This is a question from Tarek, who teaches both Middle and High students:

I understand how important vocabulary is but honestly, with all the pressures of the curriculum, I can’t find the time to dedicate to vocabulary study. What do you suggest?

I know how you feel. The curriculum can get very heavy at these stages and it can also have overwhelming expectations related to exams, etc. 

What I’m going to tell you next is a little strange so…get ready: focusing  your efforts on ‘vocabulary instruction’ is equivalent to the idea that 1+1 = 5. In other words, the efforts that you make ‘paying into’ vocabulary instruction with your students will actually create MORE RESULTS than you expect. That’s why it’s so important for you to make it an active part of your teaching. As we all know, vocabulary provides word knowledge but it actually opens up access to multiple dimensions of learning. Vocabulary learning will allow students to:

  • INCREASE word knowledge 
  • Be better able to COMPREHEND TEXTS (e.g. potentially increasing their reading levels but at the same time, allowing them greater ability to ACTUALLY LEARN FROM READING)
  • Express their thoughts at a HIGHER LEVEL for more advanced reading and writing
  • BUILD UNDERSTANDING of the different aspects of language and grammar (e.g. learn about word patterns and word features)

As you can see, dedicating quality time to vocabulary-learning will give your students many more rewards than you bargained for! It’s not only about learning new words, you’ll be enabling them to BETTER ABSORB the curriculum concepts you’re ready to teach. This is invaluable. The key is knowing that vocabulary instruction doesn’t just mean deliberate teaching of words (e.g. through word lists, quizzes, sentence-writing, etc.); it should also be deeply embedded in your academic (curriculum) discussions and writing activities. Do use some deliberate teaching methods but as you go about your planning, think about activities that will naturally create opportunities to use the target vocabulary words. Plan a variety of group discussions, journal writing and projects since these naturally lend themselves to easy and active use of vocabulary.

I hope now you’re able to understand that vocabulary-teaching doesn’t have to take up so much time and it shouldn’t be thought of in isolation of your curriculum-related activities. You need to think of vocabulary-learning as a natural part of the teaching and learning and as a way to super-charge your students’ learning potential! Then you’ll be more motivated to find new ways to incorporate it into your lessons. I promise you that with consistent attention in this area, you’ll start to see real results in your students’ language, literacy and learning skills.

Are you a teacher, principal or teaching assistant? Would you like to gain more expertise about vocabulary-teaching and other important concepts related to teaching BMLs? If so, learn more about our courses.

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