Vocabulary: How we Undulate

Unfortunately, many of our students do not read at home.

When it comes to vocabulary, reading is hugely important. As many other bloggers have previously stated, students who read on a regular basis are likely to be exposed to up to 1.8 million words over the course of the year, compared to approximately only 8,000 words for those who don’t.

Whilst as a school we are making a concerted effort to promote reading for pleasure, as an English department, supported by the rest of the school, we are making an effort to widen student vocabulary through the use of direct instruction. This is how we do it.

Once a week, students are taught four Tier 2 Vocabulary words. This is aided by a PowerPoint slide which provides:

Slide 1: The Word (and its word class).

Slide 2: A student friendly explanation (not definition) of the word.

Slide 3: A range of example sentences in which the word is used.

Slide 4: A number of questions , which use the word, to be used in class discussion.

It looks like this:

Slide 1: NAÏVE (adjective)

Slide 2: If you describe someone as naive, you think they lack experience and so expect things to be easy or people to be honest or kind.

Slide 3:

The student naively believed that sitting the exam would be easy.

He naively believed that they would win the football match, even though they hadn’t practiced.

If you believe life is always going to be happy, you are naïve.

Slide 4:

1. Can you think of a time when it would be good to be naïve?

2. Who is more naïve? Someone who believes that you don’t need to do homework to succeed, or someone who thinks the weather will be sunny tomorrow?

3. Are old or young people more likely to be naïve? Why?

A few notes

Dictionary definitions aren’t suitable for helping students to understand the meanings of words. Dictionary definitions often rely on pre-existing knowledge of other words which students do not know. Rather, it’s best to provide an explanation of the word. I find the very best source for student friendly explanations of words is the Collins Online Dictionary as it contains a ‘Learner’- friendly results setting.

When it comes to answering the questions, we ask students to include the word in their answer, in order to familiarise themselves with how the word sounds. For example, if I ask, “Who is more likely to be naïve-older or younger people?”, I ask students to include the word ‘naïve’ in their answer: “I think older people are more likely to be naïve because…”

Each lesson is succeeded by the completion of a homework sheet in which the students complete 4 activities that ask the student to explore the words in different contexts. This may involve elements of dual-coding, but also looking at the words and their synonyms and antonyms.


Research states that a person needs to be exposed to a new word, in a variety of contexts, in order to embed it within their vocabulary. We planned our vocabulary programme to allow multiple exposures:

  • Exposure 1: The lesson in which the words are taught.
  • Exposure 2: Homework sheet, to be completed for next lesson.
  • Exposure 3: Recap vocabulary homework from last week, in next vocabulary lesson.

This system allowed for three exposures. But we needed more. Here’s what we’ve done about it:

  1. Every week, in staff briefing, all teaching staff are told the four words of the week. They are encouraged to use them with students in the context of their own lessons, or in form time
  2. All English teachers aim to use the words in lessons which aren’t ‘vocabulary lessons.’ For example, use of the word ‘rowdy’ in a Romeo and Juliet lesson, or the use of the word ‘naïve’ in a lesson on Of Mice and Men. However, we found that, understandably, as the number of words taught rose, it became increasingly difficult to keep track of what words had been learnt and when. To ensure the words of any given week are at the forefront of teachers’ minds, every week each teacher receives a laminated piece of A4 paper with the 4 words on. This is stuck on the whiteboard, as a reminder prompt for the teacher and pupils. It’s a nudge. When a new word begins, these words are then stuck at a wall on the side of the classroom and replaced with the next four words.
  3. To increase exposure, we have started incorporating previously learnt words into the example sentences. For example, an example sentence for the word ‘brutish’ reads, ‘This brutish monster seemed to violate all laws of nature.’
  4. @Tallbrun, the man who oversees our vocabulary programme has also produced a number of one slide vocabulary recap Power Points. These are available for all staff, across the school, to use and in English; all key stage 3 pupils will see one of these slides, once per week.
  5. I have also spoken to the Head and asked that, where possible, words are used by Senior Leaders in whole-school assemblies, if possible.

All resources are available here:

Homework Sheets: https://www.dropbox.com/s/wvafxxbnxgwre80/Vocab%20Homework%20Sheets.pptx?dl=0

Lessons: https://www.dropbox.com/s/07q3fn0rgsv0a25/Tier%202%20Word%20Powerpoint.pptx?dl=0

Recap Slides: https://www.dropbox.com/s/zr02tscmmt40aes/Re%20cap%20slides.pptx?dl=0

Special thanks to @tallbrun and @mariarosevogler, who have been invaluable in getting this up and running.

