As you know, giving your students great vocabulary instruction is essential to building better English language arts skills. Here are 5 steps you can take that will transform your students into stronger readers and writers.

Step 1: Teach lots of "Tier 2" words.

Vocabulary words are often separated into three "tiers." Tier 1 words are extremely common words, words that students should know: cat, car, book, etc.

Tier 3 words are domain-specific words that are uncommon in everyday reading or speech, but become very important when reading or talking about the domain in which they're found.

Tier 2 words are frequently found words used in general academic study. Students need to know these words because they're used in many different subjects.

Focus your instruction on Tier 2 words, supplementing it with Tier 3 words, and your students will benefit greatly.

Step 2: Teach Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

We bang the Latin-and-Greek-roots drum pretty often around here, but only because this method of vocabulary instruction really does work.

I don't know the exact number of English words that either derive from or are direct transfers from Latin and Greek, but it's estimated that around 60% of English come from these languages. That's bonkers, and that should make teaching Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes a foregone conclusion.

Now, you can't possibly expect to teach them all. But just as you can teach students a few words each week, you can teach them a few roots, focusing on commonly used ones like auto-, tele-, -logy, etc. Students who know common roots are better equipped to decode unfamiliar words without the help of a dictionary.

Step 3: Use more than printed materials.

Yes, students should read their vocabulary words in print. But they should also hear the words and have a chance to say them out loud. Some educators even find that giving students exercises in which they draw their vocabulary words and definitions improves understanding.

Step 4: Make sure your students encounter vocabulary words many times.

Once you've introduced your students to their vocabulary words, repeated exposure is crucial. Students need to see new words as many times as possible, in as many different contexts as possible—that's how words permanently enter lexicons. One of the best ways to make sure your students encounter their vocabulary words often is to select those words from the works of literature you already teach.

Reinforce their literature study with other methods, including word walls, worksheets, and writing exercises, and your students will have better recall ability.

Step 5: Post-test and refine.

You've just taught a successful unit. Congratulations! Now it's time to give your students an assessment and see what they've learned.

(As an aside, it's a good idea to use words from the unit you've just taught on assessments throughout the year. This might keep students from forgetting words after the test.)

Once the assessment is over, take a step back and assess the unit itself. Check out your students' scores. How do they compare to previous performance? What do you think worked well? What didn't work? Then, ask your students the same questions.