Opinion
Reading & Literacy Opinion

Teaching Vocabulary Takes More Than Just Talking About Words During Read-Aloud

By Brittany Oakley — July 10, 2019 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

“There just isn’t enough time in the day to teach everything our students need to know.” This is a common refrain among teachers, especially in elementary grades where we are required to teach content from all subject areas. That time squeeze causes some of us to ignore important components of literacy. Explicit vocabulary instruction is one of them. But we’ve got to find ways to stop ignoring it. Academic vocabulary is linked to proficiency in reading comprehension, so it’s definitely something we should not be overlooking.

I’ve been working on my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Part of that work has been researching the components of effective vocabulary instruction, which has given me some great ideas for reorienting my own teaching.

As teachers, we have some misconceptions about vocabulary. Many of us think, “If I discuss the target words during our read-aloud, I’ve effectively taught new vocabulary!” But that’s not true. Research shows that effective vocabulary instruction requires an explicit, multifaceted approach. This means that we need to incorporate many opportunities throughout the day to help students retain this new information. Hearing words during a read-aloud is just not enough. We also need to make sure our students get repeated exposure to vocabulary words across different texts, repeatedly, over time.

In my 1st grade classroom, I use our read-alouds to introduce our weekly vocabulary words. Before reading, I pre-select five to seven words from the text that students really need to fully comprehend the text. I write the words on an anchor chart along with student-friendly definitions.

Next, I model application by using the words in sentences orally. I then ask students to turn and talk with a partner to come up with their own. During the reading, I make sure to stop and notice how the target words are used in the text. After reading, we reflect on what we read, and I make a point to give praise when students use a vocabulary word in their reflections.

I include target vocabulary words in every guided reading group. Doing so may take 30 seconds, or 10 minutes. Some days I ask students to create silly sentences. Other days, we read a poem or listen to a song. Just do something to include vocabulary instruction during guided reading! More interaction with the target words will help students to recall and apply them in the future.

Strategies for Determining Meaning

I try to use our words across content areas as well. My students are always delighted when I refer to our literacy anchor chart during math lessons. I make sure to keep my chart visible throughout the week so students can include words during writing, or when talking with their peers.

Teaching vocabulary strategies is another component of my vocabulary instruction. In whole and small groups, I explicitly model what I do when I am reading and come across an unfamiliar word. One strategy that is beneficial for text comprehension is using context clues. If I get stuck on a word that I don’t know the meaning of, I just skip over it and read the rest of the sentence. If that is still not helpful, I may read the sentence before and after to see if that helps me make sense of it.

Another strategy I use is teaching students how to understand morphology: how words are formed. For example, the prefix bi- means “two.” In the word “bilingual,” it means “using or knowing two languages.” If students come across a word they’re aren’t familiar with, but they can identify parts of the word, this can help them to understand its meaning. This strategy is typically used more often in upper elementary, but I’ve found it helpful with my 1st graders.

Vocabulary acquisition can take time and patience, but it’s essential that students acquire the skills and strategies to independently interpret the meaning of texts. Most students don’t come into the classroom with a robust vocabulary, so it’s up to us to help them develop one.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Popular 'Wonders' Curriculum Shows Gaps in Alignment to Reading Research
A new review claims that the curriculum has gaps in its alignment to reading research, and doesn't offer enough supports for teachers.
6 min read
Image of a girl selecting a book in the library.
Hakase_/iStock/Getty
Reading & Literacy Pandemic Prompts Some States to Pass Struggling 3rd Graders
As families wrestle with online learning, a pandemic economy and mental health difficulties, some states are delaying 3rd grade retention.
Aallyah Wright, Stateline.org
8 min read
The Mississippi Department of Education offices are seen in Jackson, Miss. on March 19, 2020. The state's board of education decided this winter that it would suspend the retention policy for third graders this year, allowing all students to pass on to the fourth grade even if they fail the standardized reading test.
The Mississippi Department of Education offices are seen in Jackson, Miss. The state's board of education decided this winter that it would suspend the retention policy for 3rd graders this year, allowing all students to pass on to the 4th grade even if they fail the standardized reading test.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Reading & Literacy Opinion Seven Strategies for Grammar Instruction
Five educators share instructional strategies for engaging and effective grammar instruction.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Literacy & Language Education
In this Spotlight, review what may be missing in teacher training and the supports offered to students plus more.