I’ve been working with a few older students lately that have just entered high school, so they are 12 and 13 years old. One of the things that I’ve noticed is their lack of knowledge of words and understanding what they mean. Therefore, when these students read, they are struggling to comprehend more complex texts because of their lack of word knowledge.
So I’ve been implementing a few activities to assist these students with developing their vocabulary.
The context of the word
One of the easiest ways that I’ve found to develop student vocabulary is to contextualise the word in the story/text they are reading. This is how I do that:
- When you come to a tricky word that you think the student will not know, first ask them to repeat the word to you. If they cannot read the word, get them to say it with you, and then on their own.
- You may need to break the word into its sounds to help them work out how to say it independently. Saying a word out loud can help your students to remember it. By getting them to say all of the sounds in the correct order in the word you are helping them to remember the word and also how to spell it.
- Explain the meaning of the word to the student. Use the context of the story/passage you are reading to help you explain it. Remember to use everyday language when explaining the meaning.
- Next, provide other examples of using the word, but in different contexts.
- Now have the child try to provide their own example of using the word.
- Lastly, finish with the student again repeating the word to you. Remember to then provide frequent encounters with the word. If it is used again in the text, get your student to again say the sounds in the word and see if they can use the word in a sentence again.
Use a Collins Cobuild dictionary
Sometimes using dictionaries or a google search to find a definition for a word is not ideal, as the language used may also be difficult for your students to comprehend. The Collins Cobuild Dictionary uses real examples of the word and in every day language that is much easier for your students to understand and relate to. It is a fantastic tool to have handy to demonstrate vocabulary to your class and to look up new words. It is also a good tool to have as the teacher; if you’re anything like me sometimes you can’t think of the meaning of a word to be able to explain it, so this is where I go to find the meaning.
Semantic webs are used to help your students sort and categorise words. This assists your students to see the connections between words, thus helping them to understand them better. There are a number of various templates you could use for the web, but an example could be:
The Frayer Model is another graphic organiser like the semantic web that can be used to build student vocabulary. I like the Frayer Model as it gets your students thinking a bit deeper about words. I quite often send home the template for students as a follow up activity for words that we may have come across in class. You could also use the template on large chart paper to model to your students how it is completed. This is one I completed with a student when we came across the word ’tilts’ and the student was not able to explain what the word meant.
Magpie wall / book
I’ve mentioned how I have used the magpie wall before. Essentially, they are books or walls where you collect words/phrases/ideas and store them away to be used at a later date. A bit like how magpies collect interesting looking things to take back to their nest! It is another way to help your students build their vocabulary as well as their grammar.
Last year when I used the magpie book, we just added the words in the back of their everyday book. But this year I decided to create a separate magpie book, a bit like a writing journal. The journal is split into a few different sections, so we can sort the words and phrases we collect. The sections we have so far are:
- Powerful words;
- Sentence of three for description; and
- Technical vocabulary, so a bit more subject specific.
We will probably extend this as we progress through the year with other sections as well. I have just used an exercise book for this, added a nice cover and then used post it notes to tab each section. The other thing we have done, is split the page in half. So we write the word/phrase/sentence on the right hand side and then on the left we can add pictures, definitions or other words to help us know the words and phrases.
Last year we also used the magpie wall when we were working on our report of The Dalek. It is another visual way to pull out powerful words from texts you read to help your students understand the words and then use them in their own writing. Below is an example of our magpie wall.
Reinforcing the words
Remember to reinforce the new words over time. Just talking about the word once when you encounter it will not help your students to retain the meaning of the word. It is important to develop a series of activities over time (days and maybe weeks) where the students will use the word many times.
This is one reason I love something like the magpie wall, it is a such a great visual and the words are there all the time. It allows for lots incidental learning using the words. When we create silly sentences, we use the words from the magpie wall. When we talk about particular spelling patterns or sounds in words, we quite often also incorporate the words from our magpie wall.
Over to you now, what other activities do your incorporate to help your students develop their vocabulary? Please share your ideas in the comments.