• Vocabulary interventions are strategies and tools used to help students develop and expand their vocabulary.
  • Effective vocabulary interventions include explicit instruction, context clues, word games, and technology tools.
  • Assessing and tracking progress is important in determining the effectiveness of vocabulary interventions.

As an advocate, I have seen firsthand the importance of vocabulary in academic success. Students who have a strong grasp of vocabulary are better able to comprehend complex texts, communicate effectively, and think critically.

You may hear schools talk about that step from “learning to read, then reading to learn.”

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I’m a Gen-Xer. And, as many of you can probably relate, for us, vocabulary was all about memorization.

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We used flash cards and other games. “Learning” vocabulary is a term that was used generously, because most of us were just using rote memorization. Especially when it was time for SAT testing!

Sure, we had to do essays and other projects that required us to use a certain number of our vocabulary words. But too often, they were words that just were not used in every day language, so we didn’t exactly “master” them.

Not all students come to the classroom with the same level of vocabulary knowledge. Some may be struggling due to a learning disability or sometimes limited exposure.

I have a separate article: What are SDIs? But SDI is a special designed instruction, or IEP interventions.

Vocabulary interventions are strategies and tools used to help students develop and expand their vocabulary. These interventions can be used in a variety of settings, from individual tutoring sessions to whole-class instruction. In this article, I will explore eight effective vocabulary interventions that can be used to support students’ vocabulary acquisition and growth.

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And, I want to note that not only IEP students can receive interventions. While interventions or SDIs are an important part of an IEP, you do not have to have an IEP to receive extra help.

A hand writing the word "vocabulary interventions..." repeatedly on a chalkboard.

It’s important that you, as a parent, engage in the IEP process. I know, it’s a lot to learn. But you want to make sure that the interventions that your child is receiving are valid, tested, interventions. Not even kidding–I have seen schools use AR Reader programs to progress monitor dyslexic students. If you know what AR Reader is, you know how crazy that is!

Fundamentals of Vocabulary Acquisition

Advocates write many letters for their clients. I understand the importance of having a strong vocabulary.

Practice often makes perfect, so the more letters I write the better I get at it. And, the more times I use a specific word, the more it become a part of my vocabulary. This is why I am able to use special education acronyms with ease. I use them daily.

The same can be said of vocabulary words.

Exposure to New Words

When we encounter a new word, our brains use cognitive processes to understand its meaning.

These processes include analyzing the word’s structure, identifying its parts of speech, and connecting it to existing knowledge. The first step when we encounter a new word is decoding. Decoding in reading is an essential step in order to move on to higher levels of reading.

If a child is struggling to acquire new vocabulary, make sure they can decode.

When selecting words for explicit instruction, teachers should choose words that are essential to understanding the main idea of the text or unit, used repeatedly or frequently encountered across domains, and not part of students’ prior knowledge.

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Careful word selection is especially important for English Language Learners (ELLs) who may be learning conversational language and academic language at the same time. ELLs may require extensive vocabulary instruction to help them understand academic language.

It’s important to remember that non-native-English speakers can have dyslexia and other learning disabilities too.

I have often seen a child’s skill deficits attributed to living in a Spanish-speaking household, when in fact the child is a native English speaker.

Importance of Contextual Learning

Contextual learning is the process of acquiring new vocabulary through exposure to context. This can include reading books, listening to conversations, and watching movies. Contextual learning is important because it helps us understand how words are used in real-life situations.

Understanding the fundamentals of vocabulary acquisition is crucial for anyone looking to improve their vocabulary.

By using cognitive processes to analyze new words and contextual learning to understand their meaning, we can expand our vocabulary and become better writers.

I often share the anecdote of the time I drove past a Grand Union grocery store, and asked my parents why it was called Grand Onion. Presumably I could tell that it was a grocery store, and I knew that grocery stores sell onions. Plus, I probably already knew the prefix -un.

Within the context of my head at the time, calling it the Grand Onion makes a lot of sense.

Vintage black and white photo of a grand union supermarket with vocabulary interventions parked in front.
And look at those prices!

Strategies for Effective Vocabulary Building

I’ve read hundreds of IEPs in the past 15 years. I have found that there are several effective strategies for building vocabulary that can help learners acquire new words and improve their overall language proficiency.

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First, the IEP team needs to address the child’s areas of need (should be listed in Present Levels!) and develop appropriate Vocabulary IEP goals. These should be personalized to the student, and reflect their baselines listed in present levels.

Vocabulary Interventions

Essential Words Routine-The Essential Words Routine is a quick and easy way to preteach important vocabulary words. Teachers use a simple graphic organizer to introduce target words with definitions, visual cues, and examples. Students engage in immediate practice using the words through collaborative student turn-and-talk activities. This routine takes about 5 minutes per word.

