Vocabulary Rich Classrooms

Allie Love, Section B, 9/10/15

Why is it important to include vocabulary rich instruction within your classroom?

A summary

The article The Vocabulary-Rich Classroom included many great points about building your students' vocabulary. It is so important to include meaningful vocabulary instruction because it is a key predictor in a child's literacy development. The more words a reader knows, the easier it will be for them to comprehend what they read! Not to mention, quality vocabulary instruction lowers the achievement gap between the have and have-nots in your classroom!

Some key qualities of rich vocabulary instruction are:

  • Breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge are both important! Teach a lot of words, and teach their meanings well.
  • Give students plenty of exposure to words. The more they practice saying, writing, listening, and hearing the words, the more likely they are to retain it.
  • Three tier system for selecting vocabulary words for your students: Tier 1 are words students already know. Tier 2 includes words that are "key to comprehension." Most vocabulary instruction should come from this tier! Their 3 are words content-specific.
  • Develop word consciousness within the classroom. This means students are aware of the vocabulary used and are curious about word meanings.
  • Most vocabulary instruction is incidental, or learned within context of daily reading and listening without conscious effort.
  • Teacher modeled vocabulary is key! Do not "dumb down" vocabulary when speaking to a child.
  • Link new words with familiar concepts.
  • Once students gain a basic understanding of the words, it's time to move on and being using more difficult synonyms.

How can teachers take simplistic words and begin to use sophisticated vocabulary in a way that students will understand?

"But I need specific activities!" -Every teacher ever

  • Word Box (Feezell)- students chose the words they want to learn because it gives them ownership! Students come across words they would like to know the meaning of during conversation or reading time, and they write it down and turn it into the box. The post-it should include the word, the sentence in which it was used, and the students ' name. The teacher choses five words per week based on the tier system.
  • Word Wall (Feezell)- teacher introduces a new word and students discuss their prior knowledge of the term. They link familiar to unfamiliar in order to come up with a definition, the teacher writes it on an index card, and hangs it on the classroom word wall for students to reference.
  • Illustrations- students chose a word from the word wall and draw a picture of it in context.
  • Sentence creations (Feezell)- is a great all-class activity! Students think-pair-share to come up with sentences that include one of the week's vocabulary words. Sentences should be rich in context and almost "include" the definition within. (He washed his hands to avoid a contagious disease."
  • Four corners- the teacher reads a definition and the students move to the corner of the word they think it corresponds with.
  • Text Talk (Blarney)- used after children's literature read alouds. Teacher uses direct instruction to explain specific words from the text. She provides the definition, then the students discuss the meaning of the word and practice using it in a sentence. Finally, the students repeat the word aloud.
  • Word Walk (Blarney)- The teacher introduces two vocabulary words through pictures, the students say the words aloud in connection with the pictures, and the teacher shares a definition. Then the teacher asks students to listen for the two words within the read aloud. Students raise their hands when they hear the word and the teacher supplies the definition once more and looks at the context of the word.On day two, the teacher asks for the word in context of the book and illicit student's personal definitions.

Which of these strategies can you see yourself using in your classroom? Why is it the best for promoting rich vocabulary instruction?

My response

After reading about the importance of rich vocabulary instruction, I am excited to incorporate it into my classroom and watch my student's vocabularies develop. One thing that I find personally convicting about these articles for me as a teacher especially is the idea that teachers must model a robust vocabulary themselves. And while most people acquire vocabulary through incidental instruction, or without awareness when reading or in conversation, teacher's vocabulary instruction cannot be incidental. It is purposeful and scaffolded so that students make connections between simplistic words to sophisticated terms (example teachers begins the year saying "Pass out the papers," and by the middle of the year says, "Distribute the papers.") Rich vocabulary instruction requires persistence and intentionality on the part of the teacher to model, incorporate activities, and create a word conscious culture within the classroom. While this may sound like a lot of work, with repetition, as with vocabulary acquisition, the procedure can be strengthen. And the payoff is enormous! It is our goal as teachers to produce fluent readers who comprehend the text around them, and vocabulary instruction is of the upmost importance in developing this type of student.


Blarney, K.L., & Beauchat, K.A. (2011). Word Walk. Reading Teacher, 65(1), 71-75.

Feezell, G. (2012). Robust Vocabulary Instruction In A Readers' Workshop. Reading Teacher, 66(3), 233-237.

Lane, H.B., & Allen, S.A. (2010). The Vocabulary_Rich Classroom: Modeling Sophisticated Word Use to Promote Word Consciousness and Vocabulary Growth. Reading Teacher, 63(5), 362-370.