Vocabulary for High School Students

Lessons for vocabulary for hIgh school students can meet upper-level language standards. Vocabulary activities for high school can include writing and word walls. Teaching vocabulary to high school students can be meaningful English lessons.

Creating meaningful vocabulary for high school students. Hmmmm.

Word walls, mentor sentences, and repetition: It’s tough, and I believe it’s because students are jaded against vocabulary lessons. I don’t have all of the answers, but I can be honest about methods I’ve found meaningful. While researching this post, I discovered other methods worth examining. I’ll include links to those ideas later. Hopefully this post serves as a resource as you examine and implement vocabulary methods, discovering the most effective for your students.

Overall, my best approach to meet advanced language standards (vocabulary for high school students is included in those standards!) is to provide students with choice about their tools. When I teach vocabulary, I provide bookmarks for choosing words and graphic organizers for analyzing the words.

(Working on teaching vocabulary to high school students ? You might want to bookmark this page.)

Lessons for vocabulary for hIgh school students can meet upper-level language standards. Vocabulary activities for high school can include writing and word walls. Teaching vocabulary to high school students can be meaningful English lessons.

Let’s examine some vocabulary activities for high school.Vocabulary activities high school: don't ignore word walls

1. Student directed: Ask students to choose their words.

With this approach, students will choose words to study from a reading assignment, most often a novel.

This method takes extra work because you won’t have a master for grading. I’ve also found that it’s labor intensive. Guiding students and encouraging them to uncover difficult words requires circling amongst students. Grading can be a completion check or quick overview of words. Another option is to compile the class’ commonly listed words and study those. This approach means that the work won’t be done ahead of time, which creates extra prep work for you.

Still, this is the vocabulary instruction I commonly use for my high school students. It gives them ownership, and I sense less grumbling from students. At times, I provide structure and require certain words be included. They overall choose the words, and I merely serve as their assistant in learning.

When students choose their vocabulary words, this can flow into writing assignments. For instance, you can have them write a sentence using a vocabulary word. Another option is to find a theme among the words and have them write a story based on the words’ message: gloom, excitement, destruction, promise.

Teaching words can come from the teacher

2. Pre-made lists: Choose the words and have students attempt the definition from a text.

When reading fiction or nonfiction, choose vocabulary words ahead of time. Give students the list and as they read, ask them to derive the meaning from the context. After finishing, students can correct their words with each other, a dictionary, or as a class.

Students will practice using context clues. Furthermore as you review, you can explain the parts of speech, showing students how grammar is part of what they read. To take it a step more, examine why the author used specific language. For instance in The Great Gatsby, we analyze Fitzgerald’s writing style through a linguistic lens.

Post a word of the day

3. Easy vocabulary for the high school student: Teach a word of the day.

Floating around Pinterest are dozens of “words every high school graduate should know” and “ACT prep vocabulary words” lists. Grab a list, modify it if necessary, and add vocabulary. Teach one word per day. This can be in a no-stress way, by simply posting the word and reading it to start class. Students will remember those words, especially if you use them throughout the year in your lessons.

Many schools are creating lists for the entire school to focus on. Your school may soon have such a list, and all teachers will incorporate those words in some manner.

To review, grab sticky notes and ask students to create a picture, sentence, or note that helps them remember the word and its definition. Combine the sticky notes and complete a gallery walk with your class.

Teach vocabulary for the high school student

4. Vocabulary for high school students: Teach from a series.

Teaching vocabulary from a series is a bit like #3, but with more pre-made activities. If you are new to teaching vocabulary or need quick instruction, the web is full of vocabulary series with accompanying activities. Experiment with what your students enjoy and with what helps them learn the best. Create your own vocabulary activities to supplement, or branch out with the above ideas.

Teaching from a series shouldn’t be the end-all of your vocabulary teaching, but can be a starting point. I use mentor sentences from a variety of books so that I can connect vocabulary to literature smoothly.

Word walls can help vocabulary words for the high school student

5. Fun and visual reminders: Word walls.

Yes, secondary students enjoy word walls. Ask students to assemble adverbs and adjectives from their vocabulary lists. Hang the words and discuss their meanings. As students created this visual, they will interact with it, especially if it becomes part of a bulletin board.

The goal is for students to review their vocabulary in multiple ways, study it multiple times, and to take ownership of the words. Vocabulary activities high school needn’t always be formal; a quick review with the word wall created by students will reinforce vocabulary lessons. 


Like I previously mentioned, when I began writing this blog post, I researched best practices for vocabulary instruction. During my teaching training, I was taught that students needed to identify words for the instruction to be meaningful. I see validity with that point and most often use some variation of that when teaching high school students vocabulary. However, I have experienced students avoiding words that intimidate them. The words that could create growth? Students ignore them.

One could argue that students are still studying, but are they truly expanding their vocabularies? Teacher involvement is a requirement – involvement that uses the vocabulary orally and in writing. In “Research-based Practices in Vocabulary Instruction,” the authors say this:

Research recommends that students learn fewer words but that they know how words and the English language work so that they can infer the meanings of new words. Effective vocabulary instruction is characterized by deliberate selection of words to be taught and frequent opportunities for students to interact with the words in meaningful contexts. Interacting with words in multiple ways and in varied contexts results in durable word learning.

From reading “know how words and the English language work,” I take that to mean conventions, grammar, studying language. I’ve written about teaching grammar alongside vocabulary, and how students benefit from learning words associated with an English class, just as students use algebraic terms in an algebra class.

The study quoted above is not long, and contains links to other resources. If you teach with ‘tiered’ words, Edutopia has tips for that vocabulary instruction.


Teaching vocabulary for high school students is a must, and the variations will depend upon your classes’ needs and your experience. When I reflect upon my first years teaching, my vocabulary instruction was weak. Over time, I learned new methods and grew in my confidence in allowing students to participate more. Passive learning of vocabulary will not grow students’ vocabularies. Research different approaches, and experiment.

Collaborate with other teachers and learn vocabulary alongside your students. Finally, be open to various approaches when teaching vocabulary to high school students.

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive updates about new blog posts, freebies, and teaching resources!

* indicates required

We will send you emails, but we will never sell your address.

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at [email protected]. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.

Computer with mentor sentences and vocabulary definitions