We have recently finished a project with several Devon schools, run over two terms, exploring the impact of vocabulary instruction on reading and writing. 

We found two books in particular provided significant research and ideas:

Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Beck et al.

The Vocabulary Book: Learning and Instruction by Graves


Lessons learned from our Vocabulary Development project

Common Threads: what teachers did


  • found out about pupils’ vocabulary development needs and set clear priorities for improvement.
  • carefully chose which words and skills to explicitly teach.
  • planned cross-curricular teaching opportunities.
  • modelled high standards of vocabulary use and expected this from pupils and other adults involved.
  • created a ‘buzz’ about word learning and exploration.
  • allocated regular time to vocabulary instruction and valued this (2-minute teasers; daily class story; lesson starters; discrete sessions; Word of the Day/Week).

Focus on the following areas of vocabulary instruction led to encouraging results:

  • use of Reciprocal Reading skills – Clarifying, Predicting;
  • understanding and choice of tier 2 (and some 3) vocabulary;
  • effective dictionary and thesaurus use;
  • morphological investigation – prefixes and suffixes;
  • exploration of synonyms and antonyms.

Activities reported as successfully in improving vocabulary use incorporated…

  • planned talk and guided discussion, encouraging metacognition;
  • teacher modelling;
  • playful experimentation;
  • opportunities to be pupil-led;
  • a multi-strategy approach;
  • pupil reflection and evaluation.

Pupil ownership

A number of teachers described strategies they had employed to encourage pupils to take greater ownership of their vocabulary learning.

  • Naming word choices on display with the expectation all children will contribute and be able to explain their word to others when asked.
  • Maintaining own bookmarks on which to record personal word lists and ideas.
  • Using guided reading journals to comment on interesting or unfamiliar vocabulary encountered in texts.
  • Modelling and rehearsal of questioning skills so individuals could ask peers about word definitions.
  • Reference to personal word mats.
  • Pupil-led discussions.
  • Assigning competence to individuals thus creating genuine ‘word experts’ for others to go for guidance.
  • Changes to marking routines to encourage self- and peer-assessment and subsequent improvement of vocabulary choices.

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