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Introducing Powerful Vocabulary

Nadine has been researching and testing how to improve her class’ vocabulary. Here, she shares how she has been getting on and encourages others to give it a try.

Bringing powerful vocabulary into the children’s daily diet is one of the latest buzz terms at the moment. I have been fortunate enough to have the challenge of doing this in my own setting and I am a long way off where I want to be, but I wanted to share the journey I have found myself following, so far.

I had, somewhat foolishly, assumed that because I used powerful vocabulary with my class and also with my own children, that everyone else did as well. However since I have been researching others practise, I have found that this is not necessarily always the case. Whenever I have a snippet of time in the evening, on weekends when my children are away or in the morning before anyone in my household is awake, I am frantically reading. I have absorbed published texts, from cover to cover, that have been invaluable to my background knowledge such as ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ by Alex Quigley and ‘Bringing Words to Life’ by Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown and Linda Kucan, to name but a few. I’ve lost time online, trailing through Twitter threads to gain an insight into how others are developing the use of Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary and finally, having strengthened my own knowledge I have been trialling different techniques within my classroom.

  • Step 1 – My English blocks are always based around a rich text and they usually last 3 weeks. 
  • Step 2 – As we read the text for the first lesson, the children identify vocabulary in two lists. List 1 is words that they are unsure of the meaning of. List 2 are words that the children feel are dull, everyday words (Tier 1 vocabulary). 
  • Step 3 – Working in pairs the children have a thesaurus and dictionary and using the list of Tier 1 words, they work together to find a definition and powerful alternatives to each of the words on the list. 
  • Step 4 – Having created a list of powerful alternatives, Tier 2 vocabulary, the children and I work together to create a sentence that uses each of these words. I then add a photograph that corresponds to the sentence. 
  • Step 5 – Each day the children and I read through the meaning of the Tier 2 vocabulary to ensure that they know and understand the meaning of each word. I create a PowerPoint that includes on one slide the powerful word and the definition of the word, then on the next slide an image and a sentence that incorporates the Tier 2 word.

I then incorporate other ways of bringing these words into our daily lives

  • One of my Early Morning Work tasks is that the children have an image on the Interactive Whiteboard and they need to write their own sentence about it, incorporating one of the Tier 2 words that we have been learning. 
  • When we go through the vocabulary PowerPoint, I will change the image that is with Tier 2 word. The children will then write a new powerful sentence for that image which includes the Tier 2 word. 
  • The children have jobs within the classroom and one of the weekly jobs is to be the Word Wizard. This means that they listen to their peers and when they hear a Tier 2 word being used, they add a team point to that persons chart. 

I have found that without too much reminding the children’s vocabulary is beginning to improve and they are starting to use these Tier 2 words in a range of different subjects. 
I am a long way off the perfect model. I’m just a teacher putting it all into practice but I’m thrilled with the progress that the class and I have made so far and as I’m certain that others are looking to improve the language that is being used within their classroom practice, I wanted to share this with you all.


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The author

Nadine has worked with children for 17 years having originally trained as an International Montessori Directress and then moving into state schools by completing a GTP. Nadine is passionate about making the most out of every day, either at school or with her two young children. She has previously written articles that have been published in various magazines including the TES.

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