We have just about made it through the first semester of the school year, and we want to make certain that we are teaching our students vocabulary skills to the highest level possible.  Among the very common questions we contemplate throughout the school year, there are always those questions of how we can reach our students and increase their level of mastery.  How can we have our students dig deeper and increase their level of mastery?  Different teachers of different subject matter and different grade levels may approach this differently.  However, no matter what subject or grade we teach, we can all agree on one thing.  Students must have strong literacy skills to succeed in their educational studies (Suggate et al., 2018). With that in mind, one aspect of literacy that I have found to add great benefit to the content classroom is vocabulary.  This skill can readily be incorporated into the content classroom at any grade level (Moore et al., 2019).  In fact, I would venture a guess that you are already focusing on vocabulary in your content classroom. 

Vocabulary is essential to content areas.  This is confirmed through the strong emphasis on the implementation of non-fiction texts observed in the state standards (Block, 2019).  How do you teach your students vocabulary in your content classroom?  Are you still giving them a list of words and having them look the word up in the dictionary and write the definition?  Are you having them write a sentence with the definition?  Or…..are you playing games with the words or drawing cartoon strips using the new vocabulary?  Are you having your students make flash cards or complete a Frayer Model (Estacioa, 2017)?  There are so many ways to teach vocabulary, and I want to share just a few here.

Research has shown that vocabulary should not be taught in isolation.  It should have a purpose.  Students should be able to make connections.  Vocabulary instruction should include “visual, verbal, and physical support” (Estacioa, 2017, p. 37).  Without these supports, students most likely will not be able to connect with the word and use it in such a way that they master the meaning.  There are many ways to provide these supports in a fun and enriching manner.

Students can connect to vocabulary through visual support in many more ways than there is room to share here.  Some of the options include sculptures, picture flashcards, sketches, skits, and so on.  Each of these ideas can be adapted to the students’ grade levels.  Students can also be given options concerning how they want to visually represent their vocabulary providing many options for classmates to see the word in various forms.

Students can connect to vocabulary through verbal support.  They can create songs, poems, stories, or even depict the vocabulary in decorative lettering that connects to the word in some fashion.  There are many oral games that can be played with vocabulary words as well.  This could be anything from a vocabulary bingo game to hangman or even Guess the Word where a leader gives hints for the word and the winner gets to give the hints for the next vocabulary word. Again the idea of choice is integrated to meet the needs of the different styles of learners (Dabrowski & Marshall, 2018).

Students can connect to vocabulary through physical support in even more ways.  The first way that comes to my mind is through a simple game of charades.  However, I have had students create a skit, where characters are the vocabulary words, with great success.  Anwar and Fitriani (2016) also found that using Total Physical Response, the use of actions to define a word, was much more beneficial than direct teaching of vocabulary.  The kinesthetic learner will certainly appreciate the use of physical motion when learning new vocabulary.

In addition to the many approaches to incorporating vocabulary, Read Naturally Live provides strong research-based strategies. In each of the reading passages, specific vocabulary is introduced through definition, sentence use, and often picture connections.  Students have the opportunity to click on the vocabulary words in the introduction and review the blue color-coded vocabulary words throughout the engaging stories.  To determine mastery of the focused vocabulary, the students are assessed on their knowledge of these words at the end of the story.  This approach is a great support for increasing vocabulary knowledge.

I believe it is safe to say that vocabulary is central to learning content and increasing reading proficiency.  There are varied ways to introduce and guide your students to vocabulary mastery.  By implementing some, or all, of the approaches shared here, you are certain to increase your students’ level of vocabulary proficiency.  Keep stretching and growing your students!  We will all be better for it in the long run!!





Anwar, C., & Fitriani, D. (2016). Total Physical Response and Direct Method in Students’ Vocabulary Mastery Learning. Shahih: Journal of Islamicate Multidisciplinary1(1), 2016. http://ejournal.iainsurakarta.ac.id/index.php/shahih/article/viewFile/54/46

Block, N. C. (2019). Evaluating the efficacy of using sentence frames for learning new vocabulary in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 57(3). 454-478.  https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1002/tea.21602

Dabrowski, J., & Marshall, T. R. (2018). Motivation and engagement in student assignments: The role of choice and relevancy. Equity in Motion. Education Trust.

Estacioa, R. D. (2017). The use of modified Frayer model in developing science vocabulary of senior high school students. New Trends and Issues Proceedings on Humanities and Social Sciences4(1), 36-42. https://doi.org/10.18844/prosoc.v4i1.2049

Moore, B. Boardman, A., Smith, C., & Ferrell, A. (2019). Enhancing collaborative group processes to promote academic literacy and content learning for diverse learners through video reflection. SAGE Open, 9(3), 1-15. 10.1177/2158244019861480

Suggate, S., Schaughency, E., McAnally, H. & Reese, E. (2018). From infancy to adolescence: The longitudinal links between vocabulary, early literacy skills, oral narrative, and reading comprehension. Cognitive Development, 47, 82-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2018.04.005