Hi everyone! Today, I am going to share some tips on how to increase vocabulary during reading. Vocabulary is so important for deepening reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. It is an essential ingredient for improving student literacy. I once read while working on my master’s degree that students were not performing as well on fourth grade state tests as they did on third grade state tests because of the vocabulary. To me, this did not seem fair to students and teachers because the needed vocabulary development to be successful on those state tests started long before fourth grade. The fact is if we are going to increase literacy in the classroom, we need to be very intentional with vocabulary instruction long before that. With that said, I have some tips to increase vocabulary for first through third grade.
1. Vocabulary instruction should include both direct instruction of words AND vocabulary strategies. This is actually research-based. The professional development book I was reading cited What Really Matters in Vocabulary: Research-Based Practices Across the Curriculum by Patricia Cunningham. It can be easy to teach the direct instruction part. We pull out those vocabulary lists alongside the spelling lists each week, and we read some authentic literature while putting a focus on those new vocabulary words from the book. It is often the other half, vocabulary strategies that does not get a whole lot of needed attention. Sure, there is the occasional lesson on context clues, but it is not enough to get students intentional everyday as they read. All along, students are reading books and being exposed to SO MANY new words that they might not be exposed to very much within their own homes, and those moments to learn those new words are lost if students are not fully equipped to apply vocabulary strategies to crack the code to those unknown words. Now, some might think that vocabulary strategies are simply context clues. However, vocabulary strategies include other strategies besides context clues. They are like a bag of tools students can pull out to crack open those unknown words.
2. If we are going to improve student performance, we have got to realize that vocabulary strategies are the next step in teaching reading after word decoding. Think about it. Once students know how to phonetically open each word or use other decoding skills to read known words, the next step to being a good reader is to be able to interpret those unrecognizable words that they now have the ability to sound out.
3. Vocabulary strategies are the means to gaining the skills needed to crack open new words during reading. Students should be applying vocabulary strategies during guided reading and independent reading. If you do a reading workshop format, you can actually incorporate the vocabulary strategies there too. What is great about this is you are potentially tapping into their natural curiosity as they stumble across unknown words while reading. This is such an authentic, relevant way to learn new vocabulary. Not only that, but they are going to have a deeper understanding of what they are reading. It’s a two-for-one deal that you can’t beat. 😉
4. Vocabulary strategies include primarily context clues, but they encompass more than that. Vocabulary strategies are like a tool bag that students can pull out and apply, so they can determine the meaning of unknown words. It includes starting from the basics of just paying attention to those unknown words on up to using dictionaries and online resources. Of course, some strategies are more appropriate for first grade, and some are more appropriate for third grade.
5. Break down how to use context clues, so they can know how apply them appropriately. There is more than one type of context clue, and students need time to let each type of context clue sink in and be applied. An example of a strategy that breaks things down is named “The Case of the Appearing Rabbit”. With this strategy, students are taught the strategy, which is, “Poof! It may appear as an example.” Then a tip is given for students to look for specific word clues, such as “for example” and “such as”, that are signals that an example may be present.
7. Give students visual prompts of the vocabulary strategies. If students only employ vocabulary strategies when they are reading to you, they are not practicing them enough. They need to be using vocabulary strategies when they are doing independent reading. Visuals are great reminders!
8. Have students show their thinking on paper. Not only does this give some accountability, but it creates an environment for more critical thinking and gives room for the meaning to resonate more with them.
9. Use a vocabulary journal. Vocabulary words are meant to be reused and recognized when seen again. Otherwise, the words are useless to them. A vocabulary journal is a great tool for this purpose.
10. Give extension activities for students to apply the words they gleaned from using vocabulary strategies. This way, students can revisit those words later down the road. This actually ties in with tip number nine. You want students reusing those vocabulary words, so have them break out their vocabulary journal for some extension activities.
11. To keep students motivated with practicing those vocabulary strategies, offer incentives. You know how we all can get off track at times with goals we are working towards, so use a student tracker for them to track and celebrate their progress along the way. Reward them for their accomplishments. Make it a big deal. Incentives need not cost a lot of money. The main ingredient is to make them feel special and to cheer them on. I also like to think this helps students to become mature adults who work toward goals and can self-monitor their progress to stay motivated.
12. Make it fun. Engage them from the start. Remember, they will always remember how we made them feel more than what we said (my paraphrase of Dr. Maya Angelou). I set-up a fun intro where I get into character as I introduce students to the unit with a fun script and visuals. It is a sure way to make them laugh some and ultimately get their interest in learning those vocabulary strategies.
Finally, make learning vocabulary a life long adventure with vocabulary strategies. Unlike direct instruction that is limited to the words being taught, vocabulary strategies transcend into skills that can be used throughout life. These are skills that students can carry from grade to grade, and this will enable students to succeed in leaps and bounds in their educational journey.
There you have it, some helpful tips for increasing vocabulary, reading comprehension, and critical thinking skills. If you have any questions or thoughts you would like to share, feel free to comment below!
PS. I have created this unit that will save you a ton of time and catch the interest of students! You can click on the image above or click here
to link to the resource. You can also test drive the free sample below.
Thanks for stopping by the Candy Class!