3 Ways I Was Teaching Vocabulary All Wrong

I have always taught vocabulary in my classroom.  In math, science and social studies classes, there are the obvious content words we need to teach for a unit.  In reading and writing, there are those words that come up during a reading passage or a writing assignment.  However, I was doing it all wrong!

What I Did Wrong


  1. I didn’t have the students say the word.  At least 12 times!  I said it when I was introducing it and occasionally as I talked about the meaning, but I never had the kids say it. Research shows that students need to say a word 12 times to truly remember it.

By having the class repeat the word as we go through the slides and talk about the words, they are beginning to make the words their own.

Jamestown vocabulary

2. I didn’t have the word in front of them with its meaning, part of speech, and word origin.  Back in the day, we used overhead projectors and I might have written the word down, even adding the meaning.  But I didn’t go over the part of speech or word origin.  I also didn’t include related words or examples.  I certainly didn’t include non-examples!  Now, I use a PowerPoint for each lesson and make a slide showing these items.

Satchel Paige Vocabulary PowerPoint


3. I didn’t review the vocabulary words for several days.  Once I had taught the words, that pretty much did it.  Now, each successive day of the unit, at the beginning of the lesson, I run through the PowerPoint again with the class.  This puts those words in front of them one more time, giving them still more chances to say the words and/or meanings out loud.

All of this seems so obvious to me, now that I’ve done it this way.

Of course, they need to also say the word out loud along with the meaning.  Don’t we learn something best by teaching it?

Of course, using this as another chance to go over parts of speech is going to help the students in grammar class.  When they are consistently seeing those words: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc, it’s reinforcing what they are learning elsewhere – something we all say is a good idea!

I don't know

Of course, having them see the word and say it will help.  It’s embarrassing to think of how many times I have mispronounced a word because I never heard it at the same time as I saw it.

Sometimes when I realize I haven’t been doing something as well as I could, it gets me down.  In times like that, I try to remember Maya Angelou’s words:  know better, do better. Now that I know better how to teach vocabulary, I try to do better.

What do you do to help your students learn vocabulary?  I’m always looking for other ideas!