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8 Ways to Super-Charge Classroom Vocabulary

Building your pupils' word bank will have a significant impact on their speaking and writing skills, confidence and academic outcomes, says Vocabulary Ninja, Andrew Jennings...

  • 8 Ways to Super-Charge Classroom Vocabulary

1 | Teach a word a day

Use Vocabulary Ninja’s Word of the Day to move pupils from word poverty into a world of word wealth. It’s provided each school day, with a Grasshopper and Shinobi level. There’s a free iPad and iPhone app you can download from the App Store, or you can access it via Twitter or at vocabularyninja.wordpress.com.

2 | Supercharge your displays

Having a dedicated display will provide a valuable focal point for any vocabulary you have taught or have encountered. By displaying the words you have taught and discussed, you promote independent use of the vocabulary and create a conscious and reliable reference point in the classroom for all pupils to access and use in their writing.

3 | Use high-quality texts

This may not be a particularly new concept but using high-quality texts will ensure your pupils are exposed to a nutritious and well-balanced diet of vocabulary. If you want to take your use of vocabulary to the next level, read ahead of your pupils and create your own words of the day to teach a week or so before they will encounter them in the book. Your pupils will be overwhelmed with excitement when that word magically appears in the text, and they know what it means! Reading aloud, if you don’t already, will ensure maximum engagement and maximum impact.

4 | Be the exemplar – modelling

As with any skill we want to see our pupils replicate, the teacher must be the exemplar. Find every opportunity to include explicit vocabulary choices when you model writing, read books, speak to pupils in the corridor or in assemblies – every moment. Words are more than just a component of writing; they are the tools that allow us to understand and engage with the world around us, so pupils must see vocabulary in real-world context.

5 | Understand and value marginal gains

Imagine that each word you teach is a piece of plastic that is dropped on the floor or that escapes from a landfill. Ultimately, that one piece of litter won’t cause to many problems. But we all know the problem that plastic pollution is causing the natural world – it’s accumulating in enormous quantities with an impact that could be catastrophic. Now let’s change the context. You must not undervalue each single word you teach – over time the impact of your sustained dedication to words will be immeasurable. The effect, however, could be catastrophic for your pupils if you don’t.

6 | Hollow verbs vs meaning-rich verbs

Train pupils to spot words in their writing like Got, Get and Went. These are what I like to call hollow verbs, because they offer no additional meaning to writing (at least 98% of the time). Teach pupils alternative verbs that are rich in meaning. So, ‘got out bed’ becomes darted or flew, ‘get a point’ becomes score or record, and ‘went the park’ becomes sprinted or skipped.

7 | Master subject knowledge

Know your stuff inside out when it comes to words – from your simple verbs and nouns, all the way to your subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases. Each word has role in a sentence, a job to do. Understanding each role properly will help you transform pupils from Grasshoppers to Grand Masters.

8 | Free vocab-lab app

Children overuse many words such as happy, sad, went, so and only. Mostly because they have a narrow vocabulary and don’t have any alternatives to use. Well, now they do! Downloaded 90K times, the Vocab Lab App is free, and offers 600 alternative word choices for 100 commonly overused words. Just search Vocab Lab in the App Store and get using it straight away – pupils love it.

Andrew Jennings is an assistant headteacher and author of Vocabulary Ninja (£17.99, Bloomsbury). Find out more at vocabularyninja.co.uk and follow on Twitter at @VocabularyNinja.

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