Whether you teach middle school or high school, one of the best methods of vocabulary instruction is teaching new words straight from what your students are reading.

Here are a few helpful ideas, but we'd love to hear yours, too! Let us know in the comments.

Teaching Vocabulary from Literature

Teaching your students vocabulary words that come from the books they're reading for class is a great way to combine literature and vocabulary study.

This can be as simple as collecting a list of words from each chapter and asking your students to define them. However, your students may not retain the words for any length of time unless they practice them and demonstrate that they understand their meanings.

Try this:

  1. List the words you want your students to learn and include the page numbers on which these words can be found.
  2. Ask your students to read the passages that surround the words and write their own definitions of each word based on how it's used in the passage.
  3. Have them consult a dictionary when they're finished to determine how close their definitions are to the accepted meaning.

Doing this forces students to think about the words as they're reading, and writing their own definitions forces them to think even more about how the words are used and what they mean. If there are words that can have multiple meanings, make sure to point these alternate meanings out.

Another method is to ask them to write sentences in which they use the word in question. Usually, this will be enough to show you whether they understand the word or not, but you may need to see several sentences. After all, many words have subtle shades of meaning and students may not understand the precise use of these words unless you guide them to that understanding.

Yet another way to teach vocabulary from literature is with more "traditional" tools—fill-in-the-blank sentences, multiple-choice questions, etc. If you want to save time creating these lessons, check out our series of downloadable teaching guides appropriately called Vocabulary from Literature.

Related Post: 5 Engaging Exercises for Vocabulary Practice

Using News Sources to Teach Domain-Specific Words

Domain-specific words are all the rage these days, and a good way for students to learn them is to read news articles.

If you need an article about a specific word, chances are that the article has been written; take to the wide world of the internet and track it down. Articles often give a lot of essential context about the word in question—more than students will get from reading a sentence or paragraph. The more students read about a subject, the better.

Related Post: Teaching Domain-Specific Words

Teaching Shades of Meaning

If you're looking to teach students how to distinguish between similar words by shades of meaning, writing your own examples might be the way to go. After all, finding passages for all the words you want to use can be very time-consuming.

Teaching shades of meaning can help you teach a bit of literary technique as well. Giving students two sentences with only one word's difference between them can be an excellent exercise in analyzing how word choices affect the mood and/or tone of a piece. At the same time, this should teach students the finer differences between these words and help them marshal their words more precisely.

Related Post: Developing Creative Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary

Always Give Enough Context

Whether you're writing your own examples or selecting specific passages to teach vocabulary, one thing is always necessary: you must make sure the selection you choose gives students enough context to determine the meaning of the word you're teaching. Let's look at a couple of sentences as an example of how not to teach students what the word metaphor means:

What does Max do after Gwen runs off? What metaphor does Max use in the first paragraph to describe how he feels?

Students reading this won't be able to determine what a metaphor is—at best, they'll understand that a metaphor describes something. Of course, you won't find these sentences in a literary text, but the caveat still applies.

Related Post: 4 Methods of Teaching Vocabulary

Employ Ready-Made Materials

Of course, you can always use packaged programs to build your vocabulary units. Why not try Vocabulary in Context? Each book in the series—Wilderness Survival, The History of Hip-Hop, and Mysteries, Curiosities & Wonders—introduces over 125 vocabulary words in high-interest contexts and uses classroom-proven lessons to make sure that students remember the words they encounter.

How do you like to teach vocabulary in context? Let us know in the comments.