Helping students build a strong vocabulary is an important part of teaching English, as well as other subject matter. Every teacher needs to know how to teach new words so that students are not only able to remember definitions, but also use terms correctly in spoken and written communication. Discover some effective and creative ways to teach vocabulary words.
For words that can be conveyed via an image, such as concrete nouns, introduce new words by pairing terminology with pictures that clearly represent the word that is being introduced. For example, the terms passenger and driver can clearly be illustrated with a car image.
- Prepare two sets of flashcards, one with vocabulary words and the other with corresponding images. Challenge students to match up the card sets.
- Project numbered images of items represented by vocabulary words on a screen. Have students say or write the vocabulary term that corresponds to each image.
Linking a vocabulary list to an in-class show and tell sharing session is a great option for building vocabulary with young learners. This will even work with students who can’t read yet.
- Assign students to find and bring in (with parental permission) an object that represents something on the current week’s list of vocabulary words.
- As an alternative to bringing in actual objects, allow students to draw a picture that illustrates one of the words or to bring in a photograph.
- Another option would be to put together a list of vocabulary words representing things that are in the classroom, then challenge students to identify the items.
Have students participate in an activity that involves creating their own flash cards to use as a tool for memorizing definitions of vocabulary words.
- Provide index cards and art supplies students can use to make flashcards or use this printable flashcard template. Encourage students to be creative with flashcard designs.
- Set aside time in class for students to work in pairs quizzing each other on the definitions using their flashcards. Have them take turns quizzing and being quizzed.
Gamification can help make it fun and exciting for students to learn new words. Many fun and practical vocabulary games can be used as tools for teaching terminology.
Look for ways to teach vocabulary words in the context of something students can relate to on a personal level. When learners can link vocabulary words to their own experiences, it’ll be easier for them to remember the terms and apply what they have learned.
- Word games associated with a time of year (such as winter word games) or a specific holiday (such as Thanksgiving words) provides real-world context for vocabulary terms.
- Relate vocabulary lessons to content being covered in other classes. For example, if students are studying geography, introduce vocabulary words that describe places.
To help reinforce the meanings of vocabulary words, provide students with sentences that include the vocabulary terms and assign them to substitute different words that can be used instead, without changing the meaning.
- Assign each student to write a sentence using a vocabulary word. Have each one exchange papers with another student, who needs to come up with a suitable synonym.
- Provide students with a passage to read that contains one or more vocabulary words. Task them with finding the vocabulary words and then swapping each with a synonym.
When it's time to go beyond memorizing basic vocabulary words, start working with students to develop the skills needed to decipher unfamiliar words. When students know some common base words, prefixes and suffixes, they will be better able to interpret words they do not already know.
- Assign students to memorize examples of suffixes as if they were vocabulary words, starting with just a few. Provide instruction on using suffixes to create new words.
- Repeat with examples of prefixes. Once students have demonstrated mastery of suffixes and prefixes, repeat with examples of word roots and base words.
- Challenge students to figure out novel (to them) words using the prefixes, suffixes, roots, and base words they have studied, along with other hands-on practice activities.
Your efforts to expand your skills regarding how to teach new vocabulary words will help students build a strong foundation in language arts that can prepare them for success in school and beyond. There are, of course, many additional strategies to teach vocabulary you may also want to use. For even more ideas, review these vocabulary lesson plans.