Vocabulary Building

Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary

1. Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy (VSS)

The VSS is an interactive-learning instructional strategy that promotes word consciousness, as students are actively engaged in identifying important words from their reading to share with members of their class.

When to use the strategy:

  • VSS should be used before reading and used by students during and after reading.
  • VSS has been used with middle and secondary students within cooperative group settings, but the strategy may be modified for students in elementary school as the teacher directs and guides them through the process. Elementary school students might benefit from the use of VSS after group read-alouds, when they return to the book to select new and interesting words.


  1. Teacher introduces the purpose of VSS to students.
  2. Teacher models how to select and nominate important words from the readings.
  3. Teacher demonstrates how to use context and other resources to learn the meaning of the word.
  4. Teachers write the word, the context in which it was used, its meaning, and the reason for selecting the words on chart paper.
  5. Teacher engages students in the process of vocabulary self-selection.
  6. After students are familiar with he strategy, teachers provide guided practice to support the use of VSS during reading. For example, you can lead students to ask the following questions:
  • What is the word that I believe is important to learn?
  • Why would I select it as an interesting or important word to learn?
  • How was the word used? Write the sentence in which the word was used.
  • What is the meaning of the word? Can I get the meaning of the word from the context, dictionary, glossary, or some diagram in the book?

7. Students in small groups discuss the words they wish to nominate.

8. Students write the two words on a chart similar to the one shown below.

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Differentiating Instruction for ELLs

Teachers may highlight and use the resources that all students bring to the classroom. As significant contribution that ELLs may make to the class is sharing their language with other students. When a word is nominated as an interesting and new word to learn and use, the word may be translated in the home language of students who are learning English, English-only students will benefit from learning words form world languages, and English language learners will benefit from making connections to their home language for a greater understanding of the new words.

Vocabulary Self-Collection Examples Using Technology

Students share self-selected words using wikispaces, thinklink and powerpoint slides.
Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy Plus Examples

2. Graphic Morphemic Analysis

The Graphic Morphemic Analysis strategy is an approach to word learning that will help readers unlock them meaning of new and challenging words by analyzing the meaningful parts within a word.

When to use the strategy:

  • It may be employed before and after reading as part of the vocabulary instruction.
  • To prepare students for reading the selected text, the teacher may focus on one or two vocabulary words to demonstrate how their meanings are related to the morphemes within the word.
  • After reading, the students have a better understanding of the context in which the words are used; therefore, the teacher directs them to use the Graphic Morphemic Analysis strategy to determine words meaning utilizing each word's context and morphemes.

Strategy modifications for grade levels:

Researchers found that fourth-and fifth-grade students learn and use morphemic analysis for increasing word learning. Because the analysis of words is a developmental process, Moats (200) suggests that teaching first-graders about roots and affixes increases their proficiency in word recognition. Morphemic analysis presented to primary-grade students should focus on the root words and their meanings (Biemiller, 2004). As students learn to see the meaningful parts of the word, the teacher may introduce prefixes, and suffixes.


1. Select a words form the assigned readings for teaching the strategy.

2. Engage students in a discussion on the purpose of the strategy.

3. Use a think-aloud to demonstrate how to divide a word into its parts.

4. Demonstrate how to examine each word part for its meaning.

5. Guide students thorough he process of using a graphic organizer (see below) to analyze a word a determine its meaning.

6. Int he appropriate box, write the sentence that contains the target word.

7. Show students how to figure out the meaning of the word.

8. Check the meaning of the word with the dictionary definition.

Graphic Morphemic Analysis of the Word immigrants (Example)

Students in the fourth grade were learning about how the Transcontinental Railroad

helped build America. The teacher engaged the class through a read-aloud of Railroad

Fever: Building the Transcontinental Railroad, 1830–1870 by Monica Halpern (2003).

After a discussion of each major part of the book, the teacher engaged students in the study of the important words that were needed to understand the major concepts and ideas within the selected passage. After discussing Chapter 3, “The Workers,” the teacher focused on where the workers came from and used the Graphic Morphemic Analysis strategy to teach the word immigrants. Using the graphic shown below the teacher taught students how to analyze the word to look for its meaningful parts

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Differentiating Instruction for English Language Learners

English language learners (ELLs) benefit from the study of morphemic analysis. ELLs

oftentimes do not hear the suffix that appears at the end of the word. Further, many of

the suffixes change the word’s tense or change it from a singular to a plural noun.

Although this subtle change is not obvious for most English-only students, it is important

that ELLs receive additional attention in learning words that contain suffixes such

as -s, -ing, -ed, and -ly.

Another way to modify instruction for ELLs is to use words with cognates (a word

part originating from a language other than English) that relate to their first language.

Hiebert and Lubliner (2008) argue that a high number of words in content-area curriculum have Spanish cognates, many of which are part of everyday discourse in their native

language. However, because ELLs cannot make the connection between the new vocabulary word and cognate, teachers need to assist them in creating this relationship.