One of the best ways to maximize time in the classroom is to blend areas of study. Why not combine literature and vocabulary into hybrid lessons? Teaching advanced-level vocabulary in tandem with literary texts is a great way for students to retain new words while deeply connecting with the books they’re reading.

To better understand the methodology behind teaching advanced-level vocabulary from literature, let's first lay out some of the issues that might make this endeavor difficult.

1. Large word lists
Some literary texts contain hundreds of AP- and/or SAT-level words. Reducing the number of words to a manageable list can be a challenge.

2. Determining which words are most important
Should you teach the words that are most likely to appear on standardized tests? The words that students are most likely to encounter in daily life?

3. Coordinating lessons across your whole curriculum
Which words should you teach early in the year, and which words should you teach later on?

4. Developing retention strategies
How can you ensure students will retain words and incorporate them into their vocabularies for life?

All these challenges are interrelated, and trying to solve one will likely help you solve another. That said, let's move on to possible solutions.

If I were designing a course of vocabulary instruction using literature, the first thing I would do is take a look at all the literary texts I will be teaching over the year and determine the number of weeks I can afford to spend teaching each text. Then, I would determine the number of vocabulary words I want my students to learn each week. Multiply the number of weeks by the number of words to get the total number of words in the vocabulary list for each text. So, if I were teaching 1984 for four weeks, and I wanted to teach my students 15 words per week, I'd select the 60 most essential vocabulary words from 1984.

How can you determine which words are "most essential," though? Here are a few criteria you should look at:

  1. A word's appearance in multiple texts
  2. The frequency of the word in modern usage
  3. The likelihood students will encounter the word on standardized tests

Personally, I would prioritize #1 on this list. I would look at all the texts I plan to teach for the year and cross-reference vocabulary lists. Any word that appears in more than one text becomes part of the vocabulary unit for the text taught earliest in the school year. Students will learn a word they'll need again later in the year (which will help with long-term retention), and it will free up space for another word on a vocabulary list later in the year.

Once you have your word list for each text, you can develop your weekly units. Of course, some excellent words won't make it onto your word lists, but you can't possibly teach every word (and students can't possibly retain them all). Students should certainly be instructed to determine the meaning of any unfamiliar word they come across, regardless of whether it's on the vocabulary list—after all, if they don't understand the individual words they're reading, they won't understand the meaning of the text as a whole.

What this method doesn't help with, however, is sifting through each text to find appropriate vocabulary words. That, unfortunately, requires much more work on the part of the teacher.

Prestwick House offers a series, Vocabulary from Literature, that collects vocabulary words from specific titles and packages them in chapter-by-chapter lessons. Not all the words in each unit can be described as AP-level, but you might find them useful. Popular units include The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein, and more.

I hope the method and resources I’ve presented here will prove helpful in conquering the challenges of teaching advanced-level vocabulary.

This post originally appeared on the Prestwick House Café Blogspot.