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

These are suggestions for teachers who wish to use the context of writing to challenge and extend pupils' understanding of how vocabulary can create impact and effect. They can be adapted to your own teaching schemes and lesson sequences.

Teaching approaches

  • Refine pupils' word choice by investigating links between word and context, and experimenting with opposing pairs of words, such as terrorist/freedom fighter; ask pupils to write two versions of the same topic, keeping the same sentence and paragraph structure, but changing the word choice to subtly influence reader response.
  • Encourage independence and expanding vocabulary by introducing a 'Word of the day' as a starter where every pupil comes prepared to share a new word, together with a sentence exemplifying its use; expect the more-able pupils to use a wide and sophisticated vocabulary.
  • Use the visual aspects of ICT, such as a slideshow or photo-story, on a topic for debate or a poem, to support word choice and connotations, matching images with key vocabulary.
