Engaging Engagement

Many of you have mentioned improved engagement as one of your goals for teaching word knowledge. Although there are great games and activities that help with this (be sure to try out Pyramid WordUp), there are 3 general approaches that can improve any lesson.

First, keep in mind that you do not need to teach students to remember all their definitions. Flash cards are rarely motivating or engaging and certainly not effective. When it comes to teaching vocabulary, the goal is improved reading comprehension, not memorized definitions. Assess their reading comprehension rather than give them vocabulary tests, to see if the work you are doing with them is effective.

You need only to bring students to level three understanding as described in Edgar Dales work, The Living Word Vocabulary (1965): A sense of what the word means in context. 

This means providing students with opportunities to connect meaningfully in a variety of contexts, with their words. This “sense” is enough for your ultimate goal…improved reading comprehension.

Read more about this in my blog We Don’t Know Words From Adam 


Next, put more of the responsibility for learning on your students. No, not by adding pressure and making demands, but by providing the freedom to choose. Whenever possible let them choose the words they would like to learn. If they don’t know how, teach them. See my blog A Time for Words.

This can be scary to do in a classroom full of students. Sometimes labeled “structured chaos,” it’s the word chaos that puts fear in most of us.

Need help with this? You are not alone! Read How one Teacher Let Go of Control to Focus on Student

Centered Approaches. “Academically, the kids dive deeper when they determine where they’re headed.”

And/or read  How do We Know When Students Are Engaged. “The ultimate engagement is to put the learner in charge of learning.”

If your curriculum makes it impossible for students to select some of their own words, give them other opportunities for choosing such as setting personal goals, choosing partners, and choosing ways to share their word knowledge.


Finally, be sure students get to talk, a lot! This is one thing they all (almost) know how to do.

Teach them to look for personal connections to their words.

Your role is to be supportive of all their ideas but expect them to explain their connections. When they have to explain their thinking (metacognition) to a peer partner they also have an opportunity to listen to that partner’s ideas, expanding their thinking.

This takes modeling in the classroom and well-orchestrated practice but is very achievable and essential to engaged learning.

Read more about learning through talking: Supporting Social Interaction in an Intelligent Collaborative Learning System.

And/or read: Peer Learning: Enhancing Student Learning Outcomes


If the teaching tools you use in your classroom do not provide the flexibility for incorporating these 3 approaches take a look at VOCABUTRIX and Pyramid WordUp. They are designed with these strategies in mind.

We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below!

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