The Best Way to Increase Students’ Vocabulary

by | Mar 12, 2019 | Language Arts, Teaching Resources | 0 comments

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.

Primary Grades

Junie B Jones

Junie B. Jones by Denise Brunkus and Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones is a vivacious 5 year old just getting into kindergarten and all its adventures. Her stories are perfect for your 1st – 2nd graders to enjoy.

The Magic Tree House

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Magic-Tree-HouseThe Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

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 Black Lagoon Series

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Black-LagoonThe Black Lagoon Series by Jared D. Lee and Mike Thaler

The Black Lagoon series cultivate a world of imaginations, as well as deal with some real-life issues like bullying, confronting fears, and more. These books are designed for k – 3rd grade.

Amelia Bedelia

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Amelia-BedeliaAmelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

Amelia Bedelia is the literal-minded housekeeper we all know and love. Her mishaps will keep the class laughing while learning about words. These books are designed for 2nd and 3rd grade.

The Cam Jansen Series

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Cam-JansenThe Cam Jansen Series by David Adler

Cam Jansen is a fifth-grade super-sleuth with a photographic memory. Her chapter books are geared toward 3rd graders, but some older grades enjoy the mystery-solving element of these books. The Cam Jansen books are great transition series to chapter books.

Charlotte's Web

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Charlottes-WebCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White

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.

Ramona's World

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-RamonasWorldRamona’s World by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby has always been an imaginative girl with a tendency to find herself in all kinds of predicaments. As she grows up, she ends up in more complicated situations. This book is perfect for your 3rd – 5th graders.

Stuart Little

Stuart Little by E.B. White

Stuart Little is the story of the sweet little mouse who was born to a family of humans. Even though he is small, Stuart is a brave lover of adventure. Your 3rd-6th graders will love to read the story of this courageous, small mouse.

Upper Elementary – Middle Grades

The Tale of Despereaux

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-The_Tale_of_DespereauxThe Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This sweet tale of a brave mouse is beloved by all. It is the perfect story to read to your younger grades. This book has four smaller books inside it, each written from a different perspective.

Harriet the Spy

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Harriet-the-spyHarriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

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.

The Harry Potter Sereis

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Harry-PotterThe Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter is living in the muggle world, unaware that he is a wizard. These books are full of adventure, challenges, friendship, and so much more. Read this book aloud to your class and watch them become enraptured.

The One and Only Ivan

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-One-and-Only-IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This book is inspired by the true story of a gorilla who spent 30 years alone in a cage in an indoor zoo. This book imagines what the gorilla may have felt and said about his life. This story is perfect for 3rd – 6th  graders.

The City of Ember

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember was the last refuge for humans. Our story begins 200 years after humans had to move, with Lina, our protagonist, on a mission for answers. This series is geared for upper-level elementary/early middle, 4th – 7th grade.


Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-HolesHoles by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats and his family are dealing with a curse. As a result of this curse, Stanley is sent to a boys’ detention center where he spends his days digging holes and trying to solve the mystery of Lake Warden. This book is designed for middle schoolers to enjoy.

Percy Jackson

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Percy-JacksonPercy Jackson by Rick Riordan

The Percy Jackson books will keep your upper level elementary and early middle schoolers on the edge of their seats. These stories are all about courage, bravery, and heroism.

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Mr-Poppers-PenguinsMr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

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

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-A-Series-of-Unfortunate-EventsA Series of Unfortunate Events by (Lemony Snicket) Brett Helquist

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.

Anne of Green Gables

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Anne-of-Green-GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This literally classic has beautiful themes of friendship and being yourself. It is filled with beautiful, poetic writing that is still easy for your students to understand. Your 3rd-6th graders will love this story.

Peter Pan

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Peter-PanPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie

A lot of your students may not realize they can read the classic story of Peter Pan, but they should! As we all know, this story has a big theme of courage, and the adventure rate is off the charts. This book can be read aloud in class or can be given to your students.

A Wrinkle in Time

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Wrinkle-in-TimeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Prairie-VisionsPrairie Visions: The Life and Times of Solomon Butcher by Pam Conrad

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

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Emigrant-TrainAcross America on an Emigrant Train by Jim Murphy

This book is about Robert Louis Stevenson’s journey across America by train. In 1879, he traveled from Europe to California to be with his love. Students learn about emigration, the transcontinental railroad, and westward expansion

Children of the Dustbowl: The True Story of the school at Weedpatch Camp

Teaching-Ideas-4u-Amy-Mezni-Children-Dust-BowlChildren of the Dustbowl: The True Story of the school at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley

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.

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The Best Way to Increase Students’ Vocabulary