How to teach vocabulary effectively

How to teach vocabulary effectively

Today I want to talk to you about how to teach vocabulary effectively.


Whether you’re a classroom teacher a learning support teacher or a home school teacher at some point in your program you’ve needed to teach vocabulary.


There are some really common traditional practices that we use to teach vocabulary that aren’t as effective and some others that I want to share with you today that can really help to make your vocabulary teaching truly effective.


Today I want to share with you five key aspects that you can use in your vocabulary teaching to make it that bit more effective.


Now a moment ago I was talking about the traditional approaches to teaching vocabulary which tend not to be as effective as they could be. So usually a teacher will write a word on the board and then either tell the students the meaning or maybe get the students to look at a list of words and look meanings up in the dictionary.


There’s nothing harmful about these approaches, they just don’t really go far enough for a child to truly embed that vocabulary word in their semantics.


So what are some other techniques that you can use?


Well the first one that I want to share with you is compare and contrast.


It’s really useful when we’re trying to get a child to embed a vocabulary word to get them to compare and contrast the words to other words.


So for example we might use an example like how is netball and soccer the same?


They’re both ball sports they’re both team sports, they can both be played indoors or outdoors.


How is netball and soccer different?


So netballs generally played on a court. Soccer is generally played on a field.


Soccer you kick the ball with your feet, netball you use the ball with your hands.


So we’re thinking about how those words are the same and different and this helps the child to categorise the word in their semantic system.


The second step that I want to share with you is to think about related words from a morphological point of view.


So in the example of words containing the F O R M base we might think of words like information, inform, deform, reform and all of those morphologically related words that can help the child categorize and store that word in the correct place with other words that have relationships to it.


The third thing you can do and this is my personal favorite is to think about the relationships to other words or the connections to that word.


So in the example of the word tree we might think of things like bark, park, playing, climbing, tree house, green, leaves, nature National Park and all of those associations we have with that word. We can also think about who. So we might think about children playing in trees. We might think about arborists cutting trees, we might think about loggers cutting trees, we might think about scientists studying trees and all of the people that might have something to do with trees.


So we’re getting the child to explicitly make connections to that word and this creates webs of webs inside the brain so that the child can again categorize and file and store that word in long-term memory.


The fourth thing you can do is categorize. So this works with some words better than others but you might be able to categorize the word according to where it belongs in space.


So for example, the word spatula.


We can start to categorise that word so what are other implements that are a bit like a spatula but used for other purposes?


We might have things like tongs, large spoon, egg flip and all those sorts of words. What category does it belong to? kitchen utensils. Where might we find it? In the kitchen.


So again, we’re helping the child to really store and file that word in the right place in a really explicit way.


The fifth thing that you can do is to talk about the non-literal uses of the word. This one is often  overlooked but one of the most important when it comes to reading comprehension and storing vocabulary.


So if you take for example a really seemingly simple word like a rain, we have a saying in English it’s raining cats and dogs.


Now a child might think that’s a really bizarre thing to say. Is it literally raining cats and dogs? And we need to explain that actually it’s not it’s a non-literal use of the word and it’s a saying or a piece of slang that means something very different. It means that it’s raining really heavily. So make sure that you always have a think about those words.


Those seemingly simple one syllable words sometimes have loads of multiple meanings and also loads of different uses in different sayings so make sure you’re exploring those with your students too.


If you want to get your hands on that resource that I mentioned earlier which summaries how to teach vocabulary effectively in a really easy to use infographic so that you can explore vocabulary in more depth with your students click this link –


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