Falling in Love with Vocabulary

Thanks for visiting Literacy Land!  I'm Wendy from Read With Me ABC, and I'm thrilled to be sharing ideas for building vocabulary knowledge with you today.

Before I share my post, please allow me to me tell you a little bit about myself.  I have been an elementary teacher for the past 20 years. Although I've taught many different grade levels, I'll always consider myself a first grade teacher since most of my years have been spent there.  However, a few years ago I accepted a position as a reading specialist, doing what I love best, teaching children to read.  I work with developing readers in grades 1-5.  I truly consider this my dream position!  

Call me unusual, but I think vocabulary acquisition is fascinating.  I love learning new words and playing word games. I'm a self-proclaimed word nerd.

As teachers, we know that vocabulary is critical to reading comprehension. It plays an important role in learning to read as well as reading to learn. To ensure academic success, young readers must develop a wide base of word knowledge and the ability to learn how to acquire new words.

So, how do we foster vocabulary development?  Students often don't share my enthusiasm for learning vocabulary.  ;)  The challenge is to create high-interest, engaging lessons that children will love.

Students need direct and indirect instruction in vocabulary, as well as multiple exposures to the words, in order to internalize the meanings. The routine I use in my classroom is based on Six Steps to Effective Vocabulary Instruction developed by Robert Marzano.  Students seem to embrace the six-step routine and fall in love with the activities, discussions, and games we play to acquire new vocabulary.  Perhaps this approach will work well for you too.

1. Provide a Description, Explanation, or Example:  Introduce the word and supply a kid-friendly definition, description, or explanation.  Use the word in a sentence.  Give several meaningful examples. 

Ideally, I like to introduce words within the context of the story we are reading. This is the perfect time to introduce a word with which students may be unfamiliar.  After a little "word- talk", I'll display the word on a concept map.  We focus on two or three words per story and add the words to the map throughout the unit.  

2. Students Apply the Word:  Ask students to demonstrate understanding of the word by restating the description, explaining its meaning, or giving an example in their own words.  Encourage discussion, use of white boards, and vocabulary journals.

3. Students Draw the Word:  Invite students to draw a small picture or symbol that represents the word.  Model this process with your own drawings.  Use white boards so students can get ideas from each other. My students record their words, definitions, and pictures in a variety of different organizers that can be added to their interactive notebooks. Here are a few examples...

4. Students Engage in Activities to Extend and Refine Their Understanding of the Words:  Return to the words frequently with activities to refine, extend, and deepen student understanding of the words.  Point out the words as they are encountered in text.  Examine each word in depth.  Highlight prefixes, suffixes, and root words that will help students remember the meanings.  List related words.  Identify antonyms and synonyms.  Sort or classify words.  Compare similarities and differences.  Construct sentences using the words.

5. Students Discuss the Words with One Another:  Encourage students to use the words when writing or speaking.  Ask questions that require students to use the words.  

Students can use the "Think, Pair, Share" strategy to describe the pictures they've drawn, compare their descriptions of the words, and discuss any confusions or 'a-ha' moments they've had with the words.

6. Involve Students in Games:  Provide opportunities for students to play with the words and reinforce their word knowledge.  As you can imagine, this is the most popular step with students.  Many of the games we play are based on popular board games and TV game shows.  Here are a few of our favorites.
  • Memory
  • Pictionary
  • Charades
  • Jeopardy
  • $100,000 Pyramid
  • Password
  • Bingo
  • Swat
  • Blurt!
  • I Have... Who has?
  • Heads Up
Of course, we can't teach our students every word they'll ever need to know, but we can provide the scaffolding they need to successfully acquire new words and foster a love of vocabulary.  

Here are a few resources that I have found helpful for teaching vocabulary:

Would you like more ideas for vocabulary instruction? Emily wrote about using focused questioning to develop vocabulary in {this post} and Jenny, Deniece, and Jana discussed vocabulary strategies {here}. Check these posts out; you'll be so glad you did. :)

Do you have a vocabulary activity or game you play with your students? Please share your idea in the comments. We would love to hear from you!

*A very special thanks to EduClipsLovin' Lit, and KG Fonts for the graphics used in this post. 


  1. I have been teaching a lot of geometry lately and good vocabulary is one of the most important parts. Your steps are making me think about better way to teach geometric words. Thanks!

    The Math Maniac

    1. Hi Tara!
      Thanks for visiting today. I hope you were able to take away a few ideas that you can implement in your upcoming geometry lessons. I think it's awesome that you are incorporating literacy strategies in your math lessons. Your students are lucky to have you!

  2. Oh my goodness...one of the best posts ever!! I love how you explained how to get the most out of vocabulary instruction. I am copying the link and sharing on my Facebook page right now. Thanks a bunch, Wendy!

    1. Thanks for sharing it, Carla! I appreciate it. Vocabulary development was one of our building initiatives last year. Love this topic! :)

  3. Totally inspiring post!! Vocabulary is not a strong part of my instruction. This needs to be a goal for me for next year!! :)

    1. Em, you are welcome to check out the Word Power Wednesday posts on my blog. I did a series of posts on activities and games to promote vocabulary acquisition. Freebies provided. ;) Thanks for commenting!

  4. Wow! What an amazing post! I really enjoyed reading it!!!!! Thanks for sharing on Just for the Teacher Tuesday!!!! Please come back, and link up more of your fabulous tips with us. We'd love to have you!!!!!


    1. Thanks, Jacque. I'm so glad you dropped in for a visit. :)

  5. Thanks for the great post. Vocabulary is a goal in my grade so I can't wait to try this method out!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Literacy Land! I'm so excited to hear that you are planning to give this method a whirl. I do hope you'll come back and share how it went. :)