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Using writing to build pupils' use of vocabulary

The following teaching approaches use writing as a context for exploring vocabulary choices. Many of them use shared and modelled writing approaches, and you may wish to adapt them to your own schemes and lesson sequences. These particular suggestions are designed for the initial stages of helping pupils build their skills.

Some general principles

  • Encourage the use of dictionaries and thesauruses during drafting and proofreading processes. Suggest that pupils 'try out' words and phrases even when they are not completely sure what they mean, especially in the drafting phase.
  • When marking pupils' work reward effective and ambitious vocabulary choices, even if, in the latter case, pupils may not quite have chosen the right word or phrase.

Teaching approaches

  • Model making word choices while demonstrating writing, thinking aloud and making the criteria for choosing particular words explicit. During shared composition, stop at key words (such as a significant verb), list a number of suggested words from pupils at the side of the board, and discuss them before the final choice is made.
  • Experiment with vocabulary to create different effects, for example describing an old man as (a) a tramp, (b) a grandad, (c) a duke, (d) a professor. Writing frames and banks of suitable descriptive words can support pupils in tasks like this.
  • During drafting, ask pupils to read the work of a partner and highlight three to five words which they think could be replaced by something better.
  • Play the ABC game to help pupils fine-tune their vocabulary choices, helping them to realise how every word choice made can add to its effectiveness and impact. Ask pupils to take any letter within the alphabet and work backwards or forwards to create powerful sentences, where each consecutive word must begin with the next letter in the alphabetical sequence. Pupils are directed towards achieving maximum impact within each sentence, and hence learn that brevity is often a virtue, and changing words can be more effective than adding them.
  • Support different groups of pupils from the least to the most able in guided writing sessions; use pupils' own writing as a basis for discussion and exploration of vocabulary use; make sure pupils note new vocabulary in their vocabulary booklets or writing journals.