Sunday, February 5, 2017

Vocabulary Instruction

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to share our thoughts on vocabulary, beyond definitions.  I am not sure this post is "beyond definitions" and it certainly isn't digital, but it does go beyond "look up, write, and memorize the definition in the glossary" as a teaching method.

 Click on the image to take you to Dr. Archer's website
Click on the image to take you to
Dr. Archer's website
Just this week, my daughter Megan said, "I love the way I teach vocabulary."

I asked her, "Are you still using the Anita Archer method?"  

She said, "Yep!"

I showed her the Anita Archer method last year, her first year of teaching.  Dr. Anita Archer is a consultant on explicit instruction, total participation, and active engagement.  I have had several opportunities to see her presentations and have implemented many of her strategies in my own classroom.  

Dr. Archer's book, Explicit Instruction Effective and Efficient Teaching, explains the research behind direct instruction and includes methods for applying it to skills and strategies, vocabulary and concepts, as well as rules and procedures.  This is content we all teach and many students struggle to grasp independently. 

Her vocabulary instruction was one of the many important changes I made when I taught 4th grade.  

I am embarrassed to say that in my early teaching years, yes, I was the "look up, write and memorize the definition" type of teacher.  Until I met Dr. Archer.  

This method is steeped in quick, direct interactive instruction.

The basic instructional steps are:

  1. Introduce the word.  This first step involves pronouncing the word for students or helping them with the decoding.  If students cannot pronounce the word, it will be more difficult for them to attach meaning to the word, storing the word into their memory, and retrieving the word when needed.
  2. Introduce the meaning of the word.  Dr. Archer explains five methods of introduction.
  3. Illustrate with examples.  This step gives students examples to firmly establish what the word is or is not and includes all critical attributes of the words.  She suggests using concrete, visual and verbal examples.
  4. Check students' understanding.  Check students' understanding of the word by having them interact with the word.  Use examples and non-examples, have students generate their own example, or ask students questions to process the deeper meaning of the word instead of just regurgitatiing the definition. 
The key in using her strategy is to make all of the steps interactive.  Students participate through the entire process from repeating the word multiple times, turning and talking with their partner to illustrate and check for understanding, and eliciting whole class responses.  

I have just touched the basics of the way she teaches vocabulary, so I have included a video for you to watch.  Many resources about Dr. Archer are available online.  You could spend hours sifting through videos and notes from her presentations.

I asked Megan why she liked this method of teaching vocabulary, and she replied that it was quick, intense, and it kept her students' attention.  So, if you are looking to add something new to your vocabulary instructional routine, besides looking the words up in the dictionary, you might want to look into these resources.


  1. Thanks for this post. For some reason, I feel like if I explicitly teach the word, I am depriving the students of the ownership of discovery. We usually look at context first and make some guesses to meaning before finding the definition. Perhaps initially I need to teach more explicitly. Lots to think about this week. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    1. I replied on Fran's post that there is so much to thinking about teaching vocabulary that I could have written several posts. I think there is room for direct instruction and discovery in shared texts as well as independent reading. This is just one perspective that I have used, but certainly not the only one. This topic may just deserve another week.