Expand Your Word Bank: 19 Strategies for Students to Improve Vocabulary
Vocabulary is a collection of words in a person’s lexical repertoire. The term vocabulary comes from the Latin word “vocabulum,” which means “a word, a name.”
Vocabulary is a critical component of language and communication, aiding in transmitting thoughts, ideas, emotions, and information.
It can be vocal, written, or signed and is divided into two categories: active vocabulary and passive vocabulary.
Active vocabulary consists of words you use frequently, and passive vocabulary refers to words you recognize but do not use frequently.
That said, as a critical skill, if you dont have enough of it in your lexical repertoire, you will find it challenging to read and understand texts.
Any student who wants to excel in their academic success or beyond an educational setting must develop this skill.
So, how do you improve your vocabulary? What strategies can you implement to make learning new words easy?
Many unique strategies, thankfully, are available to help you learn new words quickly.
This post will teach you 19 word learning strategies to improve your vocabulary immediately.
1. Foster word consciousness
Word consciousness refers to the habit of finding new words, figuring out their meaning, looking for multiple meanings, and adding them to your linguistic repertoire.
Fostering this habit in students will help them develop their vocabularies swiftly. By becoming word-conscious, you build awareness and interest in words.
Some tactics to help foster this habit include engaging your student in word games and activities that make learning fun.
Word puzzles, crosswords, word searches, and vocabulary board games are practical tools for developing word consciousness.
Other exciting tactics you can implement include researching word origins or histories.
As Graves, M.F. puts it, “If we can get students interested in playing with words and language, then we are at least halfway to the goal of creating the sort of word-conscious students who will make words a lifetime interest.”
2. Introduce each new word one at a time
Introducing one new word one at a time is an effective strategy for helping students develop new vocabulary.
If you are an instructor teaching vocabulary to students, here’s how you can do it with them:
- Start by saying the word aloud clearly, then have your student repeat the word after you. This process helps students to become familiar with the pronunciation.
- Next, add visual support by displaying the words and their meaning for students to see on visual aid tools like a word wall, flip chart, or vocabulary graphic organizer.
Adding pictures related to the word can be helpful, too. This visual representation helps reinforce the connection between the word and its meaning in your student’s minds.
For those learning English but English is not their first language, utilizing cognates can be helpful.
Cognates are words from different languages with similar meanings, spellings, and pronunciations in English and the student’s native language.
Some examples of English cognates in Spanish are family and familia, center and centro, class, and clase.
By using cognates, you can help English language learners (ELLs) make connections and understand new words more easily.
3. Understand the true meaning of words
To truly expand your vocabulary, it’s essential to go beyond memorization and delve into the deeper meanings of words. You can unlock a wealth of knowledge and accelerate your vocabulary growth by exploring their etymology, root words, prefixes, and suffixes.
Because at least half of English words are derived from Greek and Latin roots, familiarity with them has significant benefits.
For example, once you realize that the prefix “ortho” implies “straight” or “right,” you begin to discover connections between seemingly unrelated words like orthodontist (a specialist who straightens teeth) and orthography (the accurate or straight style of writing).
Understanding the logic of words is always beneficial to learning and recalling.
Consider the terms “breakfast” and “rainbow,” which respectively imply “interrupt the night’s fast and bow or arc caused by rain.”
Other examples include “automobile,” which is a combination of two parts, “auto” and “mobile.”
Auto comes from the Greek word autós, meaning “self,” mobile is derived from the Latin phrase mobilis, which means “movable.” So, an “automobile” is a “self-moving” vehicle.
While these meanings may be trivial to native English speakers, having such insights about words, foreign or otherwise, empowers you to unlock the definition of a wide range of unknown words you encounter for the first time, expanding your language skills.
4. Use digital tools for independent practice
An exciting strategy you can implement to improve your vocabulary fast is using tools that make learning new words easier.
Some tools include:
- Flocabulary: This comprehensive program contains hip-hop-style films to assist students in learning new terminology.