Frayer Model-The Frayer Model is a graphic organizer that builds vocabulary and conceptual knowledge across content areas. Students define a vocabulary word and then list its characteristics, examples, and nonexamples. Frayer models can be completed in collaborative groups using textbooks and other subject-matter materials while the teacher circulates around the classroom and assists students. I have many sample graphic organizers and blank Frayer models in those links.

Semantic Mapping-Semantic maps visually display and connect a word or phrase and a set of related words or concepts. Implementing semantic map activities in the classroom helps students recall the meanings of words and understand how multiple words or concepts “fit together.” Teachers can use a semantic map, combined with explicit instruction and practice opportunities, to expand students’ vocabulary and support their content knowledge.

Developing Vocabulary: SDIs

IEPs are to be individualized. The team should determine what works best for that specific child.

Individualized education is delivered by following some strategies, such as:

  • Teach parts of speech like noun and verb through sentence manipulatives.
  • Deliver students evidence based reading programs to develop vocabulary.
  • Play vocabulary based-games.
  • Prepare anchor charts like word families charts, sight words charts, noun, and adjective charts, etc.
  • Hold group discussion and encourage children to speak small sentences or ask them to repeat anything they read in a book or online.
  • Give worksheets on antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms to solve and also for the ‘make sentence’ activity.
  • Partner Review Routine: Partners work together to quickly review words learned the previous day.
  • Sentence Review Routine: Partners create sentences using words assigned by the teacher.
  • Examples and Nonexamples: The teacher tells students scenarios or shows pictures, and students respond chorally to each scenario, indicating whether it is an example or nonexample.
  • What Word Fits? The teacher asks a question, and student partners hold up an index card with the word that fits or answers the question.

Morphonemic Awareness and Vocabulary

Teaching morphemes (prefixes, roots, and suffixes) is one way to help students develop strategies for approaching unfamiliar vocabulary.

Students can be taught the following morphemic analysis routine to help them engage in independent word study. I have a separate article on phonemic awareness.

  1. Identify the morphemes in the word.
  2. Define each morpheme.
  3. Predict the meaning of the word.
  4. Check the meaning of the word in context.

These activities are effective ways to teach vocabulary for all students, but especially for struggling students, students with learning disabilities, and English learners. Teachers can use these activities to help students develop a rich vocabulary and support their content knowledge.

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Multisensory Approaches

One of the most effective ways to build vocabulary is through multisensory approaches, which engage multiple senses to help learners remember new words. This includes kinesthetic or tactile learning. I have a separate list of Classroom Activities for Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners.

These approaches can include activities such as drawing pictures, using flashcards with images, and playing games that involve physical movement.

Try a game of “Vocabulary Charades” in the classroom, where students act out the meaning of a new word while their classmates try to guess what it is. This game engages both the visual and kinesthetic senses, helping students to remember the meaning of the word and its context.

Repetition and Retrieval Practice

Keep in mind that many learning disabled students have executive functioning struggles that include poor working memory skills. That may inhibit the “retrieval” portion of this intervention.

Another effective strategy for building vocabulary is through repetition and retrieval practice. This involves reviewing new words multiple times and actively recalling them from memory.

One way to do this is through spaced repetition, where learners review new words at increasing intervals over time. For example, learners might review a new word the day they learn it, then again after three days, a week, and then two weeks later.

Another effective method is through retrieval practice, where learners actively recall new words from memory. This can be done through activities such as flashcard drills, quizzes, and games that involve matching words to their definitions.

By using these effective strategies for building vocabulary, learners can improve their language proficiency and expand their ability to communicate effectively in English.

Assistive Technology for Vocabulary

Utilizing technological tools can be a great way to enhance one’s vocabulary.

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There are various educational software and apps, as well as online resources and platforms, that can help individuals improve their vocabulary skills.

One type of technological tool that can be used for vocabulary enhancement is educational software and apps. These tools can be accessed on a computer or mobile device, and many of them offer interactive features and games to make learning new words more engaging. Some popular options include:

  • Duolingo: This language-learning app not only teaches foreign languages but also offers a feature to learn new vocabulary words in English.
  • Vocabulary.com: This website and app offer personalized vocabulary practice based on a user’s skill level and interests.
  • Quizlet: This app allows users to create and study flashcards on various topics, including vocabulary.

