You already know that vocabulary instruction is essential to your students' development—reading comprehension depends on having strong language skills. But how do you integrate vocabulary instruction into your daily teaching? Here are a few ideas.

1. Latin and Greek Roots

Studying Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes is one of the best methods of vocabulary study, and with good reason—many English words borrow elements from Latin and Greek words. If your students can recall Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes, they'll have a huge advantage when it comes to learning new words and deciphering word meanings instantly.

Many general academic and domain-specific words are derived from Latin and Greek, including those used in a scientific discipline or context. For example, anthropology is derived from anthropo (meaning “human”) and logia (in modern usage, “the science or study of”). Anthropology means, literally, “the study of humans.” A few roots your students should know:

  • ambi/amphi — both, on both sides, around
  • auto — self
  • bio — life
  • chrono — time
  • geo — earth
  • graph — write
  • morph — form, shape
  • photo — light
  • tele — far, end

Studying Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes can especially help English Language Learners (ELLs) if their first language is Spanish. Spanish is a Romance language, meaning it evolved from Latin. Showing Spanish-speaking ELLs the connections among Latin, Spanish, and English can help them better understand English, which can be a very tough language to learn.

One fun way for students to study Latin and Greek roots is to have them construct their own words from a few roots, prefixes, and suffixes and then define them. It doesn't matter if the words your students construct are "real" words or have any actual utility. As long as students can (accurately) define the words they build, they're on the right track. The more practice your students get with these roots, prefixes, and suffixes, the better, and many students love activities in which they can show off a little creativity. Who knows? This could be the activity that ignites a student's love of language.

2. Words of the Week

This method involves selecting a few words and creating activities and exercises around these words, as well as using them regularly in class; if students encounter the words repeatedly, they're more likely to commit them to long-term knowledge.

The number of words you can teach your class certainly depends on the learning preferences of your students; some might learn vocabulary at a more rapid pace than others. Still, it's a good idea not to exceed 15 words per week—there's only so much students can commit to memory in a short timeframe.

3. Teaching Vocabulary from Literature

Want your students to remember the words you're teaching them? Make these words an integral part of your curriculum. One of the best ways to do this is to teach vocabulary from the literature your students are already reading.

Prior to beginning a literature unit, go through the book and identify challenging words from every chapter/act/section, and base any activities/exercises you build on these words.

One benefit of this approach is that whichever lessons you use or create will be reinforced when your students come across the vocabulary words in the book.

Of course, this approach is time-consuming and requires extra effort. The results are often worth it, but you could also look into time-saving products that do the busy work for you.

Another approach is to identify concepts or themes in the text you're teaching and come up with lists of words that relate to those concepts or themes. This is a great way to introduce words that aren’t found in the text but are still relevant—and vocabulary study must be relevant, or students won't retain what they’ve learned.

4. Word Walls

A word wall is exactly what it sounds like: a wall in your classroom covered in words (and their definitions) that students are in the process of learning.

Word walls can be helpful in many ways. Some teachers use them for words their students find troublesome—whether it’s difficulty spelling the words, confusing them with other words, or lacking an understanding of the precise meanings of words. 

The best feature of a word wall is that it's persistent; word walls are meant to be living documents that develop over time with input from both the teacher and students. This persistence ensures that students encounter the words repeatedly, increasing the likelihood that they will commit these words to long-term memory.

Another approach is to build word hubs—relating the vocabulary in some way to a central term that students likely already know. This is a great way to teach students synonyms and shades of meaning.

For example, let's say that your central word is sad. Spokes extending from that hub could include unhappy, dejected, melancholy, disconsolate, and lugubrious. Students could then try to use each of these words in different contexts, gradually developing an understanding of how they are used and how they differ from one another.

5. Pre-prepared Vocabulary Programs

The previous four methods of vocabulary instruction have one thing in common: They all require hours of prep work. If you need to save time (and who doesn't?) or are less familiar with developing tools for vocabulary instruction, you may want to try a pre-prepared vocabulary program.

For Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes:

For Common Core/General vocabulary study:

For SAT/ACT test prep:

For budget-conscious schools:

For context-based vocabulary study:

For remediation/students working below grade level:

What methods of vocabulary instruction do you like best? Let us know in the comments!