Why I changed How I do my Vocabulary Instruction in the Classroom

Why I changed my vocabulary instruction


Well everyone the struggle is real! What struggle, you say the reading struggle.  I have taught every subject in upper elementary and when a student struggles, no matter what subject, it all comes down to reading comprehension. And after working with classes full of struggling readers, yes whole classes, I was able to understand a little bit better on what was some root causes of their struggle.  VOCABULARY!!!  I noticed the biggest obstacles was that in adequate vocabulary hindered my student’s comprehension.  I found that many students could say the words and may even read fluently (shockingly) however, they had no idea what a lot of the words meant.  That is when I realized that my vocabulary instruction was lacking.  So I made a point to change my instruction.


I still did not feel it was adequate and done in the proper order.  In my district they want us to do a balanced literacy structure in our classes which I definitely wanted to start but my students had no background knowledge with word parts or decoding skills.  I began with teaching prefixes, suffixes, and affixes.  Being able to break apart words was so important, when my student started decoding the words by breaking them up they felt so accomplished.  They had those aha moments when reading.  Another major part was that this knowledge helped them with context clues. If you give the students the skills to figure out words as they read, they feel empowered. This also helped when teaching dictionary skills which is quite important because there are so many multiple meaning words in our language that that may have to be another post alone LOL.


So the gist is if you want to improve students reading skills improve their vocabulary skills. Many of these ideas are actually part of our curriculum but they are more of a spiraled instruction versus explicit instruction.  However, my point is there has to be explicit instruction if you want to improve vocabulary.


Well, how do you explicitly teach vocabulary?  Most curriculum’s give you the vocabulary you need to teach with whatever story, text, and/or content you teach, the thing you have to remember is to explicit teach it versus glossing over it as part of your lesson.   Here is a routine for teaching vocabulary:

Vocabulary Instruction


Before Reading Routine:

  1. Have students say the word
    1. Teacher says the word and students repeat it (echo)
    2. Show the word
    3. Teacher says the word and students repeat it (echo)
  2. Provide a definition (kid-friendly)
    1. Teacher provides kid-friendly definition and the students repeat it
    2. Use the word in a sentence
    3. Use a picture (teacher made/found)
  3. Have students discuss what is known about the word
    1. Tell students to think about the word “What do you already know about the word?” Pause
    2. Turn and tell your partner one idea about the word. “Be ready to share with the whole group”
  4. Provide examples and nonexamples of the word. Provide more than one!
    1. Example (thumbs up)
    2. Nonexamples (thumbs down)


After Reading Routine:

  1. Engage in deep processing activities by asking questions, using graphic organizers, or having students act out the word.
  • Semantic map
  • Word Web
  • Etc.
  1. Scaffold students to create powerful sentences with the new word
    1. Have students work in partners to create sentences using posted sentence starters

Published by upperelementaryantics

Elementary Teacher for 15 years, I have taught in all content areas in various grades 4-6, and currently teach 5th grade ELAR/Social Studies, I am looking forward to sharing ideas, tips, and resources.

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