10 Dos & Don’ts For Teaching Vocabulary In Any Content Area


10 Dos & Don’ts For Teaching Vocabulary In Any Content Area

by TeachThought Staff

With the Common Core adoption in the United States, teaching vocabulary is no longer strictly the domain of the English-Language Arts classroom.

While Robert Marzano has been promoting the instruction of academic vocabulary for years–and many school literacy plans have included reading and writing across the content areas for years–it is now a matter of standard and law. Which makes it kind of a big deal.

And while a small portion of non-ELA teachers may wonder (sometimes out loud) why they have to do “ELA teachers’ jobs and their jobs too,” this is a change that’s been a long time in coming. The above infographic from eyeoneducation.com offers up some simply tips in Dos-and-Don’ts format–brief enough to be practical, and simple enough for even the most novice teacher to use.

10 dos and donts for vocabulary instruction


  • Dine (Navajo) paradigm is another way of understanding the new ways to teach Vocabulary:
    Observe-manipulate the word, What kind of meaning does it have? Think about what it means, Speak or collaborate with a classmate about the new terms, plan a way to understand the word with a classmate, use the new terms in real life, what is the change or result of knowing the new terms? Reflect.

  • I would add one more DO to this list and that is to mainly work with vocabulary that can fit onto the scaffolding that the students already have access to. Teaching words that they can’t readily incorporate into what they can say ( in sentences) will limit their ability to remember it,

  • In order to read and comprehend a text, you must know 95% of the words used in it (Betts, 1946; Carver 1994; Hu & Nation, 2000; Laufer, 1988). This makes having a large vocabulary extremely important for students. While some of the tips this post offers to help kids learn words may sound intuitive to people who have experience working with children, they are grounded in solid research: a fact that makes this graphic even more wonderful. Stahl and Fairbanks 1986 research provides scientific backing to the idea that direct vocabulary instruction is worthwhile. Therefore, tip #1 is justified. However, Marilyn Jager Adams, in her 2009 paper entitled The Challenge of Advanced Texts, acknowledges that direct instruction alone does not cover nearly enough words to the give a student an adequate vocabulary. She proposes the importance of reading “lots of ‘complex’ texts – texts that offer [kids] new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought.” This concept supports tip #9 and offers and explanation as to why #9 of the “don’ts” column is ineffective. By teaching only texts with controlled vocabulary, students may not be exposed to many of the English words that Zipf’s law suggests occur infrequently. (Zipf’s law says that there are a few words that occur over and over in English, but a lot of words that occur very rarely).

    Adams’ work also provides support for the idea that oral language is not as lexically rich as written texts. In fact, she says of her study, “of all the oral language samples evaluated, the only one that exceeded even preschool books in lexical range was expert witness testimony.” This conundrum that Adams highlighted emphasizes the need for teachers to be conscientious about actively using a rich vocabulary, since speaking in low level English appears to be our default. This point underscores the basis for tip #10 of the “do this” column. It is essential to note, however, that Adams’ point was that oral language cannot be a substitute for reading because of our reliance on frequently used words. While modeling good vocabulary when speaking is helpful for students, ensuring that they are exposed to texts that introduce them to new words and ideas is fundamental.

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