Vocabulary in High School

This semester in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study, students were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By Ann V.

Since becoming a high school English teacher close to twenty years ago, I have participated in many conversations centered around how to teach vocabulary in a way so that students will be able to use the words correctly in speaking, writing and reading throughout their lives. Unfortunately, this is a difficulty that doesn’t seem to go away. Despite many different attempts, quality vocabulary instruction is still something that is lacking in many high school classrooms.

Since becoming the English Instructional Coach for my school, I have been put in charge of helping teachers implement several different strategies in their classrooms. One of these instructional strategies that I know I will have to focus on for this coming year is vocabulary instruction and the use of word walls.  We are already expected to use word walls, but there is not a teacher I know that uses it effectively. With the help of the book From Phonics to Fluency, the internet, and adjusting ideas that I have seen done in different classrooms, I have come to understand several important factors involved with teaching vocabulary and also, how word walls can help teachers and students with that vocabulary.

First, with so many words that students must know, how do teachers chose the vocabulary to focus on?  From my understanding, vocabulary must be useful to the students, usable by the students and frequently used in the particular subject area. Also, teachers don’t want to have so many new words that it is overwhelming for the students. Many teachers have the students chose the words that are going to be studied, so they can pick the words that they need help with the most. After deciding what words to focus one, making sure that the students have the opportunity to use these words in meaningful ways is the next step in effective vocabulary instruction.

Word walls can be a very easy, yet meaningful strategy that any subject area teacher can implement into their curriculum. Among many other things, words walls can improve vocabulary which will improve reading, comprehension and writing skills. They also reinforce understanding of vocabulary found in specific subject areas so that the students can internalize these key concepts. Awareness of spelling patterns and therefore, spelling improvement is also a benefit that word walls provide the students. One of the biggest advantages that word walls can contribute to the classroom is students becoming more independent when reading and writing, which is what every teacher strives for.

To make the word walls meaningful is what is important. There are many ways that teachers can make these walls helpful to students. The use of word walls for vocabulary instruction can be used for whole group, small group, or individual activities. In order for the students to use the wall as much as necessary, it is a good idea for the vocabulary on the wall to be in large font so that it is visible from anywhere in the classroom. Also, many teacher organize their words in alphabetical order and color code them so that students can find whatever word they are looking for as quickly as possible. Lastly, making the wall interactive so they students can move the words around makes the students take ownership of the vocabulary.

There are many ways that secondary teachers can teach vocabulary, and using word walls is just one of many ideas that can be used in the classroom in order for students to not only know, but also understand and correctly use new vocabulary.


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