5 Ways Improve Vocabulary Lesson Plans 

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Teaching vocabulary isn't just part of a literacy block.  It has to happen in all subject areas. and these 5 ideas can fit into every lesson.

Children who come from impoverished language backgrounds or are ESOL have to be directly instructed in word play and descriptive language.

When we consider the idea of creating vocabulary lessons, too often teachers lean towards worksheets and memorizing definitions. This is not a fruitful way of improving word usage for any student.

math vocabulary words

Vocabulary activities should be incorporated into daily lessons and also be "sprinkled" throughout the curriculum.

Direct instruction does help create long-term memory storage and helps the words become a part of students' daily lexicon.

It helps to consider specific words as falling into one of three categories:

  • Tier 1 words are the words we use every day.
  • Tier 2 words are "bigger" words that students will encounter in reading advanced texts
  • Tier 3 vocabulary words are very subject specific, such as "angle" and "asteroid."

Educators are quite good at teaching Tier 3 words, but often forget about the direct instruction needed for Tier 2 words. This is where much of our focus on improving vocabulary lesson plans should be.

5 Tips to Improve Vocabulary Lesson Plans

Interactive Read Alouds

A carefully chosen read aloud is perfect introduction to Tier 2 vocabulary words. For example, I use Kevin Henkes books at the beginning of the year. The themes and characters are relatable to all the children, so they can make many connections. As well, Kevin does not shy away from using adult vocabulary in his writing.

In the book Chrysanthemum, he writes about how she feels absolutely "dreadful" when she is teased about her name. This is a tier 2 word that is great for studying the parts of words (base/root and suffix) and their individual meanings. Students can relate to a time when they felt "dreadful" and can begin to use it as part of their everyday language.

Non-fiction texts used as read alouds also offer a wide variety of vocabulary choices. By pulling out words that are both subject-specific and tier 2, teachers enhance content area vocabulary and give children opportunities to improve word usage.

Table Talk Booklets for Teaching Vocabulary

After a focused read aloud, the students choose one new vocabulary word to include in their "Table Talk" booklets. These are simply small spiral notebooks that the students write in.

They write their chosen word at the top and illustrate the meaning of it at the top half of the page. Underneath that the paper is divided into two boxes. In one box they write a complete sentence using the word so that it shows meaning (this can be done as a whole group activity with younger children), and in the other box we write a few synonyms that are Tier 1 or 2 words.

The Table Talk part comes in when the students take home their booklets to share with their families. The idea is that they are shared over the dinner table. This is especially effective for ESOL students and their families who can then support your vocabulary lesson plans from home.

Word of the Day

My students love this. Almost every day I read them a little story about the Wordly family from this resource. Embedded in each short story is a Tier 2 vocabulary word that focuses on either a Greek or Latin root, prefix or suffix.

For example, the youngest Wordly girl learns to play a duet on her flute.

The word of the day is "duet" and I point out to the children that the word part "du" means "two." Then we look at other words with "du" in it, like duplex and duo.

Use of Realia

Realia is simply a way of using concrete objects to enhance language and vocabulary lesson plans. Teachers who are experiencing a change in their clientele due to socio-economic status or have ESOL students can easily see the need for enriching language experiences in their classroom.

Vocabulary we take for granted is not easily accessible to many children. Realia takes the abstract concepts and makes them meaningful.

A fun activity to include in vocabulary lesson plans is called Identity Envelopes. Take five or more manila envelopes and fill them with small objects, like buttons, photos, foreign currency or brochures.

Pass them out to groups of students and have them view the envelopes carefully. The students are to create an identity for a character they think they objects would belong to. This is a great way to build background knowledge for a social studies unit about a specific time period, or a science unit on different types of jobs (think archaeologist, botanist, etc.).

Idiom of the Week

Vocabulary is not just about words. In fact, new words are best remembered in connection with other words. Much of our speaking vocabulary is figurative language, which idioms is a part of.

Another daily resource I use is also from Primary Concepts. The idiom of the week is awesome and the kids absolutely love it. They think it is hilarious to imagine the literal interpretations and to share stories about their parents that relate to the idiom (such as a time when their parents "hit the roof!")

I introduce a new idiom every week as part of my vocabulary lesson plans. They are written on sentence strips, laminated and hung up in the classroom to anchor the students learning.

We use the idioms in our daily conversations, include them in our writing and share them with our friends and families.

This is important as it takes multiple exposures to new words and phrases for them to become really useful parts of everyday language.

So what do you think?  In my opinion, any teacher can include at least some of these, regardless of the grade level you teach.  

I would love to see more high school and middle school teachers using picture books for read alouds to support their lessons.  As we elementary teachers know, those books are often full of Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary that support a huge variety of subject areas!

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