1. Having students look up words in the dictionary so they can
copy the definition down verbatim even though they still
don’t know what it means.
2. Overwhelming students with 50 new words per week
especially when they couldn’t possibly retain everything.
3. Telling students the definitions to words without giving them
adequate practice using them.
4. Believing that because a student does well on a vocabulary
test that knowledge transfers immediately and remains
5. Getting through a vocabulary unit so we can check it off our
20 words no one has ever heard before in his life
1 dictionary with very confusing definitions
1 matching test to be distributed by Friday
1 teacher who wants students to be quiet on Mondays copying words
Put 20 words on the board. Have students copy then look up in
dictionary. Make students write all the definitions. For a little
spice, require that students write words in sentences. Leave
alone all week. Top with a boring test on Friday.
Perishable. This casserole will be forgotten by Saturday afternoon.
Serves: No one.
Adapted from When Kids Can’t Read,
What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers
EIGHT RESEARCH-BASED CHARACTERISTICS
OF EFFECTIVE VOCABULARY INSTRUCTION
1. Effective vocabulary instruction does not rely on definitions.
2. Students must represent their knowledge of words in linguistic and
3. Effective vocabulary instruction involves the gradual shaping of word
meanings through multiple exposures.
4. Teaching word parts enhances students’ understanding of terms.
5. Different types of words require different types of instruction.
6. Students should discuss the terms they are learning.
7. Students should play with words.
8. Instruction should focus on terms that have a high probability of
enhancing academic success.
(Adapted from Building Academic Vocabulary by Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering, 2005)
– Highly specialized, subject-specific; low
occurrences in texts; lacking generalization
◦ E.g., lava, aorta, legislature, circumference
–Abstract, general academic (across content
areas); encountered in written language; high utility
across instructional areas
◦ E.g., vary, relative, innovation, accumulate, surface, layer
– Basic, concrete, encountered in conversation/ oral
vocabulary; words most student will know at a particular
◦ E.g., clock, baby, color
Common Core State Standards, Appendix A, page 33
Jose avoided playing the ukulele.
Which word would you choose to pre-teach?
Verbs are where the action is
Teach avoid, avoided, avoids
Likely to see it again in grade-level text
Likely to see it on assessments
We are going to start calling these useful words “Tier 2
Why not ukulele?
Rarely seen in print
Rarely used in stories or conversation or content-area
Teach fewer words.
Focus on importantTier 2 (high utility, cross-
domain words) to know & remember.
Simply provideTier 3 (domain-specific, technical)
words with a definition.
Increase independent reading time.
Keep vocabulary in circulation.
Keep vocabulary interactive.
Use graphic organizers.
Teaching morphology (the study of roots) to
students is beneficial because when you teach a
root, you give the students the meaning to
hundreds of words in the process.
Semantic word analyses can be used to teach
students the nuances of words and really get
them thinking about how one word differs from
Semantic word analyses leads to a powerful
discussion about the way we tend to view people
that we don’t know. This works well for topics
that have complicated issues and themes.
Family Friends Strangers People We
Prejudice - - - - -
Hatred - - - - -
Judgment - - + + -
- - - + -
Dislike - - - + -
Stereotype - - + + -
Use pictures when teaching vocabulary so that
students can have a visual that aids them in
remembering what the word means.
Have students draw three pictures/contexts
where the word could be used and then include
the meaning of the word on the back of the
page. You can hang up their pictures on a
classroom word wall so students can refer to
Once you’ve taught students a word, you can use word
sorts to help review the words to ensure students
remember them and to deepen understanding.
Divide the words you’re working with into two separate
piles—let students choose what two categories in which
to put the words.
After talking about the sorts as a class, have students re-
sort the same words into two different categories
without using any categories that we talked about as a
class. This forces my students to think about the words
in a different way each time.
Students sorted these words
into categories such as:
scary/ not scary
loud/ not loud
describes ninjas/ doesn’t
One or two terms are missing. Please think
about statements below, turn to your elbow
partner and provide terms that will complete
Inch is to ruler as word is to ______.
Decibel is to sound as _____ is to _____.
http://www.wordsift.com/ Word maps, word clouds
http://quizlet.com/ Make flash cards & games
http://www.vocabulary.com/ More games, including
games using Latin & Greek roots
www.worldwidewords.com Definitions, history and
short essays on words
http://www.visualthesaurus.com/ Visual thesaurus