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What Are the Best Tips for Teaching Vocabulary?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

The process of teaching vocabulary can be fairly simple and straightforward, though there are some tips and techniques that can make the process more meaningful and effective for students. It is typically easier to teach anything, including vocabulary, within a meaningful context, and so teachers should try to teach vocabulary words that relate to other lessons being presented in class. Both parents and teachers should promote reading, in and out of classes, to help students expand their vocabularies. Many teachers can also improve the process of teaching vocabulary by focusing on “relational” words and meanings as well as definitions of words.

Teaching vocabulary typically consists of the process by which teachers or parents help students learn new words. This refers to not only the actual meanings of those words, but also how they can be used together to construct meaningful ideas. Teachers should consider teaching words based on other work that is being done in class, such as using words from a short story, poem, or novel that students are reading for vocabulary lessons in the same unit. Many teachers spend a great deal of time deciding on what words they should teach, but they should also have students write down words they encounter and do not understand, then teach those words while teaching vocabulary.

Some teachers use worksheets to teach students vocabulary.
Some teachers use worksheets to teach students vocabulary.

Reading is, perhaps, the best way to assist in teaching vocabulary to students. No amount of vocabulary lessons can ever cover every single word in a complicated language like English, French, or German. Many words are going to be encountered for the first time while someone is reading, and so teachers and parents should encourage reading outside of class to expose students to new words. This is why it is also important, while teaching vocabulary, for a teacher to help students learn to recognize and understand new words based on surrounding context and the use of dictionaries when necessary.

Teachers who are teaching vocabulary should also focus on not only what words mean but also how they can go together. This is often referred to as the “relational” meaning of words and this understanding is essential for effective communication. Many vocabulary lessons use antonyms, synonyms, and analogies to help students better understand the relationships between words. This not only makes teaching vocabulary more effective, but these types of relationships can be turned into games to make the process more interesting. Many of these types of questions are also used on major tests such as the SAT® that many students take prior to college.

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Discussion Comments


@jennythelib - I don't necessarily disagree with you that all the best strategies for teaching vocabulary in the world will fail if the person trying to learn vocabulary doesn't read.

But that's not to say that teaching vocab is a worthless activity. Haven't you ever noticed that once you learn a new word, you seem to see it everywhere? So learning some words and definitions builds awareness of those words and helps you notice them; it can accelerate the process of adding words to your vocabulary.

I like to use games to help review vocab. Vocabulary bingo is always popular; the students write down twenty-five words on a five-by-five grid, and I read the definition. Or I write the words on the white board, all spread out, and issue flyswatters to two students. I read the definition, and the first student to "swat" the correct word wins a point for her or her team.


The thing about teaching vocabulary in high school or lower grades is that you can't *really* learn a word by just memorizing its definition. You don't really know how it's used until you have seen it several times. Reading, reading, reading is always going to be the best way to build your vocabulary.

Really, it's almost the *only* way to really build your vocabulary. You simply have to encounter the word in context. Any type of reading can help a student's vocabulary - yes, even sports or celebrity magazine, whatever trashy series they're all devouring lately, even websites. Just put words in front of them and keep them going!

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    • Some teachers use worksheets to teach students vocabulary.
      By: petar Ishmeriev
      Some teachers use worksheets to teach students vocabulary.