10 Ways To Increase Student Vocabulary

Improve your students' vocabulary by using these proven strategies.

Increasing student vocabulary is of paramount importance, since the words that we understand influence our very thoughts and our perception of the world around us. Many students come to our classrooms with vocabulary that is limited by their environment and experiences. As teachers, how can we increase the number of words that they have at their disposal?

1. Identify your students' current level of performance. You will have a very difficult time teaching students to understand what the word economy means if they do not have an understanding of the word money. This is a very simplistic example, but you see the potential problem. You must check to see if students have a good base vocabulary to start with, because you cannot build on something that is not there. There are a variety of assessments available, such as the Reading Level Indicator (RLI) that can help you determine where your students stand.

2. Check for understanding. Many students will simply coast along in class, not asking questions, appearing to be lazy or disinterested, when in fact, they do not understand the material. Check for understanding of the content frequently, using ways that do not single students out. If you discover that many students do not understand the words in the content, reteach the vocabulary. Repetition can be quite effective.

3. Encourage students to read a wide variety of materials. If students perceive that reading is only something that is done from a textbook, then reading may not be very appealing to them. This is not uncommon, as many students come from homes where there are no bookcases, only entertainment centers. If students do not have the opportunity and encouragement to read materials of their own choosing, their vocabulary will stagnate.

4. Break down words. Teach students how words originated, which can often be quite interesting. Teach the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes and do activities where students try to guess word meanings based on those word parts.

5. Integrate vocabulary into each lesson, regardless of the content area that you teach. Make vocabulary a natural part of each lesson, and discuss the vocabulary surrounding the concepts that you teach, regardless of if it is math, art or music.

6. Teach students to use reference materials so that they can continue to develop their vocabulary independently, without having it explicitly taught. If students have reliable access to computers, teach them how to use the many online dictionaries and thesauruses that are out there. Many even have pronunciation guides that can be clicked on. In the classroom, there are a variety of games that you can play with the dictionary to increase your students' comfort level with this resource.

7. Provide multiple exposures to new words. Just as when someone must practice new words repeatedly when learning a new language, students must use their new vocabulary in order for it to stick.

8. Help your students to develop connections between their lives and the vocabulary words. One way to do this is through whole class semantic mapping, as each student has an opportunity to add his or her idea about a word to the discussion.

9. Give assignments that give students a reason to use the vocabulary outside of class. For example, you may want to ask them to go home and bring back pictures that relate to the vocabulary words. For vocabulary to fully develop, it must also be used outside of the school walls.

10. Try playing physical games to teach vocabulary. For example, take words such as stomp, saunter, and crouch that can be physically acted out and play a guessing game. Incorporate other vocabulary games as well. If students are relaxed and having fun, the vocabulary is more likely to be remembered later. Games also help you cater to different learning styles in a very easy manner.

Try looking at the National Council of English Teachers Ideas Plus series of books for some great activities that you can do with children of all ages. Also look at the resources available online and at your local teacher supply store. The more diverse tools you have at your disposal, the more successful you will be at reaching every student and broadening their world through the development of a wider vocabulary.

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