Teaching Vocabulary

Teaching Vocabulary

One effective way to teach vocabulary is with index cards. Here’s how:

Step #1

On one side of the index card, students write the vocabulary word in large letters so that it may be used as a response card. For daily practice, students spread their index cards with the words facing up on their desktops. The teacher calls out definitions, synonyms, antonyms, or sentences with missing words. Students locate the correct word and hold up the card. This is a great way for the teacher to check to determine if students need additional practice or if most know the words. Also, each student is participating with each teacher request – ‘the every student, every time theory.’

Step #2

When teaching a new word, I have students create word webs or write definitions on the reverse side of the card. A word such as encyclopedia will need a definition, whereas inspire would be an ideal word for a word web. I usually read the sentence from the text in which the word may be found. The students must use context clues to determine the meaning of the word. As students name synonyms or come up with a great definition, I write it on the board for the students to copy on their cards.

Step #3

Students determine which part of speech the word is as it is used in the sentence from the text. This is written on the back of the card as well.

Step #4

Next I call on volunteers to use the word in sentences. To mix things up, we sometimes write the sentences on the card backs, and other times this is just oral practice.

Step #5

Some words need an illustration. For example, microscope would be a great word for students to draw quick sketches next to their definitions, in place of writing sentences on their card backs. To differentiate instruction, you may have some students draw their illustrations on the front of the card.


Using Index Cards to Teach Vocabulary

Additional Ways to Teach Vocabulary

  • The teacher reads difficult text. One great way to do this is to select a novel the students would enjoy, but could not read independently. Read a few minutes after lunch to the class.

  • The teacher sets up a listening center where students listen to the audio version of the text. Students should follow along in the book while the audio reads the book.

  • The teacher models new vocabulary words on a regular basis.

  • Students create pictures, diagrams, and graphic organizers with vocabulary words.

  • Have the students analyze words by breaking them down by syllables, affixes, base words, or root words.

  • Students name synonyms and antonyms of words.

  • The teacher uses new vocabulary words in everyday speech. Students should be encouraged to use new words in conversation.

  • Students analyze multiple-meaning words.

  • [Teaching Idea]

Have students purposefully misconstrue a multiple-meaning word to make a puzzle for others to solve. See a bulletin board with student work here.

This vocabulary teaching method is simple yet effective.

Gay Miller


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