Understanding the meaning behind words is an important part of reading comprehension. Vocabulary strategies are the tools to help students crack open unknown words. When teaching vocabulary strategies, it is important to break things down into simple steps that students can apply. While it is important to also teach vocabulary words, vocabulary strategies are more like a decoding skill that help students open up new words in the text as they read. These vocabulary skills that are developed through strategies will help students deepen their understanding of various texts, improve their writing skills, and hopefully encourage them to be lifelong learners. Today, I want to go over five different vocabulary strategies that will help deepen reading comprehension. I will go over some tips to get students applying these strategies. I will also be sharing a free vocabulary strategy resource too!

These reading strategies can be taught in a mini-lesson or during guided reading. Then students can apply them as they read, just like they would use a decoding strategy.

Vocabulary Strategy #1: The Case of the U.W.T. (Unknown Word in the Text)

First, it is important to teach students not to ignore unknown words. Some students may have already formed a habit of jumping over words, so it’s important to train them to stop and pay attention to those words. This strategy is simple. It’s about getting them to look closer at that unknown word. The other strategies will help them crack open the meaning more easily.

Steps for Students to Apply the Strategy:
1. Stop when you see an unknown word.
2. Take a closer look at the word and sentence to see if you see any clues.


Vocabulary Strategy #2: The Case of the Told-You-So Owl

Sometimes the meaning is hooted out in the same sentence. Students can look to see if the sentence explains the word. Linking verbs are the clues to solving these types of vocabulary mysteries.

Steps for Students to Apply the Strategy:
1. Look at the words closely for clues. Do you see the words is, are, or means?
2. If you see a linking verb, the meaning is being hooted out for you right there in the sentence.


Vocabulary Strategy #3: The Case of the Flipped Pancake

Sometimes, students stumble on a new word that relates to other words they know, and the supporting text helps them to understand that word. With this strategy, you can teach students to flip the word to a synonym that would make sense with the rest of the text.

Steps for Students to Apply the Strategy:
1. Think of a word that would make sense there.
2. Change the word to the synonym. Keep reading to see if it still makes sense.


Vocabulary Strategy #4: The Case of the Repeating Parrot

Sometimes, the meaning of words is repeated in another way in the very next sentence that is more understandable. Sometimes, students need to read the next sentence to gain comprehension of the unknown word.

Steps for Students to Apply the Strategy:
1. Read on to see if it is repeated in another way.
2. If it is repeated in another way, think about the meaning of the new vocabulary word. Then keep reading. If it is not repeated in another way, try another strategy.


Vocabulary Strategy #5: The Case of the Runaways

Don’t let any newly learned vocabulary words runaway. Teach students to be on the lookout for words they cracked open with vocabulary strategies and encourage them to point them out when they find the words in other texts. A vocabulary journal comes in handy for this purpose too.

Steps for Students to Apply the Strategy:
1. See if you can spot the new vocabulary words in other books you read.

These are just five of twenty-four vocabulary strategies. In addition to these five strategies, the others also teach students to use picture clues when applicable, ask questions about the unknown words, use various types of context clues, utilize visualization and inferences, pay attention to the text features, and use resources like a dictionary, glossary, and online resources. It includes a strategy for when to ask for help when all else fails and a strategy to recycle the use of the word too.


Tips for Getting Students to Apply the Strategies and Retain Vocabulary Words:

  1. Model and practice the strategy with a mini-lesson. Seeing the strategies in action with a sentence or short paragraph will help students grasp how to use the strategy so they can apply it to unknown words as they read.
  2. Give them a visual reference. Miniature strategy posters help students see the strategy. That way, they can apply it as they read. These also can be used as a bookmark if your students are reading chapter books.
  3. Use a graphic organizer. Graphic organizers help students make their thinking more concrete. They will retain more. This gives some accountability to where they have to show they actually applied the strategy. Also, this extends more critical thinking. You can incorporate a graphic organizer by having students record at least one unknown word after they are finished reading. To make this fun, have students store their graphic organizers in a case file.
  4. Use a vocabulary journal. Another option is to use a vocabulary journal. Graphic organizers can also be added to the vocabulary journals.
  5. Extend the vocabulary work. Newly discovered words should not be forgotten. By having students revisit their vocabulary journals or graphic organizers to use with a new activity, students will build their vocabulary and ultimately, their reading and writing skills.

If you are interested in having a resource with all these vocabulary strategies and resources, you can find it here. This resource includes an engaging introduction where they are on a mission to become vocabulary detectives. It includes mini-lessons with sentences that connect to the fun theme of each strategy, strategy posters, student size strategy cards, no prep graphic organizers and journal size ones, vocabulary extensions, rubrics, and rewards for becoming a vocabulary detective. It is easy to differentiate instruction with this resource. You can pair it with any book you like. Also, you can set the strategy goals to whatever fits your class best. That way, all students are encouraged to be vocabulary detectives! Find the resource here.

Would you like to test out a vocabulary strategy? Here is a free vocabulary strategy resource to test out with your classroom. It is for the Case of the Repeating Parrot.

Also, make sure to check out some of my other vocabulary posts here and here.

Now before I close out, I want to let you know about my free tech course. This free course shows you a simple three-step system for setting up the use of technology in your classroom. With the abundance of tech options out there, it can get overwhelming in the primary grades. The key is to wisely pick just a small amount of tools and add on from there. This course will help you get a system in place, includes some free tech resources to utilize with the system, and even includes short student tutorials to get your class on board. Find more information about it here.

I hope you find these strategies and tips useful. What ways do you teach vocabulary strategies in your classroom? Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by the Candy Class!

Jolene Mathew 🙂