How many times have you, as a teacher, heard a phrase from your students such as “I need the things, to do the stuff.” The correlation between student vocabulary knowledge and academic achievement is well documented, and all teachers focus on teaching their students the academic vocabulary representative of the grade level and content areas they teach. However, it can be a challenge to get students to incorporate that vocabulary into their own speech and writing. Here are three simple ways to help students actually use the vocabulary words that you teach them.

Set the Expectation

Set that expectation with your students that they utilize specific or precise language when speaking or writing. When students use everyday language, ask them one or more of the following questions:

  • What’s a more precise word for…?
  • What is the formal/academic word for…?
  • What vocabulary word have we been learning that represents…?

Use Academic Language Daily

Along with your expectation of student use of precise language, make it a habit to incorporate this type of vocabulary in your own speech and writing as well. It is a good idea to have the students say the vocabulary with you. For example, consider the following scenario:

Teacher: Your next task, or job, is to classify these objects, or put them into groups, in some way. You will decide on the categories or groups you create. What is the word for putting the objects into groups, everyone?

Students: Classify!

Teacher: Say that with me, everyone!

Students: Classify!

Note the contextual definitions built into the directions, and then the question and repetition of the word so that students become used to hearing and saying the more accurate vocabulary.

Remember that students do not need to master a word when they are exposed to it.

Teach Precise Language

Share with students how they can utilize more precise language when speaking and writing. For example, point out words and phrases that add specificity to their language. For example, they might say “response” rather than “answer”, or “evidence” rather than “proof”. Couple this with the vocabulary students are learning related to the academic subject being taught, as well as the expectation that they use the more formal, specific and precise language, and students will begin using the vocabulary on a more frequent basis.