At the Whinless Down Academy, we believe the development of vocabulary is paramount to the success of all learners. This is based around the research and practical strategies outlined by Alex Quigley in ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’. We are committed to ensuring vocabulary is taught explicitly with a focus on developing on learner’s word hoard and word consciousness.
Our school approach to this broken down into three key stages:
- Explicit Vocabulary Teaching
- Incidental vocabulary learning
- Cultivating ‘word consciousness’
Explicit Vocabulary Teaching
Explicit vocabulary teaching can provide a vital boost to our pupils’ vocabulary development. In recent years, building on the excellent research from Beck, McKeown and Kucan, awareness of choosing the right words to teach through the ‘Tiers of vocabulary’ model. Each week, weteach a carefully selected 'Word of the Week' which the children are encouraged to use in spoken language and in their writing.
Incidental Vocabulary Learning
You cannot explicitly teach all the words! With over a million words in the English language, teachers make careful selections regarding subject specific vocabulary and those sophisticated Tier 2 words. It is clear that reading rich texts, both in the classroom and beyond the school gates, is critical for language and vocabulary development. Put simply, the more words you hear and read, the more you learn.
When reading complex texts, pupils can struggle to learn new, unfamiliar words, so helping pupils with strategies to notice and record interesting vocabulary is likely to prove valuable. It may be having pupils keep a ‘word hoard’ of their own – or use vocabulary book marks – or simply record words in the back of their books, for discussion and questioning later. Setting up a ‘semantic dictionary’ in domains like geography, science or maths, helps us to move the incidental learning to something more intentional.
When teachers talk about words – their subtleties, misnomers, histories, and more – building on reading high quality texts, these conversational turns unlock important shades of meaning for pupils that can fend off misconceptions and lead to greater understanding when reading. Many of these opportunities will arise spontaneously. You simply cannot predict all of the words pupils will know and not know. However, with awareness that some of these ‘teachable moments’ could be missed, we aim to wed incidental learning to explicit teaching.
Cultivating Word Consciousness
‘Word consciousness’ is an “awareness and interest in words and their meanings” (put a little more interestingly, it is pupils “bumping into spicy, tasty words that catch your tongue”). At WDAT we feel passionate about this love of language and continual curiosity about what words mean, where they are from, and their legion of connections, feels like the end-game of great vocabulary teaching. With careful cultivation, this curiosity can be fostered and it can help fuel our pupils’ school success.
The teaching of word parts (morphology) and word histories (etymology) are some of most well-evidenced methods of explicit vocabulary teaching, but done well, we hand over the baton to our pupils and they become ‘word conscious’, spying word parts and word families each time they read, talk and write. Faced with a complex word like ‘oligarchy’, pupils can recognise the familiar root ‘-archy’, meaning ‘rulership’. It offers an essential hook to understand the word, offering more familiar related words like ‘monarchy’. Common practices, such as ‘interactive word walls’, ‘word of the week’, and similar, engage our pupils and reach out to parents.