Don’t Give Up on Improving Your Students’ Vocabulary Skills

Stick with your plan; give your lessons time to work

I recently designed some daily bell-ringer activities to teach my students some new vocabulary words. To create these on-going brief lessons, I continue to use Vocab Gal’s “Power Words of the Week” from Sadlier’s ELA Blog, and “Vocabulary Words of the Day” from Prestwick House.

One way teachers can build a word-rich environment in the classroom is by spotlighting a weekly vocabulary word. Use my vocabulary Power Word of the Week to ensure vocabulary instruction occurs daily in your classroom!
This is an example of the Vocab Gal’s Power Word of the Week slides. I copy each image into a PowerPoint and leave it on the SMART Board while we do the various activities explained in this post.

Words we’ve recently learned include the following:

  • paragon
  • perpetuate
  • aloof
  • virtuoso
  • gossamer
  • fend
  • inimitable
  • pejorative

Read Eight Ways to Explore New Vocabulary Words to learn about the specific activities we use to explore each word and to download some FREE PDF files of the handouts I use.

Even though these images from Prestwick House suggest using them daily, I use the same word for a full week. I think that helps kids learn the words more effectively.


At times over the past seven to eight weeks,

I’ve wondered whether my vocab activities are becoming a little

stale. A little repetitive. Yawn-inducing. 

And then over the weekend, as I reviewed second drafts of writing projects that students had turned in during writer’s workshop last week, I noticed two students had used the word “inimitable.” Do you know (of course, you do!) how gratifying it was to see my students using words they had recently acquired as a result of my “repetitive” vocabulary lessons?

A student used the word inimitable in her Treasured Object poem.

I guess repetition has its merits, after all.

It’s easy to doubt myself. I do it a lot. My self-doubt has, at times, caused me to alter my teaching when I’ve suspected it wasn’t working. My self-doubt has, at times, even caused me to discontinue a particular unit or strategy.

And to be honest, I had thought about pushing the pause button on these vocabulary lessons. However, when I read the word “inimitable” in my students’ drafts, I changed my mind.

Another student used the word inimitable in her personal essay.

Exposing kids to new words during a four-day week’s worth of bell-ringer activities seems to be taking hold. When kids acquire new words and then use them to express themselves in poetry or a personal essay, that’s all the confirmation I need to stick with my plan. These two students have given me enough incentive to stay with these vocab lessons and not alter or discontinue them just yet.

Are you like me in this regard? Do you question whether your vocab instruction is helping your students? Don’t assume it’s not working. Continue to expose your students to new words that will give them the precision they need to fully express their ideas in writing. Don’t give up on your vocabulary instruction. Keep with it. Persevere.

Marilyn Yung

Thanks for reading!

This vocabulary pep talk has been brought to you by me. Seriously, vocabulary gets short shrift; kids need to acquire an extensive vocabulary as they transition to high school and college or the workplace.

What are your tried-and-true vocabulary lesson ideas? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below or by sending me a message via my Contact page.

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Treasured Object Poems

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Published by Marilyn Yung

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Give Up on Improving Your Students’ Vocabulary Skills

  1. Thank you for the encouragement. It is gratifying to see students use what they learn from us in their projects.

    I noticed both examples you provide are printed copies of student work. Most of my projects are designed to be turned in electronically, though I’m beginning to wonder if students would take my deadlines more seriously if I required a hard copy by a certain date.

    Do you require students to turn in hard copies? If so, how do you logistically handle that? My students do not have printer access on their devices, though they can go to the library to print (albeit, on a single PC for the whole school).

    1. Hey! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Yes, I always have students turn in hard copies. I like the transaction. And I like that they have created a tangible product. I’m “old school” in this regard, but then again, I’m old. (ha!) I know I’ve had students turn in assignments electronically only a few times EVER. I do, however, see the benefits of being able to comment/edit directly on student work in Google Docs. In fact, that’s been very helpful at times in the past, but I still have them turn in a hard copy as a regular practice.

      Do you think a printed paper somehow feels more “official,” and maybe that’s why it seems that students take a deadline less seriously when it “just” gets submitted online? Do they think that submitting it means that it won’t get read as carefully? On their part, is it a submit-it-and-forget-it mentality?

      Logistically, I guess I’m just used to lugging around piles of paper.

      As for student devices… it seems like your kids use Dell computers, is that right? My students use Chromebooks that are in a cart in my room, and I’ve shared their email addresses to my cloud-enabled classroom printer via Google Cloud Print. (Prior to this fall, my students also had to leave the room to go to the library to log onto a PC and then print; my new printer and Google Cloud Print is awesome.)

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