Top 8 Vocabulary Instruction Best Practices

Top 8 Vocabulary Instruction Best Practices

Top 8 Vocabulary Instruction Best Practices

Rigorous vocabulary instruction is important because a strong vocabulary fosters academic, social, and vocational success.

So, how do you ensure you’re providing rigorous, or “best practice,” vocabulary instruction? Though it is not an exact science, research supports that a few key components are effective in vocabulary instruction.

Did you know that reading comprehension is dependent on knowing the meaning of 98% of the words in the text?  Low vocabulary plays a huge role in poor reading comprehension in grades 2-12. 

Multiple Contexts

Students need to be exposed to a word, across multiple contexts, around ten times before they deeply understand the nuances of a word’s meaning.

According to the National Reading Technical Assistance Center’s Review of Current Research on Vocabulary Instruction, “Biemiller and Boote (2006) also found that word explanations taught directly during the reading of a storybook enhanced children’s understanding of word meanings. Nash and Snowling (2006) found that using a contextual approach to instruction produced greater vocabulary gains than lessons that emphasized learning word definitions.”


Simple Language in Explanation

Remember, you are often using language to teach language when it comes to traditional vocabulary instruction. It is important to use vocabulary that students already understand, or have background knowledge with, when teaching a new concept.


Active Engagement

Our end goal is to have learners utilize rich vocabulary in their own lives, writing, conversation, etc. So the more you can put students in the driver’s seat of their learning, the better.

You could ask students to find other examples of the word in novels, in images, or in the text you’re reading. You can ask them to use the word in their writing! Any active engagement with the word, past the direct instruction, helps the vocabulary meaning and spelling stick with students.


Use of Visuals
Using visuals during vocabulary instruction allows for two key things to happen:
All students are able to engage
Many of our learners struggle with decoding or may not be fluent readers. That limits engagement in vocabulary instruction if vocabulary instruction uses only words (i.e., definitions).
Students create background knowledge
Images help learners engage and create pictures in their minds for the vocabulary concepts. Great readers create pictures or a “movie” as they read. Offering multiple, rich images as a method for learning vocabulary words helps students call upon that background knowledge as they create their internal “movie” about the text.



Understanding how words are formed, and their relationship to other vocabulary, is significant. Vocabulary instruction should create opportunities for learners to see the relationships between words when there is a common prefix, suffix, or root.



Semantics refers to the meanings of individual words, the network of words, and word relationships in our minds. According to reading researcher Timothy Shanahan, “[Have students] Collect such (complex) words over time as they are learned, and then later you can have kids comparing the ideas or fitting them into a continuum or network.” Source Word webs and semantic maps are helpful for this type of expansion.



Multisensory approaches to instruction combine hearing, speaking, reading, and kinesthetic (i.e., hands-on activities). Incorporating multisensory activities is a great scaffold for learners. Many students benefit from seeing images or illustrations of vocabulary. They benefit from creating their own pictures, too (after they actually deeply understand the meaning of the word). Drawing, charades, finding real-world examples, or creating sentences of your own with the newly acquired vocabulary word are all great activities!

Our Approach to Multisensory Instruction


Most words require 10-12 exposures in order to deeply “own” the vocabulary word. This includes understanding its many nuances and contexts, whether the word has multiple (separate) meanings, its spelling, and pronunciation (having the word in our orthographic and semantic lexicon).

Rigorous, and rich, vocabulary instruction takes time and planning on the part of teachers. It is multifaceted and engaging. By integrating many of these attributes, teachers can guide students in creating a deep understanding of vocabulary, which opens doors for students in every area of their learning and communication.

See It in action!

✔ Explore Really Great Vocabulary Powered by InferCabulary!
✔ Attend a free 3-hour Science of Reading Vocabulary Workshop!
✔ Read more about the effectiveness of abstract vocabulary instruction and the research behind it.


Are you looking for a Science of Reading curriculum solution? Don't make a decision without looking at our exceptional, efficient, and scientifically aligned approach used in our reading programs. We have been teaching the Science of Reading for 18 years. Whether it be our professional developmentdiagnosticsstudent groupingreading interventions, and whole class reading instruction, everything we offer is firmly and deeply rooted in the Science of Reading.

Speak to an Expert. Schedule a Science of Reading Curriculum Overview 

Schedule Here

Go to top