Vocabulary Strategies

I think vocabulary is a big deal.  Not only do I want my kids to love the sound of language and become intensely curious about words, but I actually want them to remember new words and use them.  Sometimes, pre-packaged vocabulary programs aren't helpful in achieving these goals.  I've had to use (or rather I should say I've been given) crazy vocabulary resources where the words were chosen for me and were sometimes so random and irrelevant, the lessons were meaningless.  I don't have time for meaningless.

Plus, I want the kids to like me.  And when "school" doesn't make sense, they don't like me. And then they rebel.  And then I don't like them.  It's a vicious cycle, so I learned a long time ago to say "No" to meaningless.

Now, the kids and I usually choose the words we want to learn.  Tapping into their natural curiosities makes the most sense and keeping the ownership in our hands (vs. the words the publisher thinks we should learn) makes all the difference.

For the most part, I'm talking about our work with literature.  I understand that in science and social studies there are some very specific key vocabulary words the children must understand, but when it comes to literature, some of the choices are more subjective.  When I introduce a new book, I often spend time really studying the words and thinking about the words I can honestly envision us using in the context of our real classroom... words that will have life even after our time with the book is done.  I also think about tricky words that will keep my kids from comprehending the text if they don't understand the meaning.  Most importantly, I wait for teachable moments... moments where I can tell the children are confused or delighted by a certain word.  And these are the words we focus on.

The three strategies we use the most often are pictured on the big book above.  I have them written on large sticky notes so we can keep moving them from book to book until they have become a habit of thinking for us.  When we use these strategies with relevant and interesting words, our vocabulary grows and I begin to notice it not only in our everyday speech, but in our writing, too!




I think the key to these strategies is that they honor kids' interests in active movement, art, and performance.  They tap into what we know about multiple intelligences and are in stark contrast to some of the rote vocabulary activities that tend to come with the big-box series.

You certainly could make an anchor chart that looks just like the sticky notes, but use the sticky notes, too.  Because they're small and portable, you can literally move them from book to book and within the pages of the book, too.  For example, when we came to the word flatter in Mr. George Baker, we decided that "Use It" would be the best strategy for remembering this word.  In pairs, we practiced giving each other compliments and then responding with, "Oh, you flatter me!"  Having the strategy on a sticky note allowed me to move it to the page that had the word flatter on it so every time we reread the story, we remembered to try the "Use It" strategy.  Once the kids became familiar with the word, they began naturally adding word endings to it.

• "Mrs. Knight... Isabella said I'm good at hula-hooping.  That really flattered me."

• "Thank you for flattering me.  You are really nice."

And they work really well with ELL students, too.  (Sometimes I wonder why we have separate ELL strategies.  Aren't these strategies good for everyone, regardless of which language we speak?)  

I think the key is to be intentional about your word choices and then to be a good model, consistently and authentically using the words with and around your students. It's so fun to be a witness to a young child stretching themselves to use a new word. And boy do they feel BIG when they do!  

Happy teaching!  :)

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