As a renowned educational theorist, researcher, and practitioner, Marzano has proven that the following research-based steps are crucial in helping middle school students improve their content area vocabulary knowledge. This process is applicable to a variety of subjects and will support vocabulary building for all students at any ability level. It works best if you do not skip any steps:
Step 1: Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
- Simply looking up new vocabulary terms in a dictionary is not enough for students to truly begin to construct meaning. Teachers need to find ways to provide context for the new terms. Some examples include using authentic experiences to explain the term, telling a story that integrates the content area vocabulary term, using video clips, describing a mental picture of the term, or using images to explain the term.
Step 2: Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
- This is an opportunity for teachers to monitor and correct their learners’ current understanding of vocabulary terms. Students should be encouraged to explain the term with original ideas, not simply restate the teacher's explanation. This could be accomplished in a class discussion or recorded in a content-area vocabulary notebook.
Step 3: Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
- Since there are a variety of ways for students to non-linguistically exhibit their understanding, providing models of acceptable responses is an effective way to reinforce understanding. Students could draw (or find) images that represent the term, play a Pictionary-style game, create a comic book, or dramatize the term using characters and speech bubbles.
Step 4: Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
- There are a variety of ways teachers can help support ongoing vocabulary knowledge and practice. These include placing an emphasis on the affixes and root word, identifying synonyms and antonyms, constructing analogies, analyzing similarities between two terms, classifying words into categories, and studying a word's etymology.
Step 5: Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
- When students discuss vocabulary terms with one another, they will solidify their own understanding and learn from one another. Together, students can compare their descriptions, orally describe their drawings, help correct any misunderstandings, find areas of common understanding and disagreement, and make revisions to their work.
Step 6: Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.
- Using games to support content area vocabulary understanding is a meaningful way for learners to remain engaged with the terms. Games also help teachers create additional context for ongoing vocabulary understanding. While there are many traditional ones that students can play to support content area vocabulary knowledge, teachers should also encourage online games like Quizlet. Check out a variety of grade level games on this website from the State of Tennessee.
When teachers follow this six-step process, they will help to build a foundational understanding for vocabulary enrichment– a foundation that will serve students well through high school and beyond. Be sure to share your successes with us in the comments section below!
*Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.