- Freerice: This website features a vocabulary game with five difficulty levels, with levels one and two suitable for kids in grades three and up.
- Vocabador: This tool is more like a game that is especially useful for students preparing for the SAT or GRE. The app allows you to study all 400+ vocabulary words and compete with others in a challenge using virtual flashcards broken down into three difficulty levels.
You may also like: 19 Fastest Learning Strategies to Expand Your Vocabulary
5. Get a vocabulary notebook
Maintaining a vocabulary notebook is a simple but effective strategy that encourages you to expand your vocabulary knowledge and improve your English language proficiency.
All you need to do is record new words and their meaning. You can also find the word synonyms and give example sentences that include the new word in your vocabulary notebook.
If you teach vocabulary, you can make this strategy more exciting by asking your students to draw pictures or sketch charts that show how they used a word in a few sentences.
This allows them to practice the word a few times and reinforce its definition.
An added benefit of keeping a vocabulary notebook is that it reminds you how much you have progressed in your word knowledge within a period.
6. Develop a reading habit
Developing a reading habit is essential if you want to learn new words. You encounter new words to add to your vocabulary development bank by reading frequently.
New words discovered from a newspaper, novel, or any other reading material can be more helpful as it provides context that reading through a long list of new words lacks.
Not only do you gain exposure to unfamiliar words, but you also see how they’re used.
Furthermore, a reading habit helps you improve your comprehension and critical thinking skills.
To develop this habit, start by reading one new book a week or reading newspapers or magazines every morning. Select a frequency and pace that works for you, and develop a consistent reading routine.
As you master this habit, reading becomes an enjoyable and lifelong pursuit, contributing to your overall language proficiency.
A bonus of committing to this habit is that you become an intelligent, well-rounded person.
Do you find it impossible to read one book per week? Reading one book per week is achievable. If you need help reading fast, we have a speed reading tool that can help you improve your reading speed and vocabulary almost immediately. Try our speed reading tool today!
7. Apply the target words
Once you learn a new word, applying the target words is an excellent strategy that helps reinforce the new words in your mind.
You can challenge yourself by applying the target word to your own experience, allowing you to understand the meaning of each word at a personal level.
8. Use multiple exposures in multiple contexts to enhance your vocabulary learning process
Exposing yourself to a word’s meaning in multiple contexts is an effective strategy that will help you improve your vocabulary.
You may have seen a particular word multiple times in more than one place.
However, this does not mean you know the word, its meaning, or how it is used in writing and speaking.
But if you encounter the word’s meaning multiple times or in various contexts, the term is more likely to stick.
If you don’t have explicit vocabulary instruction that exposes you to a target word meaning in multiple contexts, then you must be deliberate when implementing this strategy.
9. Word talks
Word talks is a strategy similar to the book talks strategy, where students deliver a brief presentation about a book they recommend for independent reading to their peers.
In the case of word talks, you will present important words to your peers based on your independent reading and media use.
Word talks are suitable for general academic words and can be combined with the fifth strategy discussed in this piece.
If you are an instructor teaching word meanings to students, you can schedule word talks on specific days or rotate them to make the talks more memorable.
This word-talk strategy is effective because it involves the students teaching their peers. And students tend to explain words in a way that “clicks” with their peers just because it’s said in a kid-friendly way.
You may wonder what types of terms you should share during word talks. You can request that your students provide a rationale for each word chosen or simply allow them to share any term they think is intriguing.
You may also like: 15 Vocabulary Exercises to Refine Your Linguistic Abilities.
10. Make use of anchored word learning
Anchored word learning is a structured approach to robust vocabulary instruction that leverages the power of read-aloud to expose students to new words within meaningful contexts.
It promotes vocabulary acquisition and retention by introducing carefully selected words during engaging and immersive reading experiences.
Implementing this strategy is best with instructors and student settings, but you can also do this with your friends.
Follow the steps below to implement this strategy with your students:
Select a read-aloud
Choose captivating texts for read-aloud sessions. These can include picture books, trade books, novels, nonfiction texts, or content-area materials suitable for the student’s age and grade level.
