7 Step Vocabulary

Teaching vocabulary to students is an incredibly important part of content area knowledge. Academic knowledge, specifically, can be hard for students to retain if they are low achieving, special education, or if English is their second language. For years, research has shown that increased vocabulary knowledge means improved reading comprehension. Last year, I learned about a pretty powerful and effective strategy for teaching vocabulary to ELE and Special Education students through a state sponsored training. It was created by the incredible and talented ELE teaching guru, Margarita Calderon. It's so good, I have to pass it on!

The seven step vocabulary process can be used in any subject, at any time. You can do all seven steps, or you can choose to do just some of them. In my classroom, I do the entire process at the start of a unit with the critical academic words. It has really increased scores for my students!

The first step is to say the word and show it to the students. The students then repeat the word back to me. We repeat this step three times. I like to have the kids repeat it in unison so students that have a hard time with pronunciation aren't nervous. This step helps to link the pronunciation and print version of the word for students.

The next step is to show the word in a sentence and read it aloud to the students. In this step, the students do not have to repeat or use it themselves. They just observe the sentence in print and the teacher using it orally. This step gives context to the word so students can begin to understand how to use it. 

In this step, the teacher shows and reads the textbook definition of the word. Although it is tempting, you should resist the urge to make it "kid friendly." It comes later!  In this step, you want the definition to have academic rigor even if it is above the student's heads. The purpose of this step is to expose students to academic and formal English, and prepare for or reinforce dictionary usage.

This step is where the definition starts to make sense. Here, the teacher explains the meaning of the word in a kid friendly way. You can use simple language, props, hand movements, or pictures to fully convey the meaning of the word. I also generally use it in a sentence with day-to-day context for the kiddos to really start to get the meaning.

This step is where the "tricky" parts of the word are pointed out. This could be multiple meanings, words with non-standard spelling, homonyms, grammatical variations, or false cognates. In this step, you can also point out the language cognate if you know it or are able to find it. A great source for looking up cognates is The Cognatarium.

This is the step where the kiddos start to "own" the words. They participate in a think-pair-share to use the word in context 10 - 12 times each. The teacher provides an example and a sentence stem first. If the word was environment she may say "One part of the environment I care about is _____." The students would then repeat this sentence frame with a partner, filling in the blank differently each time. The sentence frame is posted on the board. 

This is the word in use! The students receive a reading, which is usually completed in partners or groups. The reading uses all of the vocabulary that has been taught using the 7 step process. The teacher also assigns a short writing to be completed after the reading has been completed. The students should be required to use a vocabulary word (or more, depending on their levels) in their writing. This provides accountability for the students and also lets them apply their knowledge to deepen their understanding.

It sounds like SO MUCH but once it has been done a few times, the kiddos really get into a routine. You should only spend about 2 minutes on each word, and complete 3 - 5 words per lesson. It is worth it- I swear! Since it's hard to visualize without an example, I've made one for you below.

Step one: Have the kids repeat it after you three times.

Step two:

 Step three:

Step four:

Step five:

Step six: Just a note on this step- with higher level ELE students I may give a two part sentence frame, such as "Sometimes I analyze ___________ because ___________."

Step seven:

So, there it is. I know it seems like a lot, but give it a shot! I have noticed a big difference in my student's learning since I started using this process in my teaching. 


  1. I am moving to third grade next year after teaching kindergarten and first and am really excited to do vocabulary instruction!! I ordered the WORD NERDS book to help me get started but will try and remember this post too. I am your newest follower!

    The Weekly Sprinkle

  2. This looks great. I'm just doing some preparation before starting my teacher training year in September, and this looks like it will be super useful! Thank you for posting!

  3. How many words do you usually teach at one time using this method? How much time do you spend doing it during a class session and about how often do you do it in class?

    1. Hi Lindsay! I teach between 4 - 7 words at a time using this method, depending on how difficult or abstract the words are. I tried 10 once and it was just too much for my kiddos. Teaching the students how to do this method is time consuming at first, but once they understand the procedure they go from step to step easily and it takes 5 - 10 minutes. I do not have any ELL students, so I do it about once a week. With ELL students it's recommended to do more often. Hope that helped- let me know if you have any other questions! :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Jasper Roberts Consulting - Widget