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.

Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

4 thoughts on “Vocabulary: How we Undulate”

  1. Thanks a lot. Me too re: reading for pleasure. I’ve just shared the article with my staff to get their thoughts. I’ve often thought how pointless it is getting them to use dictionaries to check the meanings of new words.


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