5 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary

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These vocabulary strategies are perfect for elementary students.  With a little tweaking, these indirect instructional techniques can be done every day. 


When children learn the meaning of words through oral language and reading experiences, it becomes locked into their long-term memory. This means we have to teach higher order thinking skills and give our students plenty of opportunities to experience words in a variety of ways.

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Indirect activities for teaching vocabulary helps students to learn vocabulary when they hear and see words used in many different forms, such as conversations, read-aloud experiences, and independent reading.

This is backed by research-based evidence as shown in the study done by Partnership for Reading, 2001.


5 Vocabulary Instruction Activities




1. Interactive Read Aloud

Reading aloud is one of the most important reading comprehension interventions and vocabulary acquisition strategies a teacher can do.

It is well documented that reading books aloud to children delivers a higher rate of "rare" words that they would not normally be exposed to in general conversation. By exposing them to different texts, teachers are directly effecting the number of words a child will hear in a year, which correlates strongly to reading comprehension.

There is a correct way to do an interactive read aloud - it is not just for after recess!

2. Vocabulary Notebook
Students can keep a vocabulary notebook where they record new words they encounter when they are reading independently or listening to a story.

The meanings of these words should be recorded later when the context clues are provided in the text. This will take some modeling, particularly with younger students.

However, it is a very useful indirect method of teaching vocabulary that causes students to internalize their own learning.


3. Daily Words
We want our students to retain the meaning of important vocabulary, so it must be consistently utilized within the classroom. If the words are only introduced, they do not get into the students' long-term memories. Therefore, teachers need to make using these new words an every day part of the classroom language.

Vocabulary is not stored only as individual words, but also as parts of phrases and larger chunks. These can be retrieved from the memory as a whole, which reduces difficulties with processing and deep comprehension.

You can promote this indirect way of teaching vocabulary through my morning message, when we line up, during class discussions...wherever the possibility arises. It is also referred to as a "Vocabulary Flood" in the May 2012 issue of The Reading Teacher (Flooding Vocabulary Gaps to Accelerate Word Learning: Brabham, Buskist, et al).


The activities for teaching vocabulary that are specifically mentioned included integration of words into "language gestalts,", repetition and meaningful use of words.


4. Label Classroom Objects
Labeling objects in a classroom is not just for kindergarteners.

This is one of the easiest activities for teaching vocabulary indirectly, and the students love to find what you have labeled or changed in their environment.

It also brings realia into the classroom, which is using concrete objects to increase vocabulary understanding.

Some examples of labeling are: label the rocking chair with the word "glider." The teacher table becomes a "trestle," and the class bookshelf is divided into tubs with clearly labeled genres, such as "allegories," "memoirs," and "myths."

Through labeling classroom objects, you are making rare words become known, familiar words that will be embedded deeply into the students' long-term memories.


5. Integrate use of multi-media
Growth will happen naturally as students talk to each other, listen to music, watch television shows and listen to stories. This is one of the keys to indirectly using activities for teaching vocabulary.

In her book Words, Words, Words: Teaching Vocabulary in Grades 4-12 Janet Allen writes this about her students:

“They used the words they heard on television and radio; they used words from the music they listened to; and they used the words I used with them.”

Choose vocabulary-rich multi-media to use within your classroom. Students can listen to stories you have downloaded on to MP3s, watch short video clips together and discuss them or read the lyrics to music while listening to it.



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