6 Tips for Teaching Vocabulary to Middle School Students

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Building your students’ vocabularies is one of the most important jobs for a middle school English teacher. The growth your students experience positions them for success as they move on to high school and, ultimately, out into the real world. Unfortunately, vocabulary can often be one of the more difficult topics to teach, as every round of new words provides its own unique set of challenges. If you’re looking for new ways to improve the way you teach vocabulary in your middle school classroom, here are six tips to help you do your best to teach your students.

Teach to the Content

One of the best ways to increase your students’ vocabularies in a manner that they can immediately apply is to teach to the content being covered in your class reading. Before starting a new novel, have the students read through the first chapter on their own, or skim the first few chapters, and take note of any words that they don’t know. This will give the class a sampling of the reading level and types of words they’ll be facing, and their resulting lists can help you pick out common questions to populate a list of functional vocabulary words to teach.

Create Challenge Tiers

Whether you have created your own list or populated one based on the upcoming reading lesson, it’s time to break the potential words down into tiers. The first tier is for words that the class is already comfortable with. If you created a base list but no students expressed issues with a word on that list, for example, you can move it to no focus needed. Tier two are the top priority, as they are challenging words that the students are likely to experience with some consistency. Finally, tier three words are challenging, but also less likely to be required very often. These three tiers can help you make cuts when trimming your final list.

Create a Segmented System

One problem that many young students face when learning vocabulary is getting overwhelmed when asked to take on too much too soon. A better approach is to break the list down into smaller segments and have the students study a portion each night during the unit so that, by the time the end of the unit arrives, they have a stronger understanding of each because they were able to focus more on each word at the time they were learning it.

Utilize Reading for Meaning

Another advantage of picking vocabulary words that are from your class reading is how easy it makes teaching them. Even when the words are not a part of a book being read, you can develop lessons that use the words in paragraphs of text. This provides students with the ability to use sentence context to determine the meaning of the words.

Word Association Exercises

Just because you don’t have the words available in a story format doesn’t mean you can’t allow your class to learn from context clues, however. A fun way to help students learn about the definition of words through context is to play a word association game. Write a vocabulary word on the board, or read one off of the class’ provided vocabulary list, then ask the students who know what it means to raise their hands. Take turns picking one student and having them say the first word they think of associated with the vocabulary word. As more related words are named the others can begin to understand the word’s meaning through context.

Use Context Clues

One of the most effective ways to determine a word’s meaning when it’s new is to use context clues. By having your students do context clue practice then can learn the helpful steps to finding a word’s definition:

  1. Attempt to identify the part of speech
  2. Try replacing the word in the sentence with words that fit the sentence to find synonyms
  3. Study Latin and Greek root words and apply them to unknown words
  4. Find words that are spelled or pronounced similarly

Helping a student develop their vocabulary is one of the most effective ways to prepare them for future success. With these tips, you can better educate the students in your middle school class and help prepare them for their continued education.

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