Identify three to five target words
Before the read-aloud, carefully select three to five significant words that will expand students’ vocabulary and are likely to appear in diverse contexts. Focus on words that have academic relevance or are critical to the content being taught.
Mark the text
Mark the chosen vocabulary word in the text using sticky notes, highlighter, or annotations if the text is in print form.
Read aloud fluently
Start by reading the entire text aloud without interruptions. During this initial reading, the goal is to let students experience the text fluently and grasp the story or concepts.
After the initial reading, return to the marked vocabulary words. Reread the sentences or paragraphs in which these words appear.
Have students repeat each targeted word aloud. If applicable, spell the word and call attention to any interesting spelling features.
Offer clear, student-friendly definitions for each word. Repeat these definitions to ensure understanding.
Go beyond the text’s context and provide additional examples of how each word can be used. Encourage students to share their own examples to personalize their understanding.
Word wall display
If desired, post the selected words on an academic word wall. Organize a dedicated section of the word wall specifically for words introduced during read-aloud sessions.
11. Semantic Mapping
Semantic mapping is maps or webs of words that help students visually connect the relationship between a word or phrase and a set of related terms or concepts. This helps them learn more words.
For example, pick a word you intend to explain, draw a map or web on the board, and put this word in the center of the map.
Then, ask students to add related words or phrases similar in meaning to the new term.
Let’s say the new word is “farm,” write that on a chalkboard. Then, have your students take turns writing words such as cow, barn, horse, hay, and farmer.
12. Become friends with the dictionary
A dictionary is an invaluable tool for enhancing your vocabulary. It provides precise definitions, spellings, alternate meanings, and additional information about words.
A thesaurus is equally valuable for discovering word connections, including synonyms and antonyms.
Consider stocking your bookcase with an excellent dictionary and thesaurus.
Here are some suggestions:
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
- The New Oxford American Dictionary
- The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
In addition, there are numerous free online dictionaries with useful supplementary features. Even if you already have a decent print dictionary, having a helpful online dictionary at your disposal is essential:
Here are some to consider:
- OneLook: Features a reverse lookup capability (find the term by its definition) and functions as a “meta-dictionary,” displaying definitions from other large online dictionaries.
- Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary: A well-known and respected name in the dictionary world.
- Ninjawords: Looks up words in the free online Wiktionary. What makes this site unique is that you can check many words simultaneously. Furthermore, the results pages can be bookmarked, making them excellent personal reference pages.
- Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus: This tool can help when implementing a semantic mapping strategy by providing you with related terms rendered in a visual map format.
13. Learn a little Latin
Although Latin may no longer be as popular, learning it is one of the independent word-learning strategies that can dramatically improve your English vocabulary.
As we mentioned, at least half of English words are derived from Greek and Latin roots.
Whether you are a student or an instructor teaching and learning vocabulary, being quite adept at Latin can help you figure out the meaning of a wide variety of words you don’t yet know without having to use a dictionary.
14. Practice using new words in conversation
Learning new words is just the beginning; the true mastery of vocabulary comes from using these words actively in your daily life. This is especially helpful while teaching children.
Using the new words learned in conversation and keeping the conversation going is helpful for both elementary and advanced students learning vocabulary.
By using these newly learned words in your writing, reading, and speaking engagement, you encode them into your long-term memory.
15. Engage in active vocabulary exercise
Taking it a step beyond using new words in conversation is engaging in word play activities that enable you to practice the words you learn while learning new vocabulary words.
Some helpful exercises you may do are discussed below:
There are numerous online games available to help you enhance your vocabulary. These games can be a fun and exciting method to learn new words and practice terms you already know.
Many online dictionaries, like Dictionary.com, provide free vocabulary games, and a quick Google search for vocabulary games yields many more results.
Vocabulary tests allow you to assess your vocabulary knowledge and earn a score after completing the test. The test tells you what your current vocabulary level is.
These tests not only improve your prior knowledge by introducing you to new terms but also allow you to track your progress to see if and how much your vocabulary is developing.
A wide variety of vocabulary tests, including vocabulary games, can also be found with a quick Google search.
Similar to vocabulary test, quizzes, which are usually shorter, helps you test your current vocabulary level. But unlike vocabulary tests, quizzes do not comprehensively analyze your vocabulary level once completed.
Nonetheless, vocabulary quizzes are an excellent opportunity to practice your vocabulary and track your progress.
Vocabulary worksheets are excellent resources that help students practice the difference between words, expanding their vocabulary and reinforcing their understanding of words.
They typically include exercises on word recognition, word usage, synonyms, antonyms, compound words, multiple-meaning words, and prefixes/suffixes.
They will focus on each aspect of the words, including their length and meaning. Vocabulary worksheets are available in a variety of formats.
Some worksheets can be completed online, while others can be printed and finished by hand, and each assignment’s specific goal and directions vary.
You can find a format you prefer and start practicing to improve your vocabulary abilities.
Related reading: How Can I Learn New Vocabulary Daily? (Explained!).
16. Take a writing class
Taking a writing class is a fantastic strategy to help you develop a good vocabulary. These classes provide explicit instruction, guidance, and opportunities to practice and refine your writing abilities.
You will discover new words that enrich your vocabulary through assignments and tests that often require using diverse vocabulary to express ideas given in such classes.
This helps your academic life and benefits you when you graduate into your professional field.
As you participate in a writing class, take notes on any new words you learn throughout the course.
You may also like: 12 Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary and Writing Skills.
17. Use context clues
When you stumble upon an unfamiliar word, research by Nagy and Scott showed that using contextual analysis to infer word meanings by looking closely at surrounding text is helpful.
During reading comprehension, you will often encounter several words, and some may be unfamiliar to you.
Some experts believe that even a tiny improvement in the ability to utilize context clues has the potential to produce substantial, long-term vocabulary development.
18. Sketch the words
Creating visual sketches is another vital vocabulary learning strategy that effectively enhances word retention and understanding.
When you come across a new word, make a quick sketch that connects the word and its meaning to something personally meaningful to you.
Apply the target word to a new, familiar context.
Your sketch does not have to be beautiful. The important thing is that it makes sense and helps you connect with the word’s meanings.
19. Use visuals and situations
Learning new words can be fun and easy when you combine visuals, such as graphics and photos, with auditory learning to cover a range of learning styles.
Flashcard tools like Vocabulary Cartoons help students connect words they don’t yet have committed to their vocabulary to fun cartoons through memory techniques.
This vocabulary program works well from the elementary grades through to high school.
You can display flashcards in places accessible to you and run through them as much as you can daily. Ensure you continuously change the words each week to learn new words and phrases.
If you are an instructor, fantastic use of visual and situations strategy is to turn your students into word detectives. This exciting activity gets kids to read books while searching for keywords.
The process involves handing your student a list of keywords to find in the book. Once they find the keywords used in sentences, please encourage them to use those words in spoken and written sentences.
You can also encourage them to create drawings or patterns to express their understanding of the words. Students can form their own connections to new words through illustrations, patterns, and other examples.
Takeaway: Boost your vocabulary with 19 proven strategies for students
A strong vocabulary will enhance confidence and aid your academic or professional life. But, learning and recalling new words can be challenging.
Thankfully, there are strategies you can implement that will help you improve your vocabulary.
If you have been having challenges learning new words, implementing the techniques discussed in this piece, including fostering word consciousness, understanding the true meaning of words, semantic mapping, and many others, will help make your lexical prowess more sophisticated.
Understand that there is no one ultimate strategy. Implementing a mix of the abovementioned strategies will be the most beneficial technique.
Learning new words can be exciting and challenging, but you need sound techniques to commit them to your long-term memory.
You don’t want to discover new lexicons and forget their meaning, especially if you want to score high on your SAT or GRE.
Iris reading has a maximizing memory course that will make learning new information, including vocabulary, a breeze.
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