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A Guide to Vocabulary Teaching: Part 2

A Guide to Vocabulary Teaching: Part 2

The second part in a series of 3 blogs about vocabulary teaching: the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ 

  • How? – how do we begin to teach children the vocabulary needed to engage in all aspects of the curriculum?

  • Who? – which children would specific vocabulary teaching benefit? Is this best achieved using a whole class, targeted or specialist approach?

If you want to learn about which vocabulary we should be focusing on please see Part 1 in the series – ‘How do I choose the words to teach?’.


Who benefits from vocabulary teaching?

The simple answer to this is – all children.
Don’t just take my word for it – a large scale study was completed by Santa, Haven and Valdez in 2004 and they came to the conclusion that ‘vocabulary knowledge is the single most important factor in reading comprehension’.

Vocabulary teaching can fit neatly into the ‘Waves of Intervention’ model.  As you can see there are 3 level of intervention – Universal, Targeted and Specialist.
Teaching vocabulary easily fits into all of these. In this blog we are going to be focusing on the Universal level so ensuring excellent teaching practices for all children.

How do we teach vocabulary?

To describe this we’re going to go back to our first blog and the STAR approach. As you may remember, the S stood for Select. So now we know which words to teach how do actually go about doing this? You’ll probably be not surprised to learn that the T is STAR stands for Teach so here are the basic principles for teaching vocabulary:

  • Make words a priority
  • Maintain a sustained effort
  • Link oral and written vocabulary
  • Analyse word components e.g. prefixes
  • Use a range of methods
  • Go with the child (at the right rate)
  • Use multiple exposures
  • Teach words in context
  • Teach strategies
  • Active and specific teaching of words 

These are all useful to keep in mind when thinking about specific games and activities, do they fit at least a few of these principles? When we teach vocabulary we need to ensure that the children are being taught each word from these 3 different perspectives:

  • Phonological – speech sounds
  • Semantic – meaning
  • Syntactic – grammar

Word of the day

One way we can do this is by introducing a ‘word of the day’ activity. This should only take 5 – 10 minutes each day and after a while the children pretty much run this activity by themselves as they get used to the structure.

You may be wondering why we say one word a day, rather one word a week - consider this:  if we only teach one word a week then we only teach 38 new words in a school year. A word of the day increases this to 190, this goes some way to close the gap of the children who have a considerably lower vocabulary in the class. With these activities you are also teaching children the strategies to retain a new word they may learn in their new topic or in a book they’ve read.


Display boards 

Ensure that you have a prominent ‘word of the day’ display on the wall. Make this a working wall. Each day have your chosen word ready to go on the word wall and work through it using the following activities:

  • Phonology – Clap the number of syllables in the word. Are there any words that rhyme? What is the initial sound? Say the word to a friend.

  • Semantic – Think of a word that means the same. Think of the opposite. Come up with a definition together. Draw a representation of the word or come up with a symbol.

  • Syntax – What kind of words is it – noun, verb, adjective? Put the word into a sentence.

  • Action – Act out the word. Think of an action to represent the word. Do we know the sign?

  • Put it into a song or a rap… Here is a link to all the Word Aware songs and raps that you can use and add your word in

Consider choosing a different type of word each day. Perhaps 2 words from your class topic, 1 word from a book you are reading with the children, 1 emotion word and 1 concept each week?

After each day ensure that you write the word of the day on a lollipop stick or post it note and add to a ‘word pot’. These will then be used in the Review part of the STAR approach that we will talk about in the final blog.


A targeted approach

Some children will need a more targeted approach. Try introducing a pre-teaching group at the start of the week to introduce them to the 5 new words that will be learnt that week.

Use as much visual support as possible – have pictures of any nouns, act out any actions etc. By introducing these words with children who normally find vocabulary difficult at the start of the week you may find them putting their hand up to answer questions when you are introducing the words to the rest of the class, this will give these children a much needed confidence boost and hopefully motivate them to learn new words.

Some children may have a specific difficulty learning the meaning of new words, this may be due to a Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) or Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). These children will certainly benefit from the above teaching and group work but may need a one-to-one session to ensure understanding and use of these new words. They may have access to a Speech and Language Therapist who would be able to advise on specific strategies for these children.