Strategies to develop vocabulary learning in the classroom

Within your planning, identify and prioritise key vocabulary. When incorporating specific vocabulary into IEPs, you may wish to attach a key list of words which you will be working on with the pupil throughout the term.

By using prompts and questions, the phonological and semantic information about the word can be highlighted. It is important to help the pupil process the sound (phonology) of the word first, then to process the meaning (semantic). Further, vocabulary learning is most effectively supported when phonological and semantic information is linked.

Classroom strategies

  • As when planning a differentiated curriculum, vocabulary can be grouped into 3 bands: ESSENTIAL core words; DESIRABLE useful words; MIGHT BE NICE, refers to more peripheral, abstract words.
  • Teach category labels so that pupils can effectively organise and store new vocabulary.
  • Use visual support whenever possible.
  • Begin with the big picture, refer back to this at the start of each lesson.
  • Brainstorm the topic in a hierarchical way so the pupils are aware of how words link to each other.
  • Explain why the student is learning the vocabulary - link to real life and their own experience.
  • Relate new vocabulary/concepts to ones that are already known/familiar.
  • Place in context e.g. of real life situations and relate to previous knowledge.
  • Ensure the pupil says the word as well as listens, therefore engaging phonological and semantic information.
  • Make sure words are learned correctly e.g. sound structure of syllables, initial sound etc…
  • Provide frequent opportunities for reinforcement and repetition.
  • Use reading to support vocabulary development.
  • Use flexible, mixed ability grouping arrangements to promote discussion.  
  • Promote the independent use of dictionaries.

To monitor and evaluate progress, it is important to log and review strategies noting the most effective.

Word Learning and Word Finding Strategies

  • Essential, Desirable, Might Be Nice
    Decide on a realistic number of words the student needs to learn, pre-teach them, and revisit them often.
  • Quizzes, hangman, bingo, word searches
  • Tricky Word Notebook
    Arranged within subjects. Student copies any word they are not sure about into the notebook with ideas about its meaning. TA writes it out in syllables to aid pronunciation.
  • Visualisation
    Invent a mind’s eye picture to help visualise a tricky word e.g. meander could be pictured as “me and her”.
  • Mindmaps
    A network of words within a particular topic.
  • Word maps
    A framework of ideas about a word or concept, including ideas about what the word means as well as what it sounds like.
  • Word Wise Quickie Prompt Cards
    Think of meaning, sound, and a sentence.
  • Say it aloud
    Model long words in separate syllables e.g. me-di-cine. 
  • Give two to choose from
    Is it a telescope or a microscope? 
  • Vocabulary Lotto
    A game to play in focussed support time to practise a range of strategies.

To monitor and evaluate progress, it is important to log and review strategies noting the most effective.


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Last updated: 22 October 2015

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