How can I improve vocabulary across my school?

an open book with a pen in the spine

Any progressive school curriculum needs to consider the place of explicit vocabulary instruction and, therefore, how we are to equip all teachers to teach vocabulary. Literacy training for teachers needs to be a priority for any school wanting to improve vocabulary teaching across their school, because many teachers never receive this training in their early practice. Therefore, the first stage of improving vocabulary across school has to be literacy training for teachers, regardless of their subject.

The next stage to focus on is a systematic approach to the explicit teaching of vocabulary that can be used by all teachers, in every classroom and isn’t seen as a bolt-on or an additional extra. Students’ experiences of vocabulary instruction need to be consistent across every subject and key stage, and for this we advocate a strategic, systematic approach, involving morphemic analysis, which is exactly what our whole-class, cloud-based literacy resource - Lexonik Vocabulary Plus - does. Everything we know of cognitive science, memory and cognitive load, points us away from the memorisation of vocabulary lists and towards a methodology students can use to develop vocabulary understanding independently.

Morphemic analysis involves the recognition and application of the meaning of parts of words (morphemes) to interpret meaning from academic vocabulary. Having a firm understanding of prefixes, suffixes and stems not only supports definitions for individual words but, arguably more importantly for a school curriculum, it allows students to begin to connect vocabulary and link contexts from across the curriculum. Hence, a vocabulary-rich curriculum is one which focuses on morphemic analysis and has an empowered and confident team of teachers to deliver it.

Arguably, teachers who have implicit or learned knowledge of how to teach vocabulary and reading have a similar advantage to students who have developed vocabulary understanding. Those are the teachers who have the skills to navigate through content in a way that makes the language of their subject accessible, allowing students to decode and deconstruct concepts and knowledge at a deeper level. A teacher with the skills to explicitly teach reading and vocabulary automatically lessens cognitive load by providing instruction and techniques, enabling students to decipher language in any given context. This lessens the need to remember list upon list of vocabulary and, more importantly, gives students the self-belief to manoeuvre themselves through a text and make the need for committing words to memory unnecessary.

With youth illiteracy rates increasing like never before, it can be argued that the golden thread of any curriculum should be the explicit teaching of reading and vocabulary, replicated whole-school, in every classroom.