Why Kindergarten Vocabulary Activities and Instruction Are Important
What is the best way to help students learn not only new words and build a child’s vocabulary? How do we dive deeper into descriptive words and glean the word’s meaning? How do we go beyond just a list of words, word of the week, or a simple word bank? In this article, I will share the research on how to build students’ background knowledge around unknown words in fun ways.
Research on Vocabulary and Language Development
First, let’s talk about the importance of vocabulary instruction in kindergarten, first grade, and beyond. Here is the science behind vocabulary and comprehension. Reading comprehension starts with listening comprehension.
Mark Seidenberg is a researcher and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a cognitive scientist, neuroscientist, and psycholinguist who has studied language, reading, and dyslexia for more than 30 years. Dr. Seidenberg tells us that reading comprehension is essentially taking the words on the paper and (even in silent reading) then listening to them. So I will repeat, reading comprehension starts with listening comprehension.
What happens when children’s vocabulary impedes their ability to comprehend what they hear? Some children enter school with a sophisticated and rich vocabulary, while many others have a very rudimentary vocabulary. When a child’s vocabulary is limited, these are the children we worry about. These are the students that keep us up at night.
Group Activities for New Vocabulary Words
As you look at the picture of our vocabulary graphic organizer below, notice that it includes not just interesting words but common words as well. We added student-friendly definitions and added related words. This vocabulary activity expands the vocabulary skills of our kindergarten students exponentially. Looking at the word “packed” for example. This word is not really considered a Tier 2 word. However, our instructional routine of looking at similar words and words that mean the opposite means we added 11 additional words.
This part of our vocabulary curriculum is placed on the bulletin board. This is one of the effective ways to look back at the weeks of vocabulary instruction we have completed. Each chart paper holds 4 weeks of vocabulary work. I do stack the charts so we can easily refer back to previous new words we have studied.
Vocabulary Activities to Build Listening Comprehension in Kindergarten
Teaching vocabulary is not always something we think about at the primary grade level. But as you can see, research supports diving into word meanings when students are beginning readers. Students with greater word knowledge in early elementary will have more success with reading comprehension in the older grades. We know that in order to increase vocabulary, students need to be exposed to new words. But which words are appropriate for primary learners? Let’s look at the picture books we read to them!
Vocabulary Words for Kindergarten
According to the National Reading Panel, long-lasting vocabulary learning occurs when students see vocabulary in authentic texts, compared to isolated vocabulary drills. So with that in mind, we updated our vocabulary portion of the Engaging Readers units to better support vocabulary instruction in the classroom. Woohoo!
Quick and Easy Vocabulary Activities for Kindergarten
Each Engaging Reader’s text includes plans for explicit instruction for two vocabulary words. Each book has these graphic organizers with the vocabulary written words added. Then we provided a blank space for you to add the different meanings. Of course, we have provided word guides, but you don’t need to use the exact words we suggested. If you have a similar word you wish to add, that is works as well.
Throughout the week, students study and we encourage students to use these new words in everyday conversations.
We keep multiple words posted as a reminder for the teacher to use these words as well. Modeling the use of a new vocabulary word is so important. Young children have so much fun pointing out, “Hey, you said ‘muttered’!”
Vocabulary Learning Through Direct Instruction
Research states that students remember words when they are able to connect the meaning of the word to the knowledge they already have. This is a type of active processing and occurs when students are exposed to words in a variety of ways. For example:
- explicitly taught the meaning of a word.
- identify examples and non-examples of the word
- create sentences that contain the new word
- create scenarios or stories in which they use the word
- produce antonyms and synonyms for the word
As you can see, we are not just looking at the word arrange in this example. Some of these words might be familiar to students’ everyday language, but others are certainly new to them.
Additionally, we may also point out multiple-meaning words like cobbler. A cobbler is someone who mends shoes and a delicious dessert made with fruit. You could even show students a picture of these words. A quick Google search is an easy way to do that. Now I want a cobbler.
Beyond the Dictionary Vocabulary Activities
For each vocabulary word, students contextualize the word by responding to a prompt. Here is an example of how younger children can add a new vocabulary word to their notebooks in meaningful ways. Drawing pictures is perfect for early learners. You could also use these student illustrations as picture cards to add to your anchor charts.
Having whole-group discussions also solidifies the learning of new vocabulary because students are participating in their own learning. Students turn and talk to their partners to help strengthen their oral language. You can add new words to sentence strips as well.
More Vocabulary Practice Activities
Throughout the week, students practice the vocabulary words. The activities vary from book to book!
These next three are examples of response pages from a first-grade and second grade classroom (yes, our Engaging Readers are differentiated to reach children of all ages). These are also placed in each student’s vocabulary notebook. This type of activity could also extend to your content areas. The power of words is endless.
As you can see, students have different ways to create these word maps.
Kindergarten Vocabulary Activities
I hope these examples have given you a few ideas on how you can teach vocabulary to your own students. These vocabulary strategies are great to use not just with your read-aloud, but these are equally effective for all subject areas.
All of the resources you need to start teaching vocabulary through authentic texts are available in our Engaging Readers units!
As you can see, these are not just a kindergarten vocabulary resource. These are a perfect for first-grade and second-grade!
Check these “done for you” lesson activities.
- Read Aloud Lessons for the Entire Year, Reading and Phonics Curriculum Set 1 (Best for Kindergarten)
- Read Aloud Lessons for the Entire Year, Reading and Phonics Curriculum Set 2 (Best for 1st Grade)
- Read Aloud Lessons for the Entire Year, Reading and Phonics Curriculum Set 3 (Best for 2nd Grade)
Additional Vocabulary Activities
Play a Game!
Once you have taught the word, play some word games! Here are a few terrific ways to add some fun!
Guess My Word
Create a picture card or use one a student has made. Put the cards in a box or bag. Pull the card out and give clues to the meaning. This can be done in a whole group or in small groups. It is a perfect game if you have a time limit. For example, you have 3 minutes before it is time to go to lunch. Keep adding to the box so students are reviewing previously taught vocabulary words. Using synonyms or antonyms as clues is a great way to help grow their vocabulary exposure.
Adapt these English Language Learner Games!
This video is filled with some simple ideas that would make the best vocabulary games. Keep in mind, these examples are for students who are learning the English language, but you can easily swap out the simple cards in this example for the vocabulary images you have collected. These look like a blast and I think this teacher is having just as much fun!
Plan your year with our updated curriculum map! Click here:
Please tell me where to find the vocabulary studies?
They are inside of the Engaging Readers units that are linked here in this blog post. 🙂
Is it possible to purchase the vocabulary study worksheet…make it stick?
We do not have the vocabulary templates listed separately. They are included with specific vocabulary words in our Engaging Readers units.