* Not all words deserve the same focus/time/intensity

* Vary the strategies used to introduce and learn new words

* Do not reply on definitions – use descriptions supported with examples

* Provide regular, brief, structured writing opportunities for students to use vocabulary in context

What vocabulary words should be taught?

- words not easily defined in text - confusing words/multiple meanings

- content specific - critical for understanding

- words that will be encountered over and over again

How do I introduce new vocabulary words?

- give description, not definition - provide a non-linguistic representation of the word

- have students write definitions in their own words - create individual nonverbal representation

- reference in the future/use in context

How can I scaffold vocabulary instruction to meet the needs of different learners?

- provide partially completed organizers - give locations of answers/information

- use of hints/prompts - word banks

- use “framed” sentences/paragraphs - highlight key terms/information

- model use/creation of memory links (mnemonic devices) - support connections

How do I incorporate the use of vocabulary throughout a lesson?


- Frayer Model - Picture Analysis

- Word Comparisons - Semantic Mapping

- Partially Filled Story Maps/Organizers - Concept Maps

- Category Webs - Graphic Organizers with word banks

- Word Maps

- Use of literature/pictures (build background knowledge and vocabulary)


- Circle Maps - KWL

- Word Splash - Anticipation Guide

- Carousel Brainstorming - Word Sorts

- Pre-Reading Predictions - Give One – Get One

- Which Word Doesn’t Belong - How Can I describe this word?

- Synonym substitutions


- Think-Pair-Share - Jigsaw

- Story Pyramid - Story Maps

- Analogies - Graphic Organizers

- Note-taking with non-linguistic representations - Word Comparisons

- Framed/Cloze paragraphs/sentences - Writing Prompts

- Vocabulary Cards - Concept Web

- word pictures – visualize/draw - inner/outer circle

- mnemonics


- 3-2-1 - KWL

- Reporting Out - Plus/Minus/Interesting

- Ticket out the door - Summarize/Reflect EQ


Teaching Reading in the Content Areas by Rachel Billmeyer and Mary Lee Barton

Learning Focused Strategies Notebook by Max and Julia Thompson

Monitoring for Vocabulary Instruction by Cindy Riedl (Learning Focused Schools)

  • Begin at circle marked start.
  • Look at the four words in the circle and determine the relationship between the words.
  • One word does not belong and should be “bumped” in to the next circle. Write the bumped word on the line in the next circle.
  • Continue “bumping” the word that does not belong into the next circle.
  • In the last circle, the bumped word should complete a sentence.

  • Circle divided into four parts, with vocabulary word in each part.
  • Three words are related to each other.
  • Students determine what the relationship is between three of the words and write that relationship below the circle
  • Determine which word does not belong.
  • Replace the excluded word with a related word.
  • Can be done with words, concepts, or pictures

  • List the vocab word at the top of the pyramid
  • Two words that express how you feel about the word
  • Three words that lists fact about the word
  • Four words that list facts about the word
  • Five words that list facts about the word
Robb, Laura. (1999). Easy Mini-Lessons for Building Vocabulary. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

  • Useful for introducing new vocabulary
  • Gets students to actively think where they may have seen a word.
  • Students then have an opportunity to define the vocabulary in their own words.
  • Example: Dig This! Vocabulary

  • Large group activity
  • To prepare: Write vocab word on one side of an index card, on the other side write a different vocabulary word.
  • Each person should have a card.
  • Select one student to start. They should say “Who has…(definition).”
  • Students should read their definition to see if it matches the word that was just read.
  • The person with the matching definition says “I have (vocab word), who has (definition).”
  • The person who started the game should end with the last vocabulary word.
  • Students must be paying attention to catch their turn
  • Try to complete in a certain amount of time

  • Completed before and after lesson/unit
  • Before: Students fill in what they think a word means.
  • After: Students return to the words and write down what they now know a word means.
  • Can be completed with words to be defined, with sentences that need to be finished, or true/false statements.

K.I.M. (Key Idea - Information - Memory Clue)
  • Helps students identify a personal, visual memory clue
  • Record the vocabulary word in the K column
  • Record the definition in the I column
  • Draw individual visual representation of what the definition means to them in the M column

  • Large group activity
  • To prepare: write vocabulary words on blank index cards. You will need a card for every person that is participating
  • Tape index card with vocab word on it to the back of each player.
  • Students must figure out their word by asking questions to other students. Questions may elicit a yes or no response.
  • Students should freeze or sit down when they think they know their word.

