We all know that a large vocabulary is important for our learners. Here’s how to build vocabulary through read alouds!
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One of the easiest ways to build our learners’ vocabulary is through whole class read alouds. Today I’m sharing tips for making the most of this instructional time.*
*If you’re a parent, these tips work for one-on-one read alouds, too!
When you teach vocabulary through read alouds, it will either be:
- unplanned, or
Examples of unplanned vocabulary teaching
By unplanned, I mean that you teach the meaning of a word because it’s clear that your learners need it defined – and not because you planned the instruction ahead of time. When you’re reading and it’s clear your students need a word defined, you can do one of the following:
Provide a quick, kid-friendly definition and keep reading.
“One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some whales spouting luminous water.” (Amos & Boris, by William Steig)
“Phosphorescent” and “luminous” both have to do with light. When Amos looked at the night ocean, it looked like it was glowing. Even though the ocean doesn’t make its own light, the light from the moon and stars made the ocean glow.
Give a quick synonym for the word.
“… Gazing at the immense, starry sky ….” (Amos & Boris, by William Steig)
“Immense” means really big.
Point to the picture to help your learners understand what the word means.
“Boris the whale was flung ashore by a tidal wave and stranded on the very shore where Amos happened to make his home.” (Amos & Boris, by William Steig)
Let’s take a look at this picture. Do you see how the whale is on the beach and can’t get off? He is stranded. To be stranded means that you are stuck somewhere and you can’t leave. Boris is stranded on the beach.
Act out or demonstrate the meaning of the word.
“He stood with his mouth agape.”
“Agape” means to have your mouth wide open like this (demonstrate). Can you show me what it looks like to have your mouth agape?
How to do intentional vocabulary teaching
You may have noticed that the previous examples were all quick. We provide the definition, and we move on. This way our students’ comprehension does not suffer – either through not knowing a word’s meaning or by having the reading interrupted for a long period of time.
Even when we do intentional vocabulary teaching through read alouds, our goal is to get in and out quickly. That is, we don’t want our vocabulary teaching to interfere with our learners’ enjoyment of the story.
Here’s what I recommend.
- Before reading, choose 4-5 tier 2 words to focus on. (For more about tier 2 words, see this post.)
- Decide how you’re going to teach the words. Will you provide a definition, give a synonym, use the picture, or act them out?
- Have a kid-friendly definition ready. I like to use Miriam Webster’s online dictionary for kids as a reference.
- Mark the pages with a small sticky note flag so you don’t forget to call attention to the featured words.
I hope this post helped you see that it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to teach vocabulary in the context of read-alouds. Many times, it makes sense to give a quick definition and move on.
It’s also helpful to go deep with our vocabulary instruction. To help our learners really make new words their own, we’ll need to do more than share a definition during read-alouds. That’s why, beginning next week, I’ll show you exactly how to do systematic vocabulary instruction.
P.S. Looking for some vocabulary-rich picture books? Here you go!
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and other books by William Steig
- Chrysanthemum, and other picture books by Kevin Henkes
- The Little House, and other books by Virginia Lee Burton
- The Three Little Pigs, and other fairy tales by James Marshall
- When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant
- Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman, by Kathleen Krull
- Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip C. Stead
Check out the rest of the series!