In the English classroom
How we did it – planning
We began by looking at the curriculum. What KS4 content did students struggle most with? What vocabulary could we teach them to help them communicate their ideas more clearly? We looked at our literature texts, the demands of GCE English Language and then at our programme of study for KS3.
A unit of work on Charles Dickens in Year 7 could introduce vocabulary such as squalid and dilapidated – perfect for describing the poverty of Victorian England when studying A Christmas Carol at KS4. A unit of work on Taming of the Shrew led us to adjectives to describe Katherina such as obstinate and explore the concept of patriarchal society. This lent itself well to the study of Juliet’s character and Elizabethan society in Romeo and Juliet. The list went on. Every word we chose to explicitly teach was selected because it had a clear link to the demands of GCSE or develops students’ understanding and access to a range of texts and concepts.
How we did it – consistent delivery
Next, we organised one consistent method of teaching. We teach one word per week, there is a homework set on the word explicitly taught the following week, it is marked in class the week after and any misconceptions addressed, and at the end of every half term there is a quiz on all six words taught. In addition to this the relevancy of the word to the scheme of work means students gain multiple exposures and can use the words taught regularly as part of their learning.
We teach every word in the same way. Students have a vocabulary book (A5 in size) and draw out the Frayer model with the word in the middle.
We discuss what the word could mean – pulling out clues from the word patterns – similar sounds words etc. before showing students the explanation of what the word means. This explanation is accompanied by example sentences so students can see the word in context.
We then remove the explanation and example sentences from the board and students must write their own definition out into their Frayer model. They find this surprisingly difficult and this was a big lesson for us in how under confident our pupils truly are when grappling with vocabulary.
We explore the etymology or morphology – depending on the words and what is most relevant. Students make notes in the relevant box on their Frayer model, and again the teacher tries to get students to make connections with other words they know/ have heard of.
Deep thinking follows this – either in paired discussion, think, pair, share, group or whole class discussion we explore the word’s meaning.
Finally, students identify from a given list synonyms and/or antnoyms and/or write their own example sentence (depending on the word)
The following week we post the homework which is consistent in structure. We always make sure they have access to a correct explanation of the meaning of the words then ask the students to:
During the first week back of a new HT we conduct a low stakes vocabulary quiz in which students must:
- Spell each word
- Match the word to the definition and write examples of synonyms and antonyms
- Complete a gap fill using the word correctly in a sentence
For our English department this has really worked. We are persistent and consistent with students but they have really responded to the structure and genuinely love learning new vocabulary. But don’t just take my word for it – this is what our students say…
Sarah Eggleton has been teaching English for ten years in secondary schools in Salford and Manchester. After graduating from Lancaster University with an English Literature degree, Sarah joined the graduate teacher training programme Teach First and entered the teaching profession as an English teacher. She currently works at an inner city Manchester secondary school as an Assistant Headteacher, with responsibility for staff CPD, Literacy and Numeracy, Marking and Feedback and is the Head of English overseeing a wonderful team of dedicated and hardworking teachers.
- Sarah Eggleton: Teaching English Consistently – Part 1
- Alex Quigley: How many words do my pupils need to know?
- Peter Ellison: Bridging the word gap
You’ll find more information and resources to support closing the word gap in your school on our Word Gap page.