Developing Vocabulary

Tell me about it

Vocabulary is often the stumbling block for students trying to access complex text. Providing strong scaffolding is key so that the words students encounter do not prevent them from thinking critically, unlocking meaning of texts, and building knowledge. 

By far the best way to grow students' vocabulary is through reading.  All reading grows vocabulary, but the most effective method is having students read a series of texts on a topic.  Without extensive topic-based reading, students who are behind are unlikely to reach grade level in this area. 

Considerations for instructional planning

  • Carefully review texts for challenging words that are central to understanding the meaning of the text.
  • Look for figurative language that might be confusing or especially central to the meaning of the text.
  • Determine which words with careful reading students can infer from context; provide definitions for those words that cannot be determined from context, but are essential to the meaning of the text.
  • Determine which words to teach outright (and in some cases, in advance of reading).
  • Include a word study component that includes prefixes, root words, and suffixes to accompany text-based methods of vocabulary development.  Making this a school-wide program will allow teachers to know which prefixes, roots, and suffixes to teach in which grades.

Be sure to's

  • Choose the most important words to teach - not all of the words in a text! They should be academic vocabulary words that are central to the meaning of the text.
  • Ask students to determine the meaning of words in context whenever possible.
  • Create frequent opportunities for students to read multiple texts on a topic so that students have repeated exposure to key vocabulary. This is not the same as reading on a theme.

Tools and Resources

  • Academic Word Finder - Tool for identifying academic vocabulary (tier 2 or academic vocabulary words) in texts students are reading. The tool identifies the academic vocabulary for the selected grade, as well as words that fall into grade levels both above and below. It also provides student-friendly definitions, parts of speech, and sample sentences.
  • Exemplar Texts on a Topic Across Grades - An example on how to address a topic across grades with different texts.
  • Newsela - Newsela is a site that allows teachers to tailor hundreds of informational text articles to different Lexile levels for classroom use. This allows you to use these texts for a whole class, or different levels of texts for different groups. Text sets are available on the site and it is best suited for grades 5 and up.
  • Readworks - Similar to Newsela, Readworks is a site that has thousands of informational texts with varying Lexile levels, questions, and activities. These can be used as they are or made into text sets.
  • Text Set Project - A collection of 50+ text sets in science and social studies to support all learners, especially those with background knowledge or vocabulary deficits, by increasing vocabulary exposure in these domains.
  • Vocabulogic - Website for teaching roots and affixes as well as strategies for determining word meaning.
  • Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary - A great book that supports vocabulary instruction
  • Reading Rockets Vocabulary - Resources (articles, tools, activities) for parents and teachers to build students' vocabulary