According to the Oxford Language Report, which surveyed more than 1,300 teachers across the country, the significant word gap in UK schools is holding back children’s learning.
Over half of those surveyed reported that at least 40 per cent of their pupils lacked the vocabulary needed to access their learning. Worryingly, 69 per cent of primary school teachers and 60 per cent of secondary school teachers believe the gap is increasing.
“Language is at the heart of education and we believe that more needs to be done to address the issue throughout school and give teachers support to make a difference to these children’s lives,” said Jane Harley, Strategy Director for UK Education at Oxford University Press.
So, how can you boost the vocabulary of your students? Here are 5 actionable and effective strategies.
Giving your students reading challenges is a great way to improve their vocabulary, especially for tier two words. However, it helps if the materials you provide them with are related to the subject you’re teaching.
For example, if your students are learning about Shakespeare, get them to read a newspaper article about his influence. Along with building up their vocabulary, this challenge will also enhance your students’ broader understanding of the subject matter.
Are your students able to put their learning into practice? Challenge them to not only match the conventions and vocabulary used in a mentor piece of text, but also emulate them.
From opinion pieces to short stories, the format of writing is open to interpretation. But once again, make sure its relevant to the subject you’re teaching and encourage students to to use the vocabulary learned for specific effect in their writing.
After students have completed their reading and writing challenges, you can conduct some retrieval practice to see whether their new vocabulary has sunk in.
Start by asking your class what certain words mean before moving onto more comprehensive questions, linking the vocabulary to the scene of work. For example, “what does the adjective ‘progressive’ mean”, followed by “do you believe that same-sex marriage is ‘progressive’?”
Regardless of whether its a single sentence or lengthy essay, students should be asked to explain their vocabulary choices. If students are encouraged to metacognitively engage with their work, they’ll think more carefully about their choices and the nuances between different words.
It often helps to encourage some student self-assessment, getting your class to explain why they used a particular word, what it means, and how the sentence would be different if another word was used.
For many students, vocabulary can be rather difficult and demanding, especially if they only stick to the same words in their work. This is where some enjoyable and engaging word exploration activities can help.
Think about exploring different word forms, identify synonyms and antonyms as well as the differences between them, create word families, and investigate the etymology/morphology of words. If students give words more appreciation, they’ll end up expanding their vocabulary.