A Few Great Strategies to Build Vocabulary

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for hosting this wonderful event where writers can share and gather new ideas at the same time.


How Students Learn New Words: The Research

  • The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. (Anderson, Hiebert, et al. 1985)
  • Children who read for pleasure acquire a large vocabulary. They do this voluntarily and without conscious effort. (Krashen, 1993)
  • Impressive experimental results show that second language learners and native English speakers who read more outside of school have better reading comprehensions and vocabulary skills. (McQuillan, 1998)
  • What is needed to produce vocabulary growth is not more vocabulary instruction but more reading. (Nagy, 1988)
  • Most theorists agree that the bulk of vocabulary growth during a child’s lifetime occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through direct teaching. (Cunnignham & Stanovitch, 1998)
  • Vocabulary expansion through reading is about ten times more efficient than vocabulary instruction. (Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987)
  • Vocabulary learning takes place when students are immersed in words. (Blachowicz & Fisher, 1996)
  • The single most important thing a teacher can do to promote vocabulary growth is to increase students’ volume of reading. (Nagy, 1988)
  • Read, read, read. (Burke, 1999)

How to Make New Words Part of Your Working Vocabulary 

  1. Use new word in your everyday speech with friends and family.
  2. Use the new word when you are writing answers to questions and in your journals as you reflect on key concept.
  3. Add and layer meaning as you encounter the new word in your reading and rereading.
  4. As you read, think about what you learned that is new about the word’s meaning and tell yourself what you learned.
  5. Make connection with your own life and the real world. Try to tie the word to an important issue, event, or larger concept. Here is an example of a self-selected vocabulary entry in a vocabulary journal:

hands: Today I learned that “hands” also is a measurement for horses. These animals are measured from the top of their withers to the ground. There are four inches in a hand, so a horse that measures 14 hands is actually 56 inches tall from its withers to the ground.



  1. Teacher supplies the topic.
  2. Students break up into small groups
  3. Students take turns by saying and writing vocabulary words on cards that are connected to the topic.
  4. Each student tosses the vocabulary word cards into the middle of the table.
  5. No repeats.

Group Games With Toss In Vocabulary:

  • Look at the vocabulary cards in the middle of the table – pick up a word that is not yours and orally make a sentence out of the word – others in the group will determine if the sentence makes sense.
  • Look for two vocabulary words and create a sentence – others in the group will try to guess which words you chose.
  • Students try to make a personal connection to one of the words.
  • Pick up a vocabulary word and say how many syllables are in the word.
  • Pick up a vocabulary word and create an alliteration verse or use the word in a metaphor, simile, or hyperbole.
  • Choose a vocabulary word and personify it.
  • Sort vocabulary words by category – then move to a new table and guess their sorting rule(s).  When you return to your home table, you may revise. Be sure to reach group consensus.
  • Create an interesting lead or slogan with five of the vocabulary words.


Paradoxes of the English Language: Fun with Words

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose – two geese. So one moose, two meese?

Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same?

Why isn’t a wise man and a wise guy the same thing?

There is no egg in eggplant.

There is no ham in hamburger.

There are no apples or pines in pineapples.

If vegetarians eat vegetables, then why aren’t humanitarians cannibals?

If teachers teach and preachers preach, then why doesn’t follow that if teachers taught, preachers praught?

Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

Consider these paradoxes:

Quicksand can work slowly.

Boxing rings are square.

A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Writers write and sailors sail, but grocers don’t groce, authors don’t auth, and tailors don’t tail.