No Prep Vocabulary Activities for Middle & High School

Secondary school students with language impairments are often quite behind their peers in vocabulary, and it can be difficult to know where to start with them; moreover, we want to find a way to target their vocabulary deficit and use middle/high school class and curriculum materials. How do we make sure we are targeting vocabulary, using class materials, and not needing to spend hours prepping for sessions?

I found the answer in the vocabulary strategies taught in Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. The techniques from this wonderful book can easily be embedded in any passage one is reading or discussing. I love that these techniques go above and beyond the simple “say it and use it in a sentence” technique.

Here are a few of the best techniques to deepen vocabulary learning and use. I recommend reading the book for more in-depth guidance!

Example/Non-example

This is when we ask students to simply identify whether a word is correctly used in a sentence or situation.

TARGET WORD: Introduce. Learner’s Dictionary Definition: 1) To make someone known to someone else by name and 2) to cause (someone) to learn about or try (something) for the first time

  • “Can you be introduced to your best friend? Why?”
  • “Can you be introduced to a new teacher? Why?”
  • “Who might need to be introduced to Pennsylvania, someone from New York City or someone from Philadelphia? Why?”

Word Associations

Provide multiple associated comments and have the student select which comments relate to the target word. According to the book, this approach works well if you have multiple target words; however, I believe it can be modified to target one word at a time.

Which comment goes with the word introduce and why?

  • It would be so cool to talk to Ariana Grande!
  • I can’t stand the smell of smokers.
  • Mom needs someone to watch the baby tonight.

Alternative Version: Have the student rewrite the comments or add a follow-up sentence to include the target word as in..

  • It would be so cool if someone introduced me to Arianna Grande!

Generating Situations, Contexts, Examples

Ask the student a specific WH-question that incorporates the target word and requires them to explain the scenario in which it would be used.

  • How would you introduce a new student to your school?
  • Who might want to be introduced to the manager of a clothing store?

Alternative Version: Ask the student to create comments that are associated with the target word.

  • What would you say to someone you are introducing to your favorite sport?
  • What would a Social Studies teacher say when he is introducing himself on the first day of class?

As noted, these strategies can be used on anything from a Newsela or ReadWorks article to a Social Studies reading about Congressional Powers. I generally make up my vocabulary activities as we read but previewing for target words (unfamiliar words critical to comprehension) can also help you quickly prep examples and questions before your sessions start.

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