The Best Way to Increase Students’ Vocabulary
One of the most important things we teach our students in the classroom is a love of words. This love of words can help cultivate an extensive vocabulary and a great writing style. In my experience, children who love to read books and have books read to them have more extensive vocabularies when they grow up.
A recent study in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research (Duff et al., 2015) actually supports my anecdotal observations. The researchers found that students’ vocabulary growth after the fourth grade was related to their reading ability in fourth grade. Above average readers had higher rates of vocabulary growth than average readers.
Since we know from research that having strong reading skills improves vocabulary, teachers and parents need to focus on developing a love of reading in students. How do we begin to teach our children to love stories?
We read books to them!
We find stories that teach children a love of reading, and as they love the story, they learn the vocabulary used in the book, too.
Reading books cans teach children the elements of a story, the power of storytelling through flashbacks, how to identify characters, and so much more.
Reading books in your classroom can be an excellent time for connecting with your students. The themes that can be learned from a story are things that you cannot easily teach in a classroom, like courage, forgiveness, standing up for others, and more.
While there isn’t a specific set of books every teacher should use, it is important to read a variety of novels and poems – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. Here are some of my favorite books to read in the classroom.
The Magic Tree House
The Magic Tree House books have so much to offer a diverse number of students. In Magic Tree House, brother and sister pair Jack and Annie are sent on missions and adventures. These books will captivate your readers right away, and with different levels of stories, there is something for everyone. Magic Tree House is written for young readers, a great transition to chapter books. Merlin Missions are a more challenging read for more experienced readers. Super Edition is for your most experienced readers!
The Cam Jansen Series
Wilbur the pig is the runt of the litter and is almost killed by Fern’s father when she saves him. After this, Fern and Wilbur become the best of friends. This story about friendship will warm the hearts of your students, while it’s easy to understand text will keep even your struggling readers engaged. Charlotte’s Web is geared for 3rd – 4th grade.
Upper Elementary – Middle Grades
Harriet the Spy
Harriet is a spy that writes down everything she knows about everyone she knows in a notebook. But when her notebook ends up in the wrong hands, Harriet has to find a way to fix her friendships. This story will help your students learn about honesty and understanding others.
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Mr. Popper is a house painter with a love of Antarctica and all it has to offer, when one quiet day, Antarctica comes to him in the form of a penguin. The story goes from there in a way that will intrigue and engage your class. The story ends in a way that will lead to a conversation. This book is geared toward 4th – 6th grade.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
After the Baudelaire children become orphans, they are sent to live with a distant relative. This series, while bleak in circumstance, will keep your kids engaged with the ingenuity of its characters. This series is geared toward your upper-level grades, 6th – 8th.
A Wrinkle in Time
If you are looking for a story full of fantasy and adventure, look no further than this Newberry medal award-winning book. Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace go on an adventure to find their father, all while dealing with issues like doing the right thing and not fitting in.
Prairie Visions: The Life and Times of Solomon Butcher
This true story of Solomon Butcher, a photographer at the turn of the twentieth century. The book is filled with his photographs of life in the Midwest. Depending on the grade, I skim passages of the text, but students really enjoy this book.
Across America on an Emigrant Train
Children of the Dustbowl: The True Story of the school at Weedpatch Camp
This is my all-time favorite nonfiction book to read with students! Students learn about how the Dust Bowl affected the Midwest. The story follows people as they migrate west to California in hopes of finding work. Sadly, they encounter a lot of hostility from Californians. The Okies are resilient, and one man helps them build their own school. Students thoroughly enjoy this story of love and support, as well as seeing what school was like during this time.
Books provide a way to share ideas, themes, and a love of stories with your class. When your students love to read, they will learn, accidentally, vocabulary, elements of a story, and so much more.
So, pick up a book and read!
Duff, Dawna et al. “The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect” Journal of speech, language, and hearing research : JSLHRvol. 58,3 (2015): 853-64.