  • Give each group of students a set of vocab words.
  • Each team writes seven clues on an index card for each vocab word
  • #1: part of speech
  • #2: use word in sentence (word left blank)
  • #3: antonym
  • #4: synonym
  • #5: number of syllables
  • #6: starts with or sounds like
  • #7: give away with clue - pronunciation, rhymes
  • Exchange clue cards with other group. Try to guess the other team’s vocab words based on the clues.
  • Team with the most correct words wins

  • Divide students in to groups
  • Give each student an index card with a vocabulary word written on it.
  • Students should write five words that describe or relate to the word on their card. These words are off limits and can not be used during the game.
  • Student from team one picks a card and gives his teammates clues to the word without using an y of the off limit words.
  • The team has one minute to guess the word and earn a point.
  • If the team says any words that are off limits, the other team gets a point

  • Write the sentence where the word was found.
  • Predict the definition of the word
  • Write a sentence using the word the way they think it should be used.
  • Look up the word and write the actual definition
  • Revise sentence so that the word is used correctly.
  • Draw a picture of the word to help remember it.
Honig, B., Diamond, L. Gutlohn, L., and Mahler, J. (2000). Teaching Reading Sourcebook: Sourcebook for Kindergarten Through Eigthth Grade (Core Literacy Training Series). Novato, CA: Academic Therapy Publications.

  • List several vocabulary words from a unit or lesson
  • Briefly define the words or ask students to define them
  • Students should create possible sentences using at least two of the words in each sentence.
  • Share sentences.
  • Return to sentences after the lesson/unit, and edit if needed.
Moore, D.W., & Moore, S.A. (1986). Possible Sentences. In E.K. Dishner, T.W. Bean, J.E. Readence, & D.W. Moore (Eds.). Reading in the Content Areas: Improving Classroom Instruction (2nd ed.)Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

  • Give students a list of important vocabulary in the order they .
  • Students should use the words in order to create a summary of what they think the story/lesson will be about.
  • Return to story impressions at the end of lesson/story and determine if their impression was correct.
  • Rewrite summary using the words in order based on what they know.

  • List important vocabulary words on the board or have students preview a lesson and pick out important words.
  • Students select words to include on their bingo card.
  • Throughout the lesson, when students hear words used, they should define them in the boxes.
  • Students let teacher know when they have bingo
  • Explain to students that they should continue to define words on their card after they have bingo.
  • Could be done for an entire unit, and students could define words at the end of each lesson, rather than during class.

  • Table containing several columns which students fill in as they learn vocabulary words
  • What I think it means
  • What I know it means
  • What it makes me think of
  • Visual Representation
  • Sentence

  • Word
  • Circle the part of Speech
  • What is already known about the word
  • Situations where word is used/heard
  • 5 Synonyms/Antonyms
  • Modeled Sentence
  • Original Sentence
  • Place vocabulary quilt pieces together

  • Choose a word from the word wall and write it down
  • Don’t let anyone see the word
  • Number a piece of paper from 1-5
  • Give them five clues about a word you choose. Students should take a guess after each clue and write that guess down.
  • By the 5th clue, they should be able to guess the word
  • Students can also write the five clues and share with the class

  • Students create a pyramid using words and phrases that describe the vocabulary word
  • 1st Line: Vocabulary Word
  • 2nd Line: 2 Antonyms
  • 3rd Line: 3 Synonyms
  • 4th Line: 4 Describing Words
  • 5th Line: Write a sentence using the word

  • Vocabulary words are “splashed” all over a piece of paper in various fonts.
  • Students mark words that are familiar to them, ones they have seen before, and ones that they do not know.
  • Discuss what the words mean and have students predict what the relationship is between the words (what the topic of study is)
  • Return to the word splash at the end of a lesson/unit and complete steps again.

  • Includes more than a dictionary definition
  • #1: Sentence from the text
  • #2: Other words you think of when you hear the word
  • #3: Different forms of the word
  • #4: Three people who would use the word
  • #5: Other ways of saying the same thing
  • #6: Original sentence using the word.

Vocabulary Websites