The “How” of Teaching Vocabulary

In Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher’s Manual by Marzano and Pickering (2005), the following steps are recommended:

  1. Begin with a story or explanation of the term. Modeling how you use the word in your life or in conversation may be helpful to students.
  2. Have students put information into their own words. This process, which I call “recoding,” is necessary to make sure students understand the word. This is a vital step in the memory process. Skipping this step can be disastrous as students may have a misconception that will be placed in long-term memory through incorrect rehearsals (Sprenger, 2005).
  3. Ask students to draw a picture or a graphic representation of the word. According to Ruby Payne (2009), if students cannot draw it, they really don’t know it.
  4. Provide several engagements with the term and have students write them in a notebook. Research suggests that writing is good for the brain and memory, so using those notebooks or some other platform for writing is important (Snowdon, 2001).
  5. Informal rehearsals are just as important as formal ones. Engage students casually in conversation using the term. Putting them in pairs and letting them discuss their definitions is a good way to see if all students are storing the same information.
  6. Play games with the words. Games are a brain-compatible strategy for reinforcing learning. Actively processing vocabulary words in multiple ways allows the brain to store information in multiple memory systems, thus making access to that information easier with multiple triggers or cues (Sprenger, 2010).
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