It started with a book…
Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley is the book that started the Stretford High School English Department’s endeavour to improve our students’ vocabulary. Quigley opened the dialogue for a problem we knew existed but weren’t sure how to solve. His book clarified the classification of words we needed students to know more of (Tier 3) for academic success and methods for ensuring those words stayed in our students’ long term memories. We were excited but overwhelmed. Where to begin?
Which led to a website
A website that promised to deliver on everything Quigley said our students needed. We wouldn’t need to plan countless differentiated vocabulary lessons and squeeze them into an already tight curriculum. A website would do it for us AND mark the students’ work! As the saying goes; if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. And it was. Students were telling us they had done homework but the website reports were telling us they had not. The website would freeze and glitch meaning pupils could not complete work – or would tell us they couldn’t… The vocabulary was Tier 3 but wasn’t always as useful to the content of our learning in English as we’d like. The differentiation wasn’t right for our students. The list went on and we knew it was time for a rethink.
Back to the classroom
Back to the drawing board and back to Quigley. We knew we could do better for our students. In order for vocabulary instruction to be successful and embed into long term memory our understanding was that the following needed to be included:
- An explanation of the word – not a definition – something that explains what the word means in easy to understand language
- Seeing and using the word in a sentence in different contexts
- Morphology and /or etymology – to enable students to make effective links between new words and words they already know and to independently understand words they encounter in the future
- Deep thinking – questions to get students to really interrogate and play with the meaning of the word
- Synonyms and Antonyms – so students can make connections to words with similar or opposite meanings
- Multiple exposures – returning to and using the new word on several different occasions
So, as part of an incredible team of passionate logophiles, we began our own journey to planning, delivering and assessing explicit vocabulary in English lessons.
You’ll find more information and resources to support closing the word gap in your school on our Word Gap page.
- Alex Quigley: How many words do my pupils need to know?
- Peter Ellison: Bridging the word gap
- Rebecca Geoghegan: Let ‘the Literacy’ be your Leader