Home Best Practices & Interventions How to Teach Vocabulary in Secondary Classrooms

How to Teach Vocabulary in Secondary Classrooms

by Melissa Kruse
How to teach vocabulary to middle and high school students #vocabulary #lessonplans

So you want to upgrade your vocabulary game. This time, you’re serious. You’re done with the worksheets and memorization games that leave both you and students desiring more. Where should you begin? Keep reading. I’ve got plenty of unique ideas for how to teach vocabulary in secondary classrooms (meaningfully and effectively).

These blog posts should help you to recreate a program you are proud of — one you love! Vocabulary is one of my favorite topics to teach, but it has taken me a while to get comfortable with it.

I hope that you find some helpful strategies, activities, and tips to increase student learning in this collection of articles.

Wanting to teach vocabulary meaningfully and effectively in the secondary classroom? Here are some brain-based learning, differentiated approaches that will increase student learning. #highschoolela #vocabularyactivities

Choosing a Vocabulary Program

Before you begin, you’ll want to establish your vocabulary goals. Do you want students to learn words in the context of what they are reading? Do you want to determine word lists, or will students generate their own? Does your course lend itself well to Greek and Latin root word study? There are so many options! If you’re not sure, take a peek at some possibilities in this post.

Retention: Not Memorization

If you want to focus on helping students learn new words instead of memorizing them, you’ll want to read this post. You’ll find recommendations for the amount of words you should assign, how to practice the words, and how to make assessments meaningful. The goal is have students who come back to you saying, “I am finding our vocabulary words in my independent reading!”

From Basic to Deep Understanding

Help students move from basic understanding of words to a deeper, more analytical view. If you need some motivation and specific philosophical approaches to worthwhile vocabulary instruction that directly relates to all content areas, read this.

Brain-Based Learning

Get students to make brain-based connections with their vocabulary words. You know why it’s important, but you’re lacking specific takeaway strategies to make it happen. If you’re wondering how to teach vocabulary with the brain in mind, you’ll love these tips. This post details five vocabulary activities to use in your secondary classroom.

Engaging Activities

I love putting students in the driver’s seat with vocabulary instruction. It shouldn’t be “sit and get.” Vocabulary learning should sound noisy, look messy, and feel fun. This post outlines five more strategies for getting students actively involved in practicing their vocabulary words.

Differentiating Meaningfully

I have a passion for differentiating learning in meaningful ways. If you know you want to switch up your approach but don’t know how to teach vocabulary differently, try incorporating some of these simple yet creative techniques. Plus, you’ll read about an extension activity that will allow students to focus on how they learn best.

Picture Associations

If you aren’t using pictures to teach vocabulary, this one is a game changer. Helping students to make meaningful visual connections with their words takes vocabulary retention to a whole new level. But! There are so many ways to use pictures with vocab. Read about a handful of options in this post.

Word Walls

No matter the content area, students benefit from scaffolding with vocabulary. Word walls are a research-based approach to helping students remember new words longer. This post has some helpful tips for creation.

Sure, your first attempt at incorporating some of these strategies might not be perfect. But, you will laugh. I promise. And, students will remember more words. Making vocabulary instruction meaningful should be a top priority. Literacy matters. Words matter. Teaching students to love words is part of developing a literacy culture. Let’s seize the opportunity.

5 Ways to Incorporate Vocabulary in Writing

Go beyond the expected. Story writing? We can get more creative and informative! Students benefit from using writing to practice using their vocabulary words. School associations, RAFTs, gallery walks, and more. Read about five engaging options in this post I wrote for teachwriting.org.

10 Must-Teach Vocabulary Words

Choosing vocabulary words can be tricky! Looking for specific word nerd inspiration? Here are 10 words that all students should learn before graduating, along with inspiration for teaching them.


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Use these brain-based, differentiated learning tools to help students remember words long after the unit is over. They can be used more than once per year, and there are enough activities that students will never get bored. Pick and choose what works for your students’ needs and your classroom culture.  Some of the activities included also make for great back up sub plans.

Looking for fun and effective vocabulary activities? Try these brain-based engaging strategies. #HighSchoolELA #VocabularyActivities

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