: They make it enjoyable. Students consider, discuss, apply, and have fun with new vocabulary words as they learn them. Webster, on the other hand, doesn’t get a word in edgewise.