Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary instruction should be an integral component of teaching reading as a poor vocabulary recognition and understanding impacts on comprehension. The wider students’ vocabulary, the more effective they are at inferring the meaning of the text and deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words encountered in the text.

In their article Four Practical Principles for Enhancing Vocabulary Instruction (Manyak et al., 2014) argued that vocabulary instruction should encompass:

  • Rich and varied experiences
  • Explicit teaching of individual words
  • Explicit teaching of word-learning strategies
  • Development of word consciousness.

Manyak et al. suggest the following strategies:

  1. Explicitly and routinely introduce target words using the following strategy:

  • Present the word in context and if possible in numerous texts.
  • Provide a studentfriendly definition.
  • Provide multiple examples of use (particularly if the word has multiple meanings, but also with different affixes).
  • Prompt student use (i.e., develop own sentence, find synonyms, antonyms, categories, etc.).
  • Use a visual image to help embed understanding of the word.
  • Include a thought question and/or interactive activity:
    • Thought Question for focus word ‘insist’: Is your reading more likely to improve if your teacher insists that you read challenging books or if you can choose any books you want? Use ‘insist’ in your answer.
    • Interactive Activity: The teacher makes a statement. If someone in the sentence insisted on something, the students say ‘insist’. If not, they say ‘deny’.
  1. Provide regular review activities that promote a deeper understanding of the vocabulary.

  • Connect Two: Students are either given two words or find their own two words on a wall chart or provided sheet that are connected in some way and explain the connection. The connection might be a synonym, antonym, part of speech, homonym, similar categories, etc.
  • TwoinOne: Students write a sentences using two or more of the target words.
  • Character Trait Writing: Students use the target words to describe a character from a recently studied text. Students can read their explanation without naming the character and other students try to identify the described character.
  • Concept Word Précis Writing: Students select one target word from a list and explain its meaning in a pre-determined word limit. Students can read their definition for other students to determine the chosen word.
  1. Use ‘anchor experience’ to address student confusion. 

  • Review the ‘student friendly’ definition.
  • Have students apply the word to their own experiences and to texts they are reading.
  1. Foster inclusive participation and individual accountability

  • Use random turn-nomination to ensure all students are participating and engaged.
  • Regularly use simple vocabulary assessment tools such as completing cloze or definition activities on the target words.

See Reading for Comprehension for texts focused specifically on vocabulary development.


Manyak, P., et al. (2014). Four practical principles for enhancing vocabulary instruction. The Reading Teacher, 68(1), 13-23.

One Response to Teaching Vocabulary

  1. Carmel February 17, 2019 at 10:10 am #

    Very clear and concise with practical applications that are realistic classroom adjustments.