Teaching Tip Tuesday–Six Steps to Teach Vocabulary

Today’s teaching tip isn’t anything new, but it’s a great strategy to keep in mind as you structure your vocabulary lessons this year.  Students need to think about and encounter words in a variety of ways in order for them to understand and use any new words you teach them. Vocabulary is one of the biggest barriers to reading comprehension, so effective vocabulary instruction can make a huge difference for our students as they advance in reading.

An effective strategy for teaching vocabulary is referred to as the six-step process (Marzano, 2004). It involves the following steps:

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.

Click on the following link for a packet with activity ideas and explanations for each step:

Marzano’s Six Step Vocabulary

Here is an excellent article from Educational Leadership (2009) which outlines the procedures and proven benefits of this method for vocabulary instruction.


Happily, the research is also beginning to tell us what does or doesn’t make the strategy work. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • When students copy the teacher’s explanation or description of a term instead of generating their own explanation, the results are not as strong. Ideally, student explanations should come from their own lives.
  • The third step in the process is crucial—having students represent their understanding of a new term by drawing a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation. When students do this step well, achievement soars.
  • Games seem to engage students at a high level and have a powerful effect on students’ recall of the terms. Games not only add a bit of fun to the teaching and learning process, but also provide an opportunity to review the terms in a nonthreatening way. After the class has played a vocabulary game, the teacher should invite students to identify difficult terms and go over the crucial aspects of those terms in a whole-class discussion.

When you focus on improving the quality of your vocabulary instruction, students will show huge improvements in understanding the important concepts of your class.


2 thoughts on “Teaching Tip Tuesday–Six Steps to Teach Vocabulary

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