My ELA Block: Vocabulary Instruction

Thanks for popping in to read the third part of my ELA blog series! If you missed either of the first two posts, you can use the links below to get caught up.

Part Two: Reading Centers

Today I am sharing all about my vocabulary instruction!

Vocabulary instruction is so important that I set aside 10-15 minutes every day for explicit vocabulary lessons and practice. This time helped my students to increase their reading comprehension and become more interesting writers.

What Words I Teach

I am going to say this and I hope that no one is offended.... 

Just because a word appears in your reading curriculum does not mean that it is a word that belongs in your vocabulary lessons. #sorrynotsorry

Some of those words are obscure and very specific to that particular story. One story from my reading curriculum was about cowboys. One of the vocabulary words was "chaps." It is a great word to learn when learning about cowboys. But unless they read westerns, students aren't likely to run across that word in other grade level texts.

Instead of teaching these obscure words, I chose to teach tier two words. If you are not familiar with the different tiers of vocabulary words, here is a run down:

Tier One: These are words that students don't need to be taught because they already know them when they come to school. Examples: cup, baby, happy

Tier Two: These are high frequency words that students do not already know, but will likely see in grade level text. Examples: frigid, grasp, obsolete

Tier Three: These are content specific words that pertain to a specific subject. Examples: dividend, photosynthesis, compass

The reason that I teach the tier two words is because they are words that my students will see over and over in grade level text and on assessments. In fact, I found the words for my vocabulary units by studying grade level books. #ireadkidbooks

My Routine

I have a vocabulary routine that stayed consistent every week. I loved not having to recreate the wheel every single week!


On Mondays I introduced our five new words for the week.

I introduced words one of two different ways.
  1. I gave the students a sentence with the word in the sentence. I asked students to use context clues to determine possible meanings. After getting some student responses, I wrote the correct definition on the board and discussed the clues in the sentence that would help you to determine that meaning. This helped my students to practice context clues and inference! #doubledipping
  2. Sometimes I gave my students the definition and part of speech and then asked them to try and use the word in a sentence. This helped my students to practice using the proper tenses, meanings and sentence writing. We would decide on one great sentence to write in our vocabulary journals.

Students record the definitions and a sentence for each of the five words in their vocabulary journal on Monday.


On Tuesday we would come up with two synonyms and two antonyms (or examples and non-examples) for each of our words. This process really helped my students to make sense of the weekly words. The examples and non-examples helped to make the new vocabulary words more concrete for my students. I also like to throw in some unique or fancy antonyms and synonyms from time to time.

Tuesday is all about talking about words and why they are or are not good examples. We have conversations about parts of speech and verb tenses. Students start to see that the best synonyms are the same part of speech and tense as the original word. Sometimes the kids will start debating a bit about which synonym or antonym we should choose to record. Since I have taught them to be respectful, these debates really just deepen their word understanding. It is magical! #insertfairydust


On Wednesdays, we actually took a break from our weekly words. Each Wednesday, I gave my students a "wow word." It is just a word that has either a prefix or a suffix. (Using "wow" makes it sound like a pretty cool word!)

We break the word apart and identify the root and the affix. We will define the root and the affix and then we will brainstorm other words with the same root and/or affix.

Students have "aha" moments when they realize how affixes change the meaning of a word! We are still actively talking about vocabulary, but we are also hitting the reading and language standards associated with prefixes and suffixes.


The human brain is so amazing. When I was in college I learned the art of color coding my class notes. If I made each category a different color- I could recall the information easier.

I use this same sort of idea on Thursday. By this time, my students understand the meaning of the five new words for the week, but I want to help make it memorable. I don't want them to just be words that they learn for the week and then forget.

On Thursday I give students time to draw a small and simple representation for each of their words. The drawings must somehow show the meaning of the word. For example, when the word was gallop- one of my students drew a horse running. When the word was clutch- one of my students drew a hand holding a purse.

I only give students 10-15 minutes for this activity. I tell them that they don't have time to be Picassos. They should just sketch quick pictures. If they finish early, they can go back and add color.


On Fridays we started by having fun and reviewing our words from the week (and even previous weeks!).

Vocabulary Social

Sometimes we had a vocabulary social. Each student is give a lanyard with a vocabulary word from the past couple of weeks. They review the word in their journal. I tell them that they must become experts on that word.

Then they will pretend that they are the word and walk around the classroom introducing themselves to their classmates. The conversation might sound like, "Hi, I'm literal. One antonym for me is figurative." "Hi, literal. I am redundant. I am redundant. I am redundant. (Ha!) A good synonym for me is repetitive. Can you use yourself in a sentence?"

The conversation will go on for a couple minutes as each student shares what they know. Then they will move on to talk to different students. This is a fantastic way to review before an assessment and it is a great way to practice all those speaking and listening skills! The kids like it because it is a little goofy! Goofy is good because we tend to remember things that make us laugh.


Some Fridays we played games with our vocabulary words. We used current words and words from previous weeks. I want my students to be exposed to these words over and so that they are committed to their forever memory!

Sometimes we played games as a whole group. Bingo and Jeopardy are always a hit!

But if you really want to be the coolest teacher ever, play Trashketball every now and again!

Sometimes I had students play games with partners or in small groups. I love to incorporate vocabulary words with popular board games.

Pop is another super fun, but simple to prep game.

If you would like to learn how to play all of these games and grab some free printables, click HERE.


Every other Friday students did an assessment on their vocabulary words. Since the assessment is biweekly, students have longer to practice the words and they must remember the words for longer.

Vocabulary Resources

I have created resources that will make it easy peasy for you to implement a vocabulary routine like the one that I used. The units include tier 2 words, teacher guides, student journals and printables, WOW words and a game board.

I have these units available for second, third, fourth and fifth grade.

Click HERE to check out my vocabulary units.

I hope this gives you a good look at what vocabulary instruction looked like during my ELA block! I have a video about my vocabulary instruction if you prefer to hear about it straight from the horse's mouth. #iamaunicorn Click HERE to check out the free video.

Are you ready to check out the next post in my ELA blog series?! The next one is all about teaching grammar and language without boring the kids to death! Click HERE to check it out.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!