Closing the Vocabulary Gap

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1) The weaker the class, the higher level your vocabulary needs to be - all the research says that weak readers get weaker, and many of our weakest readers are also coming from challenging backgrounds where they are not exposed to top level vocabulary. I taught my year 9 literacy class the word ‘predicate’ before the holidays and they remembered it first week back.

2) Give them 5 random words at the start of the lesson with definitions (google top level vocabulary and you’ll find loads of useful websites) and as a starter get them to use them. It could be to describe a character, a scene, a textured fabric, a process, an experience of learning. You’ll be amazed how often those 5 words get repeated in their next piece of work after you’ve forgotten them!

3) Use mini-whiteboards and workbooks - so many pupils don’t use a word in their writing because they are afraid they will spell it incorrectly. Mini-whiteboards and workbooks take away this fear and allow you to correct as you wander.

4) Ban boring words - good, bad, happy, sad, nice, thing - have them on the wall if you like! Whatever your subject, don’t let them use any of these words either written or verbally. They know a lot of better words but can get lazy.

5) Give a middle option - when asking about meanings of words, I always give the third option to ‘know’ or ‘don’t know’ which is ‘familiar but not sure’. At the start of a unit, I give them a homework to print the keywords and code them for these three categories. The extra category builds confidence as often they have heard or seen a word before but aren’t comfortable using it. By allowing ‘familiar but not sure’ it saves them from feeling that every word has to be a ‘don’t know’ just to be safe.

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