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Using reading to help pupils secure and extend their use of vocabulary

The following teaching approaches are designed to help teachers secure and extend the learning of pupils who have developed their written vocabulary, but could be challenged still further. The focus is predominantly on fiction texts.

Using poetry as a springboard

  • Select a poem for paired discussion about meaning, for example, Spellbound, by Emily Brontë. Ask pupils to change certain words in the poem to change its mood, for example altering the boldfaced words.

The night is darkening round me, [glittering/maddening/faltering]
The wild winds coldly blow; [cool breezes/warm breaths/ice clouds]
But a tyrant spell has bound me [giant’s grasp/wizard’s trick/lover's kiss]
And I cannot, cannot go.

  • Introduce and annotate a range of texts in which particularly powerful or evocative vocabulary choices enable the writer to convey meaning, for example in Vernon Scannell's A Case of Murder; D.H. Lawrence's Snake, Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal; or Andrei Voznesensky's First Ice.
  • Delete five or six significant words from a short text. Ask pupils to select from a list of synonyms the words they believe have been deleted and to justify their choices by elaborating on the shades of meaning.

Context and interpretation

  • Model the process by which readers question texts in order to ascertain meaning and understand how they are being 'positioned' by the writer. Show pupils how some interpretations are more valid than others because of other evidence in the text, and how the exact meaning of a word can be affected by its context.
  • Explore how implicit meanings are conveyed, by changing the verb and adverb of speech, for example, 'I can’t continue', uttered John sadly, but also how by removing vocabulary sometimes speech and meaning are enriched or made more natural.

New words, new meanings

  • Ask pupils to investigate new words, phrases and expressions associated with changing attitudes and situations in society (carbon footprint, wardrobe malfunction, nail bars and so forth); ask pupils to devise further expressions based on changing attitudes within the school context.