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How to Make Improving Vocabulary Skills a School-Wide Initiative

Vocabulary learning does not take place only inside the English department. All disciplines, from Art to Science, require that students learn discipline-specific academic vocabulary. However, too often this learning takes place in silos, but is never connected across disciplines. In this article, you'll learn the reasons to make improving vocabulary skills a whole-school endeavor and strategies to adopt a school-wide focus! Plus, download two tip sheets that can be used in PD workshops or department meetings.

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3 Reasons to Make Improving Vocabulary Skills a School-Wide Initiative

Whether you are a teacher, a leader, or an administrator, bringing a school-wide focus to vocabulary studies helps bridge gaps between disciplines and encourages deeper vocabulary knowledge in every subject area! Here are three reasons to make improving vocabulary skills a school-wide initiative.

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1.) Generate Awareness of Word Learning and Word Choice

Because I am passionate about word learning, my students recognize how greatly I value learning new words. However, students attend multiple classes every day and often don’t connect ideas or concepts from one class to another. By bringing students’ attention to vocabulary studies, teachers from across disciplines can start sharing instructional strategies for improving vocabulary skills, creating a more consistent message about building word knowledge.

2.) Create a Positive Academic Culture

Different teachers are able to reach and relate to different students. However, when all of the teachers in a school repeat the same message about vocabulary learning, that message resonates more deeply with all of the students.

A school that is dedicated to vocabulary learning can shift the message it sends to students from a more general “do well academically” to a specific “vocabulary is essential.” With this tangible outcome in mind, it becomes easier for teachers to approach word learning consistently

One caveat, however. If students are struggling with vocabulary development, be sure to remain positive and encouraging. They shouldn’t feel that they are a failure because the school’s focus is on something they cannot achieve right away.

3.) Highlight the Shared Importance of Language and Learning

The bedrock of all instruction is language. A school-wide focus on improving vocabulary skills will help students begin to see that learning new words isn’t just a random part of their school subjects, but rather is a critical element of their overall education.

 

Furthermore, if all of their teachers are engaged in helping them learn new words in a consistent way, students will feel that they are learning essential information.

A school-wide focus on improving vocabulary skills will help students see learning new words isn’t just a random part of their school subjects, but rather a critical element of their overall education.

 

Strategies to Adopt a Vocabulary Focus School-Wide

It can be overwhelming for teachers to adopt a school-wide vocabulary focus. They often struggle with the many pendulum swings of education and may well roll their eyes about the addition of “one more thing” to their plate.

To help overcome that very understandable resistance, here are a few different, easy ways to integrate a vocabulary focus into your school’s culture and start improving vocabulary skills in all subject areas.

Divide Up a Specific Set of Vocabulary

I once visited a school district where the teachers were divided into multiple grade bands. Every teacher reviewed the appropriate grade-level Vocabulary Workshop book, but with different aims, depending on their subjects.

improving vocabulary skills school-wideContent-area teachers combed through the word lists and highlighted the target words that related to their disciplines. They then posted these discipline-specific words in their classrooms for students to see all year long.

English teachers posted all of the target words in their classrooms. Then, all of the teachers were directed to use their vocabulary words whenever possible. This way the students heard the words multiple times and in a variety of contexts.

As a result of hearing the target words in multiple contexts, students recognized that their vocabulary words were not just applicable to English classes, but that they were also used in a broader context. They then began using them throughout the day in their speech and writing.

Have All Teachers Use the Same Vocabulary Strategies

Another way to help make improving vocabulary skills a school-wide effort is to offer students and teachers a toolbox of strategies for learning words.

improving vocabulary skills school-wide

Teachers should support students’ vocabulary development in a consistent way—that is, the strategies in the toolbox should be used by every teacher in the school. In this way, students gain a better understanding of the strategies and teachers can develop consistency in their teaching of new words.

Again, if the goal is for the whole school to be invested in improving vocabulary skills, having all of the teachers, regardless of subject area, use direct instruction calls attention to the school’s vocabulary learning goals.

For more information on word-learning strategies, see previous posts about making words stick here and simple direct vocabulary instruction strategies here.

Utilize Vocabulary Visual Aides

Another way to promote school-wide attention to word learning is to hang a poster with the most common roots, prefixes, and suffixes in every classroom. Additionally, students should have a copy of this poster in their binders or notebooks for each class.

word-structure-green-and-latin-word-roots-worksheet-750pxThis way, all the teachers in a school can highlight how the prefixes, roots, and suffixes relate to the specific words in their disciplines. The more often each teacher asks students to highlight the word parts when they come up in their lessons, the more clearly students can understand how word study is useful to all of their subject areas.

To get ideas on how to integrate prefixes, roots, and suffixes into vocabulary routines, see my comprehensive article here.

Additionally, every teacher should be encouraged to hang anchor charts, posters, and bulletin board content that reinforces the idea that learning new words isn't just a random part of their school curriculum, but a critical element of their education.

improving vocabulary skills school-wideI've created two printable classroom posters that remind students of the basic tenets of classroom philosophy and behavior in order to encourage critical thinking in all areas of education, including vocabulary. Drawing students’ attention to these posters occasionally can hopefully help clarify what great vocabulary learning looks like in action.

In Summary

Helping students to see the value of words doesn’t require spending a lot of time at staff meetings. It simply requires teachers to learn some simple strategies, and to take a little time during each class to use those strategies with their students.