A Better Way to Teach Vocabulary

Continuing my quest to find hidden educational gems that are ALSO helpful to struggling students, I’m happy to introduce Teachers Pay Teachers seller Social Studies Success. While you’ll find materials in her store that are mostly geared toward middle school students, many of her fabulously fun strategies can be translated to multiple age levels and abilities.  Today I invite you to give her vocabulary strategies a try!


Too often, teachers think of vocabulary instruction as “copy the words from the back of the book and turn it in…” – at least I know I did! For 5 years, my vocabulary instruction was lost in meaningless assignments for kids – after a test, copy down definitions. I considered my job done – after all, the kids had copied down the term and definition – surely that meant they understood and mastered the vocabulary I was “teaching.”


Guest blogger Social Studies Success teaches us a better way to teach vocabulary, for both students AND teachers. Fun and effective!


It wasn’t until years later, with many frustrated kids along the way, that I learned that I was not doing vocabulary instruction justice. I needed to approach teaching vocabulary the same way I approached teaching content – with active instruction! I researched and applied my instruction down to 3 essential steps of vocabulary instruction:


1. Have students put terms in their own words. Your students will only understand the vocabulary you teach if they own it! They need to understand it by creating and crafting sentences of their own. One method you can use is the “Say What?” technique. In this activity, students craft their own meaning as they interview different groups of students what they think the word means. Then through a guided discussion, they begin to build understanding of the term.


2. The second step is for the students to create visuals of the terms. This can be done with an illustrated dictionary or with a fun “Fist List” activity.  Then through a guided discussion, they begin to build understanding of the term.


3. The final step of vocabulary instruction is to allow students to play games with the words. Students can play Pictionary, $25,000 Pyramid or act out the terms in Muscle Memory.


Social Studies Success, another educational gem.  While not specifically targeted to struggling students, find great resources that help all kinds of learners in upper elementary and middle school.


Social Studies Success is designed to engage and excite students in the Social Studies classroom. Each lesson is carefully crafted to include an Interactive Notebook component as well as strategies to support struggling readers.  You can find these lessons at Social Studies Success on TPT plus more ideas from her blog here.