Do let me-or them-know if you have any questions.

Simply the Best?

Yesterday, TeacherTapp asked the question, ‘Do you know who the best teachers are in your school?’ 38% of respondents said that yes, they definitely did know. 45% said they had a good idea of who the best teachers at their school were.

This prompted me to run a poll on Twitter: ‘Are you one of the best teachers at your school?’ 49% said ‘Yes’. The rest said ‘No’.

People are happy to identify the strengths of others, but loathe to do so in themselves.

There was no underlying motive behind this poll. I was not attempting to perpetuate a toxic culture of competition in the profession. Nor was I trying to be provocative for the sake of it. I have always been interested in teachers’ perceptions of themselves and so the poll was conducted purely out of interest and nothing more.

Whilst the results of the poll are interesting, the comments that the poll induced were more so. Mainly, comments came from people who were cynical about teachers identifying themselves as ‘one of the best’. Comments revealed that many people feel that a belief that you are one of the best in your profession is synonymous with arrogance, not being a team player, and not wanting what’s best for students: If you think you are the best,you are not a team player, and you are damaging to the profession.

This negative attitude to ‘being the best’ is surprising given the fact that It’s something we strive for everyday. We want ‘the best’ for our students. We want ‘the best’ for our school. We want ‘the best’ for our departments. Of course, we can be pedantic and ask, “Yes, but what is ‘best’?”and feel really clever because we have done so, but come on – we know what ‘best’ is: It’s being better than the majority at a given task or skill based on a set of criteria determined by yourself, or others.

As teachers, a huge part of our job requires having a tacit awareness of ‘best’. What’s the best question to ask right now? What’s the best way to explain this? Whose essay is the best? And yet, It seems that whilst it’s okay to want the best, and to know what best looks like, it’s certainly not okay to recognise that you might be the best at what you do.

The assumption that any teacher who thinks they are one of the best teachers at their school must be an odious creature, continually boasting about the resources they’ve made, the books they’ve marked, and the kids they’ve inspired from a soap box in the centre of the staff room is a dangerous one. Couldn’t it just be that, after years and years of teaching, and studying, and teaching some more, one simply gets better? Couldn’t greater immersion in teaching as a practice, and actually becoming an expert (rather than a novice) at teaching, actually just mean that, well…erm… you just know you’re one of the best?

It seems that there are two types of teachers in this world: those who think they’re one of the best, and those who don’t. Both of these sets of teachers need to ask themselves the questions.

Those who think they are the best need to consider:

  • On what criteria have I based my assertion?
  • Am I wrong?
  • If I’m right, what am I doing to help others in my school to be as good as me?
  • Does my headteacher know I’m one of the best? Why? Why not?
  • Why do I think I’m one of the best? Is this positive self perception of myself as a teacher impacting my students and colleagues and school?
  • How can I be better?

Those who do not think they are the best need to consider:

  • On what criteria have I based my assertion?
  • Am I wrong?
  • If I’m right, what are others doing to help me be a better teacher?
  • Does my headteacher know I’m feel this way? Why? Why not?
  • Why do I think I’m one of the worst? Is this negative self perception of myself as a teacher impacting my students and colleagues and school?
  • How can I be better?

A few people got in touch via DM to tell me that judging yourself as a good or bad is damaging to the profession. I hate the idea that there are crap teachers out there, naively thinking that they are brilliant educators. Similarly, it pains me deeply, and sincerely, that there are many great teachers out there who simply can’t recognise that they are so. But I’m not buying this idea that as teachers we should all acquire the impossible skill of not judging ourselves as teachers against the skill or ability of others. People love banging on about observing colleagues (which I hate by the way- always makes me feel dreadfully inadequate), but what’s the point of lesson observation, if not to make a judgement on yourself in light of what you’ve seen in others?

It should also be pointed out that thinking you are one of the best doesn’t mean that a) you think you are the best, b) that you feel you can’t improve or c) that you think everyone else is rubbish. That’s a straw man.

For what it’s worth, my own view is that the whole thing relies on context. If somebody’s identifying as ‘one of the best’ in an anonymous Twitter poll, that’s fine. If somebody is identifying as ‘one of the best’ in a meeting with the head about their own performance, then that’s fine. If somebody’s shouting off in the staff room about it, then that’s out of order.

I don’t think I’m one of the best. In fact, for the majority of the time I feel woefully useless. That doesn’t mean I am though. But, were I to say that for the majority of the time I feel gleefully superior, that wouldn’t mean I’m woefully useless either.