Back to: Module: Helping Students Read
Building Vocabulary Knowledge
Teaching word meanings is essential for improving vocabulary knowledge. But trying to teach students the meanings of new words by asking them to memorize words doesn’t work very well. Instead, there are many effective approaches using an instructional method called “explicit instruction” or “direct instruction.”
When using direct instruction, it’s also helpful to facilitate students’ active engagement. The following tool provides a useful step-by-step method for working with one new word or even a list of new terms. It is based on advice from Robert Marzano, one of the pioneers of direct instruction.
Teaching New Vocabulary Using Direct Instruction
Step 1. Say the new term out loud, provide a brief description of the new term, and ask students if they have any questions. Do this for each new term.
Step 2. Give students a picture or another visual representation of the new term.
Step 3. Have students say in their own words what they think the new term means.
Step 4. Have students draw their own representation of the new term.
Step 5. Ask students to explain their picture in relation to the new term.
The second step in the process above is particularly important. Linking new words to tangible real-life experiences or examples will help students remember them. For example, students are more likely to learn the word “meringue” if they taste lemon meringue pie. They’ll learn the word “pulverize” if they use rocks to break dried balls of clay or mud into tiny bits. Of course, you can’t always provide real-life experiences in the classroom. But you can use objects, photos, drawings, videos, sound clips, skits, and other activities to help students learn new words.
The process listed above can be used to pre-teach new vocabulary before reading, thus helping to improve comprehension. Ensuring that students encounter the intended words repeatedly over several days (or even over several weeks) is also important. Giving them many different opportunities to read, write, and speak the new words provides useful practice. For many students, focusing on just a few new words at a time can be helpful.
The Frayer Model is another useful technique for teaching new vocabulary. It builds on the process described above and helps cement new words. This method works for students of various ages, too. So, it’s especially useful! See the tool on the second tab for an explanation.
The Frayer Model
Fill in the accompanying worksheet with a student. Work alongside the student to come up with a definition for the new word. Then, brainstorm several traits or facts about the new word. Next, come up with examples and non-examples (antonyms) of the word.