Choosing Vocabulary Words

Every year my department revamps the curriculum to teach the material more effectively and to improve student achievement. This year we’re taking a particularly close look at the vocabulary words we use in the honors courses. A few different means of choosing words, all backed by research, are available to us.

1. We could simply pluck words directly from the literature we read. This way the students see the words in context, and we don’t have to work real hard finding words. In the past this has been the primary way we have selected the words we use.

2. We could choose words often used on the SAT to guide the students towards success on the test. Of course, these words are useful beyond the test, but using them would definitely be an easy motivator for most of the kids. Also, numerous books are already available to help us deliver the material.

3. Using words with common roots, prefixes, or suffixes can help students retain the information and can help them see how words relate and change. This could also include learning specific Latin and Greek roots commonly used in English.

4. We could also just choose high frequency words. By using words the students would commonly see in literature, writing prompts, and other documents, the students would also be better prepared for upcoming classes, work, and daily life.

If we change, I’m leaning towards options 2 or 3 since option 1 is what we currently do, but I think I’ll know more once the entire English Department has sat down and discussed this issue.

Any suggestions?


5 thoughts on “Choosing Vocabulary Words

  1. elementaryhistoryteacher

    I’m with you on the choices of 2 and 3 because those SAT words are so very important and if students have the prefix/suffix skills they can usually figure out the meaning of an unknown word in context.

    One stand alone program I appreciate is Wordly Wise. The program has levels that go all the way through 12th grade, I believe. We used the program as our vocabulary and spelling words when I taught 5th grade. The exercises were very valuable in teaching students key vocabulary skills.

  2. tamaraeden

    I would go with a mixture of Latin/Greek roots and academic vocab. Last year I started doing both. 5 roots and 5 academic words which, although we may not easily see it, they get stumped on during tests.

    The roots help them so much and they love to think of all the words they know with that root. you can make it a team game or something.

    Oh, and Jim Burke has a great list of Academic Words. These are things like: analyze, evaluate, synthesize. Don’t overestimate their understanding of these terms. They can’t always differentiate between analyze and evaluate (just as one example).

  3. Betty

    I used to give my gifted sixth grade classes ten SAT words per week. Since learning SAT words is so important, I think choice two is the way to go.

  4. AwayWeGo!

    I really like option 3 and agree with the previous comments. It’s funny that you posted this because I was just thinking today about getting my son a book regarding root words and word origins.

  5. Melissa

    I’ve started doing some exercises with prefixes, suffixes, and Greek/Latin roots with my sophomores and I’m hopeful it will be a big help to them. They will be breaking down vocabulary words from the literature we read to find and understand the prefixes, roots, etc.


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