Online Resources and Platforms

In addition to educational software and apps, there are also various online resources and platforms that can help individuals improve their vocabulary. These resources often offer free access to a wide range of vocabulary-building tools and exercises. Some examples include:

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary: This online dictionary not only provides definitions but also offers a “Word of the Day” feature to introduce users to new words.
  • Khan Academy: This website offers free educational resources on various subjects, including vocabulary-building exercises.
  • Vocabulary.co.il: This website offers a range of vocabulary games and exercises for learners of all levels.

Utilizing assistive technological tools for vocabulary enhancement can be an effective and engaging way to improve one’s vocabulary skills.

Assessment and Progress Monitory

Monitoring progress needs to be discussed at the IEP table….for ALL goals.

I find that many IEP teams run out of steam at this point in the process, and the IEP progress monitoring is cobbled together and pretty shallow.

Any student who is on a regular diploma path will have increased vocabulary expectations as they move through the grades. You want to make sure that the child is in fact learning new vocab words.

Formative assessments are an essential tool for monitoring student learning.

  • Vocabulary quizzes
  • Exit tickets
  • Think-pair-share activities
  • Word sorts

Formative assessments help identify areas where students are struggling and teachers can adjust the instruction to meet their needs.

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Feedback Mechanisms

Providing feedback is an essential component of any effective vocabulary intervention. By using various feedback mechanisms, students can understand their strengths and weaknesses and monitor their progress.

Some examples of feedback mechanisms include:

  • Rubrics
  • Self-assessment checklists
  • Peer feedback
  • Written feedback

Frequently Asked Questions

What are effective strategies for teaching vocabulary in high school?

In high school, it is important to teach vocabulary in context. Using real-world examples and connecting new words to prior knowledge can help students better understand and retain the meanings of new words. Additionally, incorporating games, activities, and visual aids can make vocabulary learning more engaging and interactive.

How can vocabulary interventions be adapted for older learners?

When working with older learners, it is important to consider their prior knowledge and experiences. Vocabulary interventions can be adapted by using teen-specific materials and incorporating real-world examples that are relevant to their lives. Additionally, teen learners may benefit from more independent learning opportunities, such as self-guided activities and online resources.

What are the key principles of developing a strong vocabulary?

Developing a strong vocabulary requires consistent practice and exposure to new words. Incorporating a variety of strategies, such as reading, writing, and speaking, can help reinforce new vocabulary. Additionally, using context clues and word roots can help students understand the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Which vocabulary building strategies are most successful in educational settings?

Research suggests that vocabulary building strategies that incorporate multiple modalities, such as visual aids, games, and real-world examples, are most successful in educational settings. Additionally, providing opportunities for independent practice and incorporating technology can enhance vocabulary learning.

How do trends in vocabulary preparedness affect student learning outcomes?

Students who have a strong vocabulary foundation are more likely to succeed academically and in their future careers. Trends in vocabulary preparedness can impact student learning outcomes, as students who struggle with vocabulary may struggle with reading comprehension and overall academic success.

What steps can educators take to implement successful vocabulary strategies?

Educators can implement successful vocabulary strategies by incorporating a variety of modalities, such as visual aids and games, into their instruction. Additionally, providing opportunities for independent practice and using real-world examples can enhance vocabulary learning. Educators should also assess student progress regularly and adjust instruction as needed.

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More on Reading and Literacy for Students

Raise a Reader!

  1. What is AR Reading? And what do the Color Levels mean?
  2. Tips for Teaching Inflectional Endings or Inflected Endings + Free Worksheet PDF!
  3. Free Phonics Worksheets including CVC, Dipthongs, Vowels, Blends and More.
  4. 10 Research-Based Vocabulary Interventions for an IEP or RTI/MTSS
  5. How to Write a Meaningful IEP for Dyslexia (includes IEP Goals for Dyslexia)
  6. Phonological Awareness vs Phonemic Awareness: What’s the Difference and What’s the Same?
  7. 26 Free Alphabet Worksheets for Preschool and Kindergarten
  8. 20 Common Reading Intervention Programs for Schools (+how to get one on your IEP)
  9. Reading Comprehension Strategies: How to Improve Reading Comprehension (and then Reading Speed and Fluency)
  10. 30 Book Reading Challenge for Kids: Free Printable Reading Tracker
  11. What Is Decoding in Reading? A Simple Explanation
  12. Is Lindamood Bell Worth the Money?
  13. 13 Free Summer Reading Programs For Kids
  14. Dolch Sight Words: Free PDF Lists and Worksheets
  15. What are Temporal Words? (includes anchor chart)
  16. Is Your 3rd Grader Struggling? It’s Probably the Matthew Effect in Reading.
  17. Fry’s First 100 Words | PDF | Printable
  18. What is a Frayer Model? | Example | Blank Template
  19. Elkonin Boxes for Dyslexia | Phonemic Awareness | Examples | PDF

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