The 5 Most Important Characteristics of Any Vocabulary Instruction – Plus 1 more

Marilee Sprenger emphasizes in her new book One Hundred and One Strategies to Make Academic Vocabulary Stick,

”Friday is not the only day that vocabulary is important, though you’d never guess that was the case in many classrooms in 2016. This practice is still pervasive and it must stop. Vocab is important every day. We don’t want to create neural pathways (myelination) in students’ brains that hardwire them to care about vocabulary only on Friday. (p. 37)”

There are lots of wonderful ways to teach vocabulary. You don’t need many, but you need ones that work. Whichever strategies you use, make sure they utilize the 5 top researched principles below and then commit to spending more time on word learning. That is really all there is to a top notch word learning program!

The 5 guiding principles:

  1. Create opportunities for students to make connections to their background knowledge.
  2. Create opportunities to talk about the words, including saying them aloud and using them in conversation.
  3. Create opportunities to visualize understanding of a new word.
  4. Create opportunities to learn words in context and to practice context clue skills.
  5. Foster word consciousness by modeling awareness and joy and through social learning.

VOCABUTRIX, Pyramid Wordup, Worder Nerds, POP, and for K-3  Jenn’s Vocabulary Graphic Organizer and Cathy’s  Anchor Charts all support these guiding principles. Be sure to try the stick drawing version of Pyramid Wordup for enhancing visualizations. Your kids will love it (and you will enjoy the quiet nature of this activity)!

Did I say that these principles are all there is to a great vocabulary program? Well there really is one more thing…

The other important best practice for word learning is frequently left off the list (note that it is not in the above list) perhaps because it seems so obvious. It is also very hard to manage.


Students should learn words they don’t already know.

See what I mean… obvious! But most curriculums don’t support this well. They produce a standard list of words that all the students should learn, whether they need to or not. With time for word learning being such a precious commodity, it seems crazy to ask some of your students to spend time on words they already know.

There is a good reason why this keeps happening.

It can be very time consuming to create personalized word lists for each child in your classroom. It requires providing a wide range of words for students to learn from, pre-assessing their levels of knowledge, and then creating activities for everyone at their level of need.

Yes…we are talking about the challenging process of DIFFERENTIATION!

There really is only one solution!

Students must learn to pick the words they don’t know and then be given access to a word learning strategy that can be universally applied at any level.

Have you ever had students say they know all the words in a text and don’t need to learn any, or one who just picks only words he/she already knows? Have you ever seen a curriculum that actually teaches students how to find words they don’t know? Try out Word Find.

Word Find

We already teach classroom routines and learning processes at the beginning of each school year in order for students to build successful and efficient learning patterns in our classrooms

Why not also prepare you students for finding words they don’t know. Add this routine to the mix and model it in a way that helps students see its value.

Make it a game and a fun challenge to find unknown words. Get them excited about all the words they will be able to learn. Learn about Word Find.

Please share below or on our Facebook page any other ideas you have for teaching students to select words they need to learn.

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