Teaching VocabularyHow do you teach vocabulary to your students? How do you assess if the students have learnt it? How can you motivate students to actually learn it and then use it rather than...

Teaching Vocabulary

How do you teach vocabulary to your students? How do you assess if the students have learnt it? How can you motivate students to actually learn it and then use it rather than just learn it for a test and then never forget it?

I am just thinking of changing how I do it and wanted to glean some ideas from everyone else out there.

Expert Answers
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We're not supposed to teach vocabulary in isolation at my school (and as you said, that rarely works anyways), so this year I'm trying the roots and stems idea.  So far, my students have truly enjoyed it.

One review that I use for vocabulary words that my students are supposed to write down from their reading assignments is "sentence wars." I assign words two students on opposite sides of the room, and they each write a sentence for their word.  I "judge" the sentence for correct meaning and part of speech and award the student who uses the word correctly and creatively.  They enjoy the competitive nature of the game, and other students get an opportunity to discuss whether a student has used the word correct grammatically.

One other activity that I have found helpful (I use this mainly with my AP students for tone words) is to have my students illustrate words.  They make large flashcards (on pieces of construction paper) and create an image that illustrates the connotation and denotation of the word.  They have to present their flashcards to the class, and the class judges whether the connection between the visual and word is valid.  We post the flashcards on the wall afterward. Students have a lot of fun with this. For my tone word project, my AP students have to find brief passages (one from pre-20th century lit. and one from post-20th century lit.) that demonstrate their tone word, and they have to write or print their word in a font which connects to the word's connotation.

copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Effective methods to teach vocabulary has been an area of interest of mine for quite a few years now. I wish I could say that I've "figured this out," but unfortunately it is a much more nebulous topic than many people assume.

The best resources I've found come from two books: Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction and Creating Robust Vocabulary both my Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown, and Linda Kucan.

The beginnings of both books can be found at the following URLs:




amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have foregone the dreaded list of words that students memorize, regurgitate, and then promptly forget.  Instead, I have started teaching Greek and Latin roots and affixes.  We spend time listing words we know with those roots and affixes and keeping a personal list.  On Fridays, we play games.  One week it may be Bingo, another week may be word links (where I start with a word, say "adverse" and the next person in line either uses the affix or the root to begin another word, say "vertigo".  The next might say, "perverse" while the next person would add, "permit".  It goes on until the next in line can't think of anything.  Then, we start over.  Some weeks, I put a made up word from all the roots and affixes we've been studying on the overhead projector--the first to correctly "define" my created word gets to be the creator of the next fun word.  Through games, we learn the meanings of the these roots and affixes which open up a huge world of vocabulary words rather than just a list of words they'll never recall.  I've had many students come back and tell me they scored higher on the ACT and SAT because of the roots than with any other vocab program.

hustoncmk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have taught vocabulary from novels, short stories, magazine articles, and nonfiction reading assignments. I try to include a wide range of vocabulary words at different levels.  Prior to reading the materials, the students must define any words on the list that they do not know and then use it in a sentence.  If a student already knows what a word means, he or she needs to prove it to me by using it in a sentence.  This encourages each student to learn words at the reading level that he or she is at. 

My daughter's fifth grade teacher did this.  A few years later I  was teaching at a private school. Many of the vocabulary words the AP English students, 11th and 12th graders,  were learning  were on the vocabulary lists my daughter had received in fifth grade.  I took her teacher's example, and utilized with my students.  From second grade on, others commented on the higher level of vocabulary my students had.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I teach a history class, but I find my students' vocabulary is usually below grade level, and that its development has stagnated by the time they reach me in their final year.  I introduce about 20 terms per week that represent new vocabulary.  Some of these end up being identifications later, such as "headright" or "excommunicated".  I then try to make it a practice of using these terms in my lessons and presentations - making them a part of my daily communication with them.  I incorporate those words into higher level thinking questions, with prompts to write about them in essay format.

I can see if they use the terms correctly in this way, but then I also can see, over time, a more general progression (or lack of one) in their vocabulary and its development.

anthonda49 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I frequently had the students either draw a picture or perform a charade to define the word, to show it in action. This could be done as a game, where once a student identifies the word being shown, that student gets to share his/her vision of the word. Chart paper with the definition displayed could be personalized by individual students who would share their interpretation on the chart paper. After the words had been up for a week for study and reference, then the evaluation would take place. Sometimes, I would write out a scenario, then the students would tell what word it illustrated. Analogies were also a useful way to teach vocabulary.

kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like to teach vocabulary in units of 20 for two weeks. Within these two weeks, I'll have students interact with the vocabulary during the "do now" portion of the class. Some activities may include acting, or charades (silent acting), pictionary, vocabulary stories, group vocab stories, vocab poems, vocab-wars, etc. After the two weeks, I assess them with a quiz; however, it doesn't end there, from then on, those vocabulary words will be integrated into the questions on the literature unit exams, for which they are not permitted to ask for the definition.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My favorite vocabulary lesson is "Vocab in context."  Each student gets a word from the text with its definition.  They must determine the part of speech - find the word in context - then use it in a sentence that creatively portrays the meaning of the word, and write it on a "brick" (construction paper cut in half).  We read sentences aloud - guess at the definitions, then build a word wall.

Even in high school, 11th and 12th graders have loved this - and really remembered the words.

sboeman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have my 9th and 11th graders journal often, so I ask them to incorporate their vocabulary words into their journal writing - when was a time you wished you were incognito?  When did you have an auspicious moment during a sport, hobby, or club activity?

It also helps to drop the words often to them during class so they get the context - "This class is being quite obseqious today, what's going on?  Nah, I'm just being facetious."

picturesque | Student

I teach my students vocabulary using direct method.

Once i write words on the board and define them using  the same language and then write the definitions on the board and then ask them to guess the words.

So the method is:



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