Simple ways to improve vocabulary in your class

Through supply teaching, I have come across lots of teachers and classes who are focussing on improving and broadening the vocabulary used by their students. The main thing I've found is vocabulary development without context is pointless. It's an ongoing dilemma of expanding their repertoire without their writing becoming too 'forced', scripted, or nonsensical. I once challenged my year 2 class to use a variety of adjectives after a lesson on synonyms and although their vocabulary had shown great improvement, the sentences didn't flow as well. "The amazing, gigantic dragon had shiny, rough scales and a stunning, gleaming smile." This blog post identifies a variety of ways to improve vocabulary through lessons and activities without having to teach a lot of lessons focussed specifically on it. Improving vocabulary is a long game which should be little and often rather than stand-along lessons.

improve vocabulary in school


The most obvious but very effective way of improving vocabulary is through reading. Children can learn lots of new vocabulary in context and it is evident in lots of research that reading makes for better spellers and range of vocabulary. A way for students to record new words could be through a vocab diary. This could be in their home/school diary or homework book. Rather than a 'show and tell' at the end of the day, some students may want to share a new word and challenge the class to use it in conversation or writing the next day for a housepoint/dojo/raffle ticket.

Word of the Day 

Vocabulary Ninja is a great source for this if nothing organically comes up from class discussions, reading, and work. They could compile an interesting list in the back of their English books or in a specific vocab book (ideally alphabetically organised). Challenge them to use it either verbally or in their writing!

Working Wall 

We all love a Working Wall when it’s a useful resource accessed by our class. Words of the Week from your class story, lessons, and discussions can be displayed for reference in their own writing. You may notice your class repeating a word too often such as happy or beautiful. Challenge them to find and think of better synonyms to go on your word wall and into their work!

Pre-teach topic vocabulary 

At the beginning of the topic, go through key words that they will find useful during the topic. This will support their spellings and understanding of new vocabulary in history, geography, science, etc. Keep keywords and add to them throughout the topic on the display wall or on an accessible page for their tables.

Vocabulary sheets 

Alongside pre-teaching vocabulary, students can stick in vocabulary sheets along with a new topic header. To show progress, you could have two lists, for example in Science,  students start their own list first to show what they already know and a second list at the end of the unit will show new additions. They can include definitions as well as more words they have learned.

Plenary activity

When addressing new vocabulary for the lesson (e.g. Maths - What is a fraction, vector, angle? etc), make sure to come back to it either at the end of the lesson or towards the end of a unit of work.  As a plenary, ask them to write their definition for that word at the end of the work. You could also use those vocabulary sheets for this and ask them to add a definition to their second list.

Synonyms and Antonyms 

Rather than writing big seven times in this paragraph, how else could we describe the dragon's size? As stand-alone lessons or for starter activities, learning synonyms and antonyms is a great way to improve vocabulary. It supports the understanding of the words meaning and gives them a more varied repertoire. It is also useful for editing work. Students can edit their work independently and you could challenge them to find three words they’ve used (possibly repeated)  and change them to make more of an impact or statement.

The happy ecstatic boy walked skipped gleefully home to tell his parents the good fantastic news.

Do you have any useful tips for improving vocabulary usage in your class? Please feel free to comment below or contact me through the contact box!

Check out my TES shop for great lesson plans, ActivInspire flip charts, and worksheets. 


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