- Make it a regular activity.
While vocabulary instruction is a regular part of the curriculum in
most elementary schools, it tends to tail off in the upper grades.
However, students continue to need help throughout grades K-12,
especially if they're trying to make up for limited vocabulary learning
in the pre-school years. That's not to say that vocabulary lessons
should take up entire class periods, though — regular, 10-15 minute
activities will be far more effective than a handful of hour-long
- Teach more by teaching less.
Not only is it ineffective to make students memorize random words,
but it's counter-productive to give them too many words at one time. In the long run, teachers can have a
greater impact on vocabulary by giving students repeated exposures to
5-10 useful new words every week, rather than by drilling them on 20 or
more words at a time (most of which will be forgotten within a couple of
- Use new vocabulary in the classroom.
Researchers have found that it usually takes 10-15 exposures for new
words to stick in people's minds, and those words stick better when used
in the flow of conversation, rather than studied as part of a list.
When choosing new terms for study, teachers should look ahead to see
what students will be reading about and discussing in the coming weeks,
and after teaching the words' meanings, they should reinforce the new
vocabulary by using it often and encouraging students to use it
- Teach synonyms, antonyms, and alternate meanings of words.
Students will have more success learning and remembering words if
they study them along with clusters of related terms. Further, teachers
should point out those words that mean different things in different
contexts (e.g, the use of the term reaction in chemistry and its use in everyday conversation), helping students to appreciate the nuances of the language.
- Show students what to do when they come across new words.
Reading teachers often advise students to look for "context cues" to
help them make sense of new words. In other words, students are supposed
to figure out what the rest of the sentence or paragraph means and then
make an educated guess as to the term in question. But students may
need more specific guidance than that — teachers may want to show them
exactly how to look up the word in a dictionary, for example, or to
search for the term on the Web, in order to find a few more examples in
which the word is used in a sentence.
- Teach specialized vocabulary in the content areas.
Teachers in the content areas have a responsibility to teach the specialized terms (e.g., mitosis), or specialized meanings of common words (e.g., mathematicians' understanding of the words square and root),
that students are about to encounter in class. Periodically, they ought
look ahead in the textbook or syllabus to see what terms will be used,
check to see whether students know those terms already, and explain
those as needed.