Expanding children’s vocabulary is critical to their success in school and in life. There is a connection between a wider knowledge of vocabulary and increased comprehension because the more words children know the more subtleties they understand, and the more nuanced interpretations they are able to develop. Learning words requires much more than mere exposure, it requires usage in both speaking and writing. Kids love learning and using big, fancy words, so often teachers who create literacy rich classrooms that highlight vocabulary throughout the course of the day find their students’ vocabulary skills increase. Below are a few ideas that teachers can put to use easily and immediately.
- Read aloud books with characters who love words. The goal is to ignite a passion for the discovery, use, and celebration of new words. Some books that highlight vocabulary include:
- Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Connor
- Donavan’s Word Jar (1994) Monalisa DeGross
- The Boy Who Cried Fabulous (2004) Leslea Newman
- The Boy Who Loved Words (2006) Roni Schotter
- Read aloud high quality books with a focus on vocabulary. Pull out 2-3 words that are critical to understanding the meaning of the book. During read aloud highlight these words by rereading the sentence and talking about its meaning and use. Create a special poster or section of bulletin board to place these words and keep track of how often each word is used, like a vocabulary scoreboard.
- Rename the class job titles so that the weather keeper becomes the meteorologist, the pencil sharpener becomes the mechanical engineer, the plant person changes to horticulturist, and the librarian becomes the media specialist, and so on. This will attune students to a greater breadth of language possibilities.
- Lift the level of the everyday phrases used by changing the vocabulary you use to give directions. Instead of “sit in a circle” try “sit around the perimeter of the rug.” Instead of ‘turn & talk’ say ‘pivot & converse’ or ‘swivel & communicate.’ ‘Go down the hallway’ can be altered to ‘proceed down the corridor.’ The possibilities are endless!
- Teach clusters of words that are connected in some way by creating a web or by putting words on a continuum. Ken Pransky has some great examples in My Fantastic Words Book (happy, cheerful, delighted, joyful, ecstatic). Then, most importantly, talk about each word. Where was it used? Why did the author use it? Would the meaning or image have changed if another word had been used? The focus is on learning meaning, not spelling.
These are some quick and easy ways teachers can draw attention to vocabulary in the course of everyday classroom life. Of course, the TCRWP also believes that a more systematic approach to teaching vocabulary should be in place in every school so that students’ academic vocabulary is developed throughout their elementary and middle school experiences.