Can you believe it? Students are still being given lists of unrelated, random words from a workbook, copying dictionary definitions, writing sentences (that are as short as possible), memorizing definitions that they don't even understanding, and purging whatever they memorized on the (predictable) Friday quiz. Next week, same thing. If there's anything in education that we can be sure about it is 1) vocabulary growth is essential and 2) the above is not the way to achieve it.
 The "Don'ts" are given first in the list below. See if you can figure out where the "Do's" begin! Have fun.





1. Make interdisciplinary connections because words are learned through multiple contexts.

1. Give out a list of unrelated, de-contextualized words, just to have students “look them up, fill in blanks, use them in a sentence, and take a Friday quizbecause meanings need to be processed, not memorized.

2. Talk about multiple meanings of words because the meanings have connections that help us understand the words on a deeper level.

2. Have a silent word-learning class because language acquisition is a social experience.

3. Display word walls purposefully, and have students create displays of word lists because word walls, like billboards, send subliminal reminders.

3. Assess everyone in the same way for the same words because you could be missing nascent word-learning, and assessing for words some students already knew.

4. Teach word forms (morphology) because doing so is meaningful processing, which facilitates durable learning.

4. Detach word-learning from reading and writing because words are learned through comprehensible input and meaningful use.

5. Teach Latin and Greek word roots and the words that are derived from them because doing so creates connections, and connections facilitate learning.

5. Have students copy dictionary definitions because doing that is boring and unmemorable, and because students may not understand the words in the definitions, and because the definitions might not match the targeted context.

6. Use both implicit and explicit vocabulary instruction because students need all the new words they can get in your class, and you have to allocate your time for explicit vocabulary instruction on the most useful, frequent, and relevant words.

6. Ask students to use a new word in a sentence before they have a full understanding of the word because deploying a word in a meaningful way happens only after we truly understand the word, not when it is brand new.

7. Promote use of new vocabulary in students’ speech and writing by offering suggestions and word banks for given writing tasks because vocabulary is learned through repeated exposure and meaningful use.

7. Reduce vocabulary assessments to a rote memory exercise because getting a word right on an announced quiz is not evidence of durable learning.

8. Model the use of new words in your speech and writing in the classroom because vocabulary grows unconsciously  through repeated exposures.

8. Forget about previously learned words because why did you bother teaching a word if you’re not intending to use it?

9. Engage students in word play and word puzzles because vocabulary grows through fun, engaging, and social activities in a problem-solving context.

9. Sacrifice quality for quantity because words are learned through repeated use and deep processing.

10. Familiarize yourself with the “A High-Incidence Academic Word List” because of the frequency of these words in academic and business discourse.

10. Create a false difference between “vocabulary words” and words used for authentic communication because designating a word as a “vocabulary word” isolates it from real language.

11. Create etymology trees and extended word maps because these show connections, which facilitate durable learning.

11. Spend undue amounts of time on obscure words that appear once in literature because you need to prioritize the time you spend on explicit vocabulary instruction.

12. Have students read books of their own choice because readers pick up one new word (or familiar word used in a new way) for every 25 minutes of (mildly challenging) reading.

12. Assume that context clues are always present, always reliable, or that they always appear in the direct proximity of the target word because authors assume that readers already know the words, and are therefore not likely to re-define words in context.

13. Have students contribute to the class vocabulary lists because this engages them and fosters a learning community.

13. Pretend that most readers stop reading and look up every unfamiliar word in the dictionary because they don’t (except when reading electronic text).

14. Tell stories about interesting word histories because these make words memorable and connected.


15. Insert new vocabulary into retellings of familiar stories because students already know the context (comprehensible input).


16. Introduce new words by using them consciously in your speech a week before they will be encountered in literature because students will unconsciously get a head start in learning them.


17. Use new words in as many forms and contexts as possible because doing so is what we mean by “deep processing,” which leads to durable learning.


18. Set up tasks that involve “deep looking” at the various parts of a dictionary definition because dictionaries do have more to offer than quick definitions.


19. Connect vocabulary to grammar (ex: a noun can function as a verb) because this deepens understanding of both vocabulary and grammar.


20. Be enthusiastic about words because your enthusiasm is contagious.


21. Connect meaning to spelling (by finding patterns of words with similar meanings that share the same spelling pattern) because you will find all kinds of surprising connections.


22. Make word-learning a sociable experience because word-learning is supposed to be a social experience.


23. Understand that word-learning is not an “all or nothing” thing because words are learned in layers of meaning.


24. Present the concept before the word because that arouses interest in the word.


25. Your idea…because this list is incomplete: