How To Create a Vocabulary List

How To Create a Vocabulary List


Looking for ways to create a vocabulary list for secondary students? These three methods should give you a starting point. 

Welcome to “This or That,” a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.

Vocabulary instruction needs constant tweaking in my experiences. Whatever we read, my students and I develop a different list through every new reading.

Why? Each class possesses its own community, and each class wishes to explore different words in different ways. Vocabulary creates an opportunity for student choice and contributes to a classroom community that cares about their own educational goals.

This post isn’t about vocabulary activities, but instead addresses ways to create a vocabulary list. Use one of these methods or a combination!

Creating a Teacher List

In a perfect world, this might be unnecessary. With difficult texts, guiding students with vocabulary words helps. As you prep for teaching, create a list of vocabulary words to study. 

For instance, I’ve taught The Jungle – and at first, I asked students to find words to define. Unfortunately, they developed lists of about 30 words, per chapter. Combined with learning about a strange time period and a different culture, they were overwhelmed. I wanted them to succeed with the book, not hate it.

I chose words that would help them understand the content – and defined the words for students. We did not study vocabulary with every chapter, but I often clarified words while reading or reviewing. 

If students spend more time on vocabulary than reading, I give them a list that I created.

Create a vocabulary list that your students will find meaning in. Here are three ways to create vocabulary lists for secondary students.

Building on a Prior List

Many short stories have words identified and defined (in textbooks). When creating a vocabulary list, I use those words as a basis and ask students to add words. Typically, I give them a number, but I normally just ask them to find unfamiliar words.

Another twist is to start with the prior list and assign students to find five (or so) more words. Then, brainstorm the student gathered words as a class.

Write all the words that students identified and discuss their meanings together. Compile a list of the most commonly found words and complete an extension activity with those.

You’ve built on the prior list, and students contributed – the best of both situations.

Encouraging Student Lists

When students create the vocabulary list, teachers have the most work. That is ok because I’ve found that students enjoy this method the most.

You must check that students have not chosen obvious words and that they have defined them correctly. Students may use the wrong form or definition. You must check that everyone did not copy and paste one list.

If all students identify unfamiliar words as they read, they will be invested in understanding the reading material and the words. You can then again provide student choice in how they practice for a truly student-directed learning opportunity.

Teachers can create a vocabulary list from fiction or nonfiction, can involve students in word choice and practice formats, and can use previously identified words. (Don’t feel bad for using the words provided! Students will probably identify those words anyway!)

No matter what method you choose now, continue to modify and adjust so that your students see the importance in studying vocabulary.

Now that you have your vocabulary list, read Melissa’s post at The Reading and Writing Haven about brain-based vocabulary activities for the classroom.

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