Many teachers tell me that they just don’t have time for vocabulary instruction on top of everything else they need to do in the classroom. Of course, I understand that as teachers we are always pressed for time; however, I also know that vocabulary is crucial to students’ success in all subject areas, so we can’t afford not to make time for word learning.
Remember, vocabulary instruction is not simply limited to the realm of the English teacher; all instructors, from elementary school through college, are responsible for teaching their students the vocabulary of their subject areas. The more words students have in their arsenals, the better they can communicate with others, no matter what their discipline.
“So how do I make time for vocabulary instruction in a 47-minute class?” you may ask. Here are my top three ways to integrate vocabulary instruction into your daily routine.
1. Use Vocabulary in Your Communication
If you can do nothing else, simply elevate your word choices when you speak to the class, write instructions, and communicate with students throughout the day. I have highly visible word wallshanging in my classroom to remind me and my students of great vocabulary words to use. Whether I am telling a student that s/he is deserving of approbation for answering a question correctly, or asking the class to please not be belligerent or truculent and listen to my instructions, I sprinkle vocabulary into all of my communication as a means of indirect vocabulary instruction.
Additionally, writing instructions using vocabulary words (using parentheses to provide a definition if need be) helps inspire students to learn new words. The more often they start to see the same vocabulary in classroom instructions, the better they will learn it (and you can eventually take away the definitions in parentheses).
Again, remember that all teachers can use higher-level vocabulary to communicate with students, in addition to reiterating content area words often to clarify meaning.
2. Have Students Respond with Vocabulary
Likewise, ask students to use vocabulary words in their communication with you and with each other. Often, when I have a handout for the class, instead of passing it out directly to students, they have to come to me and use a vocabulary word to request the paper.
For example, one student might say, “Please don’t make me importune you, Ms. Ressler. Can I please have the handout?”, while another might say “I had the fortitude to come up and get this paper — please give it to me.” Remember, this technique can be used in math, science, social studies, art, and all other subject areas; by requiring students to reiterate content area vocabulary during transition times such as these, they are really pushed to think about meaning and usage throughout the period.
Additionally, my students must use at least two vocabulary words in all of their writing assignments, and at least one vocabulary word when responding in formal discussions or seminars.
Feel free to award stickers, class points, or other vocabulary award distinctions to students when they use vocabulary words, and make the use of vocabulary a game. Although this vocabulary instruction is indirect, it still allows students to learn new words!
3. Learn Two Words a Day
My favorite method of direct vocabulary instruction is to break down the week’s 10–20 word vocabulary list into two words a day, so students focus on learning and using two new words per day. As a result, the lesson only takes 5–7 minutes.
I start every class off with silent reading as soon as students walk into the room, then transition into vocabulary instruction after five minutes. This reading–then–vocabulary–instruction routine allows students to quickly settle and shows students that both reading and vocabulary are extremely valuable in our class.
Alternatively, I have a colleague who introduces 10 vocabulary words the first day, then has students review them each day for a few moments.
Feel free to use any variation of such a vocabulary instruction routine — from two words to ten — whatever works best in your classroom.
Overall, if you use my Vocabulary Instruction Strategy Three and have a set weekly vocabulary word list and routine, Strategies One and Two are easier to implement. However, if you don’t want to take time for direct vocabulary instruction and assessment, simply surrounding students with vocabulary through word walls and asking them to find their own words also allows you to elevate your students’ reading, writing, and word knowledge.
The more we reiterate and integrate vocabulary into the daily actions of our classes, the more erudite our students will become!