There really is no getting away from it, vocabulary instruction matters and needs to be embedded into a balanced framework of literacy instruction. This means finding time in an already stretched teaching day. The research highlights the strong link between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. According to Graves (2016) vocabulary knowledge in the early grades is a significant predictor of reading comprehension in the higher grades. The work you put into it in the early years is worthwhile. So how should explicit instruction look? Vocabulary instruction can be approached in different ways. For example, whole class teaching for approximately 10 minutes a day. Table 1 outlines a suggested instructional sequence for teaching individual word meanings across a week. If you are lucky enough to have on-going in-class support for literacy a couple of days a week, this is a great opportunity to work on vocabulary in small groups. The class teacher needs to read the story prior to the in-class support session as there is usually limited time to spend at each group.

Suggested Instructional Sequence for Teaching Individual Word Meaning

Approximately 10 minutes a day of systematic vocabulary instruction.

Day 1:

Select a text for that is rich in tier 2 words for your class level.

  • Prepare child friendly definitions for each selected word on cards.
  • Read the text aloud so that they have the story in their head.

Day 2:

Introduce the tier 2 words in context and discuss.

  • Read aloud the sentence or paragraph in which the new word occurs. This provides context.
  • Introduce the tier 2 words with a child friendly definition. Have the children say the words.
  • Give additional context in which we might use the word.

Day 3-4

Engage children in activities to encourage deeper understanding of the target words.

  • Provide opportunities for multiple exposures of the words. E.g. If avoid is one of your target words, instead of saying “keep away from puddles on the yard”, say “avoid the puddles on yard”.

Day 5


  • During the week collect and record data on the frequency and context of tier 2 words used.
  • Use teacher designed assessment such as multiple choice questions and true or false.

Table 1: Suggested instructional sequence for teaching individual word meaning

Choosing Words to Teach

Beck, McKeown and Kucan (2002) came up with the concept of word tiers as a way to distinguish between which words were more important to teach. See table 2.

Tier 1

Basic words that most students do not need to be taught directly. They will learn these in everyday life and conversation.

Tier 2

Sophisticated wide-ranging words of high utility that students will encounter as they read but not so much through conversation. Knowing these words will help students become stronger readers and writers.

Tier 3

Content specific words. Students benefit from knowing these words in isolated situations as necessary (such as when they are reading about volcanoes, reptiles etc).

Table 2: Three levels of word tiers

When thinking about which words to select for instructions, Beck, McKeown and Kucan (2002) suggest teachers should opt for high utility words that will provide students with the most leverage. These are the sophisticated words in the tier 2 category. They stress that there is no formula for selecting age-appropriate vocabulary words for specific class levels. As long as the word can be explained in known words and can apply to what students might talk or write about, it is an appropriate word to teach.

Building Word Consciousness

Keeping the words alive and in use throughout the year is crucial for fostering what Graves (2016) describes as word consciousness. Word consciousness is an awareness of, and interest in words and their meaning. One way of doing this is by displaying the words in prominent areas of the classroom and throughout the school. Picture 1 shows vocabulary words displayed on the walls of a corridor so that teachers and children can draw attention to them as they walk up and down the stairs. The more opportunities you can provide for children to encounter the words in a variety of contexts the better. According to the National Reading Panel (2000) there is great improvement when students encounter vocabulary words often.

Picture 1

Often in crowded classrooms it can be difficult to find wall space to display ongoing work. Picture 2 shows an example of a creative way to display the word cards. When children show that they no longer need to see the words i.e. they are using them organically in conversations or they demonstrate an understanding of their meaning, those words could come down to make way for new words. Another example of a way to display words in a space saving way is to punch holes at the top and bottom of the cards, tie them together with string and hang them vertically from the ceiling.

Picture 2: Display My Wonderful Words cards in creative ways

My Wonderful Words was created as a response to the need to come up with simple, fast-track ways to ensure we can include explicit vocabulary instruction into our packed teaching day. Each vocabulary resource pack accompanies popular picture books and includes a detailed teaching sequence, a word list for planning, data collection sheets to link in with maths, a writing workshop sample page and the all important word cards. I have colour coded the packs to go with different class levels (see pictures 3 and 4). However, you could use any title with any class if you feel the words identified are appropriate for that class.

Picture 3: Example for the My Wonderful Words resources available on at the Jnr. and Snr. infant level


Picture 4: Example for the My Wonderful Words resources available on at the 1st and 2nd class level

Picture 5: Example of a year-long supply and organisation of My Wonderful Words vocabulary book packs for 1st class.

All My Wonderful Words vocabulary book packs are available to purchase from my online store at:  

Purchase 5 or more vocabulary book packs and receive a FREE pack to accompany the story Monkey Do! by Allen Ahlberg (for any class level). Also included in this offer is a sample year long planner absolutely FREE.


  • Beck, Isabel L. McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (2002). In Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Graves, M. (2016). The Vocabulary Book: Learning and Instruction (Language and Literacy Series). (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Report of the National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. [Bethesda, Md.?]: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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