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November 11, 2011 Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary in Kindergarten By Sharon Taylor
Grades PreK–K

    Our ability to function in today’s complex world is greatly affected by our language skills and word knowledge. Perhaps one of the greatest tools we can give our students is a large and rich vocabulary. Read on as I share strategies and resources you can use to take your vocabulary instruction from boring to bodacious! 

    Many teachers still teach vocabulary the way we were taught years ago. But drilling lists of spelling and isolated content words can be boring. Instruction in vocabulary involves more than looking up words in a dictionary and using them in a sentence. We need to focus on teaching vocabulary through a variety of fun word-learning strategies.

    Start by celebrating words in your classroom. Terry NeSmith, a district coordinator for Memphis City Schools, suggests using a four-step approach: 

    • Post Them
    • Break Them Apart
    • Share Them
    • Discuss Them

    Below are some of the strategies I’m using to implement this four-step approach in my classroom.


    Post Them


    Word Walls: If the words are visible and accessible to students, they are more likely to see them, think about them, and use them. I use an interactive word wall in my classroom. My word wall is front and center, large and easy to see. Word walls are great places to display content-rich vocabulary as you and your students explore across the curriculum.

    Handmade Books: Students can create short books about the words they have learned. This year my students are creating portable vocabulary flip books as a reference for the words we have learned in class. All you need is a metal ring for each student. As students learn new words, they add them to their ring. 





    Break Them Apart

    How do you decide which words to teach? It's best if you have some structure and organization behind your choices.Rather than randomly selecting words, for instance, I present words in related groups, usually from our reading selection for the week. Our district currently uses the Scott Foresman Reading Series. 

    Isabel Beck is a well-known advocate of teaching vocabulary. In a 2011 article, Rebecca Alber does a great job of describing Beck's categories for vocabulary:


    Tier One:Basic words that rarely require instructional focus.

    Tier Two:Words that appear with high frequency, across a variety of domains, and are crucial when using mature, academic language.

    Tier Three:Frequency of these words is quite low and often limited to specific fields of study.

    As you can probably guess, Beck recommends that teachers focus primarily on Tier Two words. These are the words that students are most likely need help with — and most likely to use as they continue their studies.


    Share Them

    My students love sharing their vocabulary notebooks. I assign students a different word each week. Together we thoroughly research the word and its meaning. After this is done, I have students sketch a picture to illustrate the word. At the end of the week children present their drawings to the class.





    Drawings are a great way to help kids process the meaning of new vocabulary words. Later, when the word is used or its meaning discussed, they have an image to associate it with.




    Discuss Them

    Read-alouds are a great way to introduce new vocabulary. When you read aloud and encounter a word unfamiliar to your class, let your students see the word. They remember it better if they see it as well as hear it.

    Also, if my children use a great new word in their conversation, I stop everything and comment on what a great word choice it was.

    To focus and fine-tune your vocabulary instruction, you might wish to consult the following books:


    For more vocabulary activities see Academic Vocabulary, ReadWriteThink, Just Read Now!, VocabularySpellingCity, and

    I hope this post will assist you in teaching vocabulary in your classroom. Remember, when you are introducing new vocabulary, make it fun. Allow your students to think about, talk about, apply, and play with new words. I would love to hear from you regarding any other strategies you use in your classroom.


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