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. Once students know how to decode those words phonetically, it is so very important to be able to grasp the meaning of the words they decode to better understand the text. I also have a free vocabulary strategies resource!
Tip #1: Teach Vocabulary Strategies
Vocabulary instruction should include both direct instruction of words AND vocabulary strategies. This is actually research-based. 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 do not get a whole lot of needed attention. Sure, there are the occasional lessons on context clues, but it is not enough to get students intentional every day as they read.
Students are reading books and being exposed to SO MANY new words that they might not be exposed to 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.
Tip #2: Teach Vocabulary Strategies During Guided Reading or Reading Workshop
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. I actually broke the strategies into 24 different ones, so students have a bag of tools to help them crack open those words. These strategies can be taught during guided reading, reading workshop, or other small group activities.
Tip #3: Encourage students to Use Vocabulary Strategies During Independent Reading
Vocabulary strategies are the means to gaining the skills needed to crack open new words during reading. In addition to guided reading, students should be applying the vocabulary strategies during independent reading too. 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. 😉
Tip #4: Teach More than Just Context Clues
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 various context clues to using dictionaries and online resources.
Tip #5: Break Down How to Use Context Clues Step-by-Step
Breaking down how to use the context clues into steps helps students to 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 that are signals that an example might be present. By looking for wording like “for example” and “such as,” students know where to look for the example.
Tip #6: Teach Students When to Use Other Resources
It’s important for students to lean in on those context clues first to help improve fluency and to gain more understanding of the word in its actual context. However, sometimes, they will have to break out a dictionary or use an online resource because the context did not offer any clarity to the meaning. When should students turn to other resources to determine the meaning of unknown words? I recommend letting students know to use other resources if they can not find any context clues, or if they are still unsure of the meaning of the word.
Tip #7: Use Visual Prompts of the Vocabulary Strategy
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 to use the vocabulary strategies, and it also helps make them more concrete to understand. You can do this easily with some index cards or anchor charts printed four to a page.
Students can show how they used a vocabulary strategy with a graphic organizer. 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.
Vocabulary words are meant to be reused and recognized when seen again. A vocabulary journal is a great tool for this purpose. Graphic organizers can be placed in the journal too!
Tip #10: Use Extensions for Discovered Vocabulary Words
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 the tip above. You want students reusing those vocabulary words, so have them break out their vocabulary journal for some extension activities.
Tip #11: Use Fun Incentives
To keep students motivated with practicing those vocabulary strategies, offer incentives. We are all prone to get off track with our goals, so trackers help students to stay focused with using the vocabulary strategies throughout the year. You can also celebrate their progress along the way when using a tracker. Reward them for their accomplishments. You can differentiate this easily, so everyone is successful with it. They will all make progress in their own way, so set reasonable goals for each student. 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.
Tip #12: Make it Engaging
Official vocabulary detectives spend their entire lives using vocabulary strategies to break cases of unknown words.
Let’s make it a lifelong adventure of reading and discovering vocabulary. 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.