which vocabulary words should you be teaching and when

How do you know which vocabulary words you should be teaching?

How do you know which vocabulary words you should be teaching?

Two questions we are always asking as teachers are, “How do I know which vocabulary words to teach?” and “When do I teach them?” With all of the changing curriculums, scheduled minutes, data tracking, and everything else we have to do, it’s no wonder we stress about being sure students are learning new words throughout the day. But, there can be an easy solution. I have found teaching new vocabulary words during these five times during my day has been extremely helpful in solving this problem!

Read Alouds

DO NOT fall asleep on introducing new vocabulary during read-alouds. Each time I read a new chapter or two in my read-aloud book, I highlight the five words I want to teach for that chapter. Is it always explicit direct instruction? Not necessarily. Sometimes, it is simply bringing attention to these five words and their definitions and seeing if students can remember to use them throughout the week in daily conversations. 

Using read aloud for vocabulary instruction

Content Areas

Another way I teach vocabulary is the most obvious way, during content instruction. Science and social studies are an amazing way to introduce new vocabulary into a lesson. Think carefully about which words you want to teach that can be cross-curricular. For example, can I use the word analyze in science and reading? Absolutely! So that would be one I would certainly want to highlight. I choose vocabulary words that benefit students in other content areas.

Grab a free vocabulary in context sample here!

Vocabulary instruction in a content area for science


 Expanding student word choice in writing is something they will need to know how to do throughout their lives. When students write, I try to make their vocabulary choices sound grade-appropriate but not too wordy. I explain to students how using a thesaurus can be extremely helpful in finding synonyms and antonyms as long as they make sense. How do I do this? By constant modeling! The more we model appropriate word choice in our writing, the more students learn how to do this effectively. Another way I encourage this is by using vocabulary interactive notebooks so students can refer to them during writing time.

Take a look at my vocabulary interactive notebooks here!

Interactive vocabulary notebook


There is nothing more important to me than using rich vocabulary in everyday conversations with students. I am constantly using new words in not only my direct instruction but in my conversations. Even with my ESL students, I encourage the use of higher-tier vocabulary. Why? Because the more times students are exposed to a word, the better chance they have of remembering the definition and using it in their own speaking. For example, instead of saying, “I like how you did that.” Try, “I’m intrigued by how you used that strategy.” 

One way I do this with my English Language Learners is to use conversation cards. It gets students speaking as well as learn new words!

You can find my conversation cards here!


ESL Speaking Strategies Conversation Cards


Word Walls

One of the great things about word walls is how effective and versatile they can be. You can have multiple word walls for different subjects, and they can also brighten up your classroom. I display new words as we learn them and then encourage students to use the word walls in their writing and conversations.

Grab this free Insects word wall below from Raise the Bar Reading!

Raise the Bar Reading World Walls Insects

Be Intentional and Strategic

By teaching vocabulary during read-alouds, vocabulary instruction through content areas, conversations, writing, and utilizing word walls, your students are being exposed to vocabulary throughout the day during instruction that you are already doing. By being intentional and strategic in your vocabulary instruction, students will have the opportunity to be exposed to rich vocabulary all day.

Need more vocabulary instruction ideas? Read these blog posts below for more tips!

Making the Most of Your Morning Work- A Vocabulary Focus 

How to Integrate Vocabulary Instruction into Your Busy Day

5 Tips for Teaching Vocabulary in Context-Freebies included!

Happy Teaching!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *