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Strategies to improve students’ vocabulary

Authors: Greg Whitby
Strategies to improve students’ vocabulary

In his latest Teacher video Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta speaks to Jessica Azar, a teacher from St Margaret Mary’s Primary in Merrylands about her approach to improving students’ vocabulary.

Azar is in her second full year of teaching and is always on the lookout for new ideas to implement in her classroom.

‘There’s a really, really big teacher community on social media and I try to follow all of those things and I’m always looking for new ideas, different practices that I can bring into my own classroom – whether I take them as they are or adapting them for what works for me,’ she shares.

One specific example of this is the Shades of Synonyms Wall that Azar found on Pinterest and has built in her own classroom, which involves the use of paint chip cards found at a hardware store. Azar says that she’s found it’s a great way to improve students’ vocabulary in both speaking and writing.

‘So we have an interactive display where students can come, and take the words, use them in their writing or their speaking and we build on that together as well,’ she says.

When she initially implemented the Shade Wall, Azar thought it would be a great way to extend her top performing students, but it’s proved to be really effective for all the students in her class.

‘Because of the way it’s scaffolded, if a student sees a word down the bottom like “amazing” and they don’t know what that means, they can go up and they can see the word “good” and they can find out what the word means,’ she explains.

‘So it’s really universal in its design. It works for all students. And I’ve just noticed in their writing, they’re more aware of the word choices that they’re using.

‘So sometimes I’ll even see that they’ve written a word like “hungry”, they’ll cross it out and they’ll go get the Shade Wall word and it will say “ravenous” and they’ve written that in their writing. They’re more aware of the word choices that they’re using, trying to make their writing more interesting.’


Jessica Azar uses social media to connect with other educators and find ideas to implement in her own classroom. Consider your own use of social media. What are the main purposes you use it for

What strategies do you employ in your own classroom to improve students’ use of vocabulary? What have you found works best?

Warren 19 September 2018

Great idea for shades of meaning. Bunnings (et al) are not going to be happy I feel. One other adjunct idea for this could be the following. I call it the Origami Bookmark Memory Jogger. It begins with a black tie around my head and a blank piece of A4 paper. I introduce myself as an origami master and proceed with the following instructions. First turn the A4 paper in to the landscape position and fold it down the middle vertically, creating a portrait A5. Then fold it again down the middle vertically creating a bookmark sized piece of paper. End of origami lesson. Ta Da! Now unfold the paper and number the columns 1 to 4 on the front side and 5 to 8 on the back. At the top of column 1 place the name of the book/story/whatever, and under that write the author’s name. As students read the text they record details of character, setting, plot, but most importantly NEW WORDS with the page number after them. The bookmark can be filled with summary notes and added to as required and gradually builds up into a text summary and memory jogger, so that every time they begin reading they can go back over their summary and get up to speed. It also reinforces contact with those new and interesting words. These can now be added to the shades of meaning wall and make each student a massive Thesaurus Rex.

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