In the age of instant information, it can be easy to overlook what is arguably one of the most important skills for students to acquire: vocabulary. While research has shown that much of our vocabulary is learned through observation and integration, that alone is not enough to help our students acquire the necessary vocabulary to succeed in a high academic setting. Vocabulary instruction has taken a backseat in many districts and teachers are discovering that students can decode words but have no idea what the words mean. If we want to increase student comprehension, it is essential that we intentionally teach students how to acquire new words.
Why Vocabulary Instruction Matters
Vocabulary is one of the most important building blocks for strong reading comprehension. Research has shown time and time again that readers cannot fully understand texts without knowing the meaning of the words within them. Decades of research demonstrate that students’ knowledge of word meanings is strongly related to their reading comprehension.
Vocabulary instruction is essential for all learners but it is especially important for our English Language Learners (ELLs) who are learning a new language. ELLs often struggle to comprehend texts due to their limited English vocabulary. When teachers provide explicit vocabulary instruction, it helps all students build the necessary strategies they need in order to achieve success in reading.
Incorporating Vocabulary into Classroom Instruction
Gone are the days of memorizing terms with no regard for meaning or context! With deliberate instruction and practice, teachers can equip students to understand new terms on a deeper level.
When incorporating vocabulary instruction into classroom instruction, it’s important for teachers to capitalize on everyday opportunities for learning new words — from attentively listening to others, delving into books and various media outlets, completing written tasks, and engaging in conversations with peers.
By providing students with the necessary tools and practice, vocabulary instruction not only improves their reading comprehension but also increases their proficiency in using language which is beneficial to our English Language Learners, as well as, our students with individual education plans (IEP). All students benefit when they have the opportunity to build their vocabulary.
Making Vocabulary Instruction Engaging
When students are taught strategies such as using context clues, synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, Latin roots and suffixes, they gain the ability to unlock unknown words within texts. They develop strategies they can use independently for determining the meaning of unfamiliar words.
With creative tools like graphic organizers, students can easily break down new words and learn them in a way that allows the word to become part of their own language – meaning students can use the word correctly in their writing and in their day to day conversations. By teaching students to use a variety of strategies, teachers can make sure students are not only understanding the new words but also using them in meaningful ways.
In order to make this type of instruction engaging for our students — a must if we want them to actually learn something — we have to find ways to make it interactive and fun while still being informative and educational. This can be done through games such as crosswords or Jeopardy-style activities as well as through other activities such as role-playing situations or even short skits where students act out conversations with their newly acquired vocabulary incorporated into dialogue.
The more frequent and varied opportunities we provide our students to explore new words, the better they will be able to comprehend texts and utilize vocabulary in writing assignments.
Engaging activities such as open discussions or written assignments provide further opportunities for successful integration into students’ personal vocabularies! When we give our students the tools to succeed, they have no limits on their potential knowledge and growth!
Vocabulary instruction is still relevant in today’s ELA classroom because it helps students understand text better as well as build strategies they can use independently when they encounter unfamiliar words.
As teachers, we should strive to provide our students with explicit instruction on new words so that they are equipped with the tools needed to become successful readers. With intentional teaching practices combined with engaging activities and lessons, we can ensure that our students develop strong vocabularies that will benefit them throughout life!