Vocabulary Strategies – Why, How, What


Why is Vocabulary Instruction needed in both physical and online classroom environments?

Systematic vocabulary instruction at every grade level, in every subject, in every classroom is one of the most important intervention practices schools can employ to eliminate “word poverty,” close the achievement gap, and raise achievement for all students. It builds background knowledge and uses elaboration to help students make connections and associations that produce a more meaningful understanding of the essential and important words and concepts they encounter during lectures and reading passages as the content is taught. 

How do you implement this strategy for greatest impact?

  • Identify vocabulary for lessons using standards-driven Learning Goals and prioritize the words, selecting the essential and important words for direct instruction.
  • Choose the most relevant nouns and verbs from the lesson’s standards and Learning Goals, and evaluate and build background knowledge when needed for students with limited language skills.
  • The selected strategy accomplishes instructional intentions for explicitly teaching new words (4 Box Word Analysis), new concepts (Frayer Model or Word Map), guided practice (Word Pyramid or Visualize and Draw), previewing (Do I Know the Meanings of These Words or 5-3-1) or reviewing (Quick Talk or I have … Who has…).
  • Practice a selected strategy and determine how to adapt it for students with learning differences before the lesson.
  • Gradually but continuously add new strategies as students become adept at using them.
  • Provide multiple experiences for students to apply their new word knowledge, i.e. during discussions, vocabulary games, writing activities and responses to content prompts during the lesson.

What does this strategy look like in both my in-person classroom and when used with online learning?

Example 1: Concept Map
Concept maps assist students in learning connections between concepts and their meanings, and in organizing ideas. Concept maps (also called webs or mind maps) are graphic organizers designed to help students link prior knowledge with new concepts by recalling or learning concept meanings, essential attributes, and characteristics. This strategy is especially effective prior to reading passages of new information. After finishing the map, students will be able to read with more efficiency, build new knowledge, and form a process for recall of the information.

Process: Give each small group a set of cards with key vocabulary from the lesson and some blank index cards. Students work as a team to create a concept map that organizes the words to show relationships. Words may be glued or taped to chart paper, connected by lines to show how the terms are related. Afterward, a Gallery Walk will allow students to examine each group’s work and reflect on new ideas or connections. Summarize at the end by asking students to write about how their understanding of the concepts and vocabulary changed.

  • Similar Strategies: Word Graffiti, Vocabulary Chains, Brainstorms and Sorts, and Word Associations

Digital Adaptation (A/S/B): Create an editable (or fillable) PDF for the concept map. Or, try Google Jamboards, Milanote, or MindMupto virtually create and manipulate concept maps and other word clusters. (B)

Example 2: Possible Sentences
Used to introduce new words students will encounter and asks them to use two or more of the words to create a sentence that they think will appear in the content of the text. Useful in content areas to preview new concepts and terms before the lesson.
Process: Give students a word bank of words to choose from and ask them to use some of the words to create Possible Sentences, predicting what will be learned that day.

  • Step 1: Teacher displays and discusses the meanings of six new words critical to the lesson.
    • persecution / famine / scarcity / prosperity / migration / exodus
  • Step 2: Teacher adds four related words that are familiar to most students to the above list.
    • Homelands / agriculture / survival / poverty
  • Step 3: Students work in Collaborative Pairs to look for words that are connected and create sentences before reading the text.

Digital Adaptation (A/S/B):  Try it with a Padlet. The shelf board can be used to organize words as columns to cluster words and provide a place for the students to post their Possible Sentences. (B)

For more examples of Vocabulary Strategies, log in to LEARNING-FOCUSED Online, and visit our Teacher Resources.


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