Do you feel lost when it comes to squeezing in middle school vocabulary instruction? Let alone making it engaging and effective. These simple tips will help you feel capable of making time and space for vocabulary instruction in the classroom or at home.

African american teacher with students in middle school vocabulary classroom

Teaching Middle School Vocabulary

“I was watching Netflix last night, and I heard them say “iniquitous” on Riverdale! That was one of our words in class, so I knew they meant it as an insult.”

This comment is music to my ears as a Middle School Language Arts teacher! Even better, when a student excitedly tells me they snuck a word from class into a conversation and caught their parents off guard! Helping our students acquire the words they need to express themselves accurately is crucial as they grow and develop opinions. It is also essential in helping them digest the amount of information swirling around them in today’s digital age. Throughout my decades in the classroom, I have learned a few essential tips to keep vocabulary instruction simple yet highly effective.

Middle School vocabulary assessment online for distance learning

Make Middle School Vocabulary Authentic

Kids learn best in real-life scenarios, and making their learning meaningful is the best way for them to retain it. Tie in relevant examples that they can relate to and create connections with. Practice sentences about flip phones or dial-up internet are no longer relevant to students in 2020. Use examples that include popular video games, celebrities, sports, technology, and social media. Humor always helps too! When they learn it on their terms and create multi-level connections, it will stick. 

Options for using digital assignments in the online classroom

Make Middle School Vocabulary Fun

I will just come out and say it… reading and completing middle school vocabulary exercises on worksheets all year long is no fun. Studies have also shown that this is not how most students will learn. With the rise of technology in the classroom, there are a TON of fun games to incorporate vocabulary instruction. You will be surprised to see a quiet child’s competitive side come out once you throw in a little competition or add a homework pass as an incentive! It felt awesome when an Administrator stopped into my classroom during a highly competitive game of Quizlet Live, thinking there was an issue due to the noise. He was shocked to find no problems, but my students were just THAT EXCITED about learning!

Group of middle school students playing vocabulary games on their mobile phone and online together. Hands are holding smartphone circle on the table.

No technology available for that day, or maybe the wifi is down? No problem! Some of the “old school” vocabulary games can be the most fun! My students love playing Sparkle and Around the World with vocabulary terms as well. It gets them out of their seat and enthusiastic about their learning.

Give Students Practice

It has happened to all of us teachers. We teach a student a new word, such as frugal. The student thinks they understand it. Then they attempt to use it in a sentence.

“Hey! Alejandro got more candy than me. You frugaled me!”

Although I am chuckling on the inside, I always give so much praise for these failed attempts to use new words! This shows precisely why quality middle school vocabulary instruction must incorporate more than memorization. Although a student knows the meaning of a word, being able to use it in context is KEY! One of my students’ favorite activities is merely talking to a partner about the “Thinking Deeper” questions in Vocabulary Words and Work. These questions make great conversation starters for small groups or a whole class discussion. Giving students this opportunity to practice the new words in conversation is the most critical piece to the puzzle! It truly makes the difference between reciting what a word means and using it correctly to express yourself.

technology, gaming and people concept - boy in headphones participating in distance learning for a middle school classroom

Find the Perfect Curriculum Guide for You

Take this quick quiz to find out which vocabulary resources will help you find success with your students.

Due to constant changes in educational trends, I have had to adapt my middle school vocabulary instruction numerous times throughout the years. Each time I have adjusted, I continue to emphasize these three critical aspects of my teaching approach. I have found that sticking to these core practices has helped students retain new words and become more effective in their communication skills. So what are you waiting for? Find the perfect solution for you!

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