How To Create a Vocabulary List

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

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

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! When you consider how to make a vocabulary list, try. . .

Teaching vocabulary can start with a pre-made vocabulary list from the teacher.

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. When I thought about how to organize vocabulary words for The Jungle, the answer was for the teacher to choose a few words.

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. Sometimes, students need you to take something off their plates. Give them the vocabulary list, and let them focus on a unique aspect of the story.

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

A vocabulary list for high school English classes for short stories

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. A vocabulary list for secondary students can included previously identified 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. (You can download one of my vocabulary lists.) 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. A perfect extension activity is to create a word wall together for additional studying. The goal is to have students engage with the material in a variety of ways.

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

Vocabulary list for secondary English students

Encouraging Student Lists

Teenagers’ involvement with the vocabulary list for secondary students matters. 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. When the story and class tone lends itself, allow a self-generated vocabulary list for secondary students. 

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. (Lots of work, but a big pay-off.)

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. This method particularly works well if you need to focus on student buy-in.

Finally, if you are thinking of how to organize vocabulary words, student-generated lists often organize themselves. Students found the words, and they will have opinions about organizing the words.

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. Don’t forget to download my editable and free vocabulary list for secondary students to get started.

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

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Teaching vocabulary from mentor sentences can help in retention.

How to create a vocabulary list with meaning? I hope these approaches for connecting vocabulary to grammar and literature with secondary students helped. If you’d like to discuss how to organize vocabulary words with other teachers, please join our Facebook Group for collaboration.