What Does Not Work for Vocabulary Instruction

As long as you are engaging students in recognizing words, analyzing word parts, reading and using new words, nearly all instructional activities will increase students’ vocabulary. However, a few types of strategies are not effective, or are minimally effective.


Reason Why It Does Not Work

Single or Short-term Use (words of the week)

To increase familiarity with new words and how they may be used correctly, students need a lot of exposure to and practice with the new words. Studying words for a few days and then leaving them will not provide the long-term exposure and use students need.

Single-sentence Writing

This strategy refers to activities in which students write a made-up sentence for a word. This is not instruction but assessment. Also, writing a single sentence or two that use the word does not provide meaningful, real use of the word for communication. It is artificial and does nearly nothing to help students understand what a word means and how it can be used. A better approach is to have the students write a reflection or summary of the text in which they use the new words.

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)

Sustained silent reading may increase exposure to words, but for learning new words, it is minimally effective unless students know the discovery process. An interesting way to use SSR for vocabulary development is to have students keep a log of new words they find and then create a graphic organizer they can share. Students can also search for new words first, study them, and then read silently.

Oral Reading

Reading aloud does not increase vocabulary, although students may come across new words while reading. To use oral reading as a vocabulary exercise, have students first find new words and study them. Then, when reading aloud, students will understand the words and the text they are reading.

Computerized Instruction

Computerized instruction generally provides short-term exposure, study, and practice with words—not the long-term study that students need. It also doesn’t provide broad-based exposure, such as in reading, discussion, or listening. Computerized instruction also generally does not provide the word analysis that students can use to figure out the meanings of words, and it certainly does not coach students through the discovery process. It might be useful as a supplement for live instruction, but it will never be as good.