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Building Robust Vocabulary



Many of our students arrive with insufficient vocabularies.  In the case of some students, as Hart & Risley found, they may be MILLIONS of words behind their peers even when they begin kindergarten.  Parents can help by READING ALOUD to their children, and so can teachers.  For a great resource on reading aloud, see the Recommended Reading box below.

This section, “Building Robust Vocabulary,” provides a sample mini-unit of how to teach vocabulary using lessons from Bringing Words to Life, by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (New York: The Guilford Press, 2002).  In the Download Zone, you will find strategies to introduce the words, Do Nows, a game, homework, and a quiz.  Many thanks to Jessica Majerus for sharing these helpful models!

Another idea: WORD-COLLECTING, AKA "Make Your Own Dictionary."
To capitalize on teachable moments, have students collect new words as they emerge during class discussions.  Establish a set of guidelines for what students should record each time:

e.g., the word, a sentence using the word in context, and a user-friendly definition.

For ideas about how to teach VOCABULARY IN CONTEXT, see Vocabulary in Context Strategies--Signals and Context Clues in the Download Zone.  Thanks to Jessika Rao for inspiring this piece!

For more information on how to teach ROOTS, see the “Root of the Week” category in the READING section.


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., and Kucan, L. (2002).  Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction.  New York: Guilford Press.

  • This book provides practical strategies for improving vocabulary instruction K-12, addressing how to select and introduce words, how to review/reinforce meanings, and how to assess vocabulary.

Trelease, J. (2006). The Read-Aloud Handbook.  New York: Penguin Books.

  • This book explains how reading aloud to children strengthens their literacy skills, enhances their interest in reading, and ultimately leads to academic achievement.  In addition to making the case for reading aloud, it also provides an annotated list of excellent texts to read aloud.
  • For more information, check out the author's Website HERE.


Zwiers, J. (2008).  Building Academic Language: Essential Practices for Content Classrooms.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  • This book explains how language plays a key role in learning and shows what teachers can do to help ALL students develop the language they need to succeed academically.
  • You can see excerpts and links to additional resources HERE.



















IN THE DOWNLOAD ZONE for Building Robust Vocabulary:




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