Are you looking to amp up your vocabulary instruction for your K-2 learners? You’re in the right spot!
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I don’t know about you, but I sure get a headache when someone tells me that there’s one more thing to jam into an already-packed school day.
So I apologize in advance, because … guess what? Today I want to talk to you about something that you need to jam into an already-packed school day.
But, like it or not, systematic vocabulary instruction is important. Vital, even. Because even if our kids can sound out any word we throw at them, they must have a strong vocabulary for comprehension to occur.
So … how do you do it?
How do you teach vocabulary systematically in K-2?
I recommend reserving about 15 minutes a day for systematic vocabulary instruction. (Pressed for time? Make it four days a week.) In this post I’ll share three approaches. I’ll also recommend professional reading that will help you make a particular approach your own.
Teach all words in the context of a read-aloud. After you’ve read the book, teach the meaning of each new word in the following manner.
- Read the sentence or paragraph in which the new word occurred. This provides context.
- Give a child-friendly definition for the new word.
- Have children repeat the word (“Say it with me”) to build memory for the sound and meaning.
- Give additional context in which we might use the word.
- Have children provide their own examples of when to use the word.
- After this initial introduction, develop interesting activities to expand student understanding. Spread them over a week.
To learn more and make this approach your own, read Chapter 4 of Bringing Words to Life, by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan.
With this second approach, it’s not essential that words come from a book you are reading to or with your students. Words can come from your commercial reading program, your social studies or science unit, or a vocabulary list. Just make sure you’re choosing Tier 2 words (see this post).
To prepare, write a sentence for each word on sentence strips; leave blanks for the featured words. Write the featured words on the word cards. Also write a kid friendly definition for each word on sentence strips.
- Gather students around the pocket chart sentences and word cards. Pick up a word card, read it, and have your students repeat it. Clap the syllables and pronounce the word again. (Students repeat.) Introduce each word by discussing it and providing a kid-friendly definition.
- Read aloud each sentence on the pocket chart. Ask your students which of the featured vocabulary words should go in the blanks. After a student chooses a word for a particular sentence, read it aloud together. Does the answer make sense?
- Guide students as they write in their vocabulary journals (more on this in a future post!).
- Extend learning through the week with whole group and small group activities.
To learn more and make this approach your own, read Chapter 3 of Word Nerds, by Overturf, Montgomery, and Smith.
Approach #3: Design your own
You can follow one of the above approaches or modify them to create your own. If you go that route, remember the following important principles:
- Always provide a kid-friendly definition.
- Have your learners work with the word(s) in context (by context I mean children’s literature or a set of sentences featuring the words).
- Engage your students in discussions about the words.
- Provide multiple exposures to the words over a week.
- Find engaging, meaningful activities that will help your learners make the words their own.
For more professional reading about vocabulary instruction, I recommend Teaching Individual Words, by Michael Graves.
I hope this post gave you a starting point for planning systematic vocabulary instruction in the primary grades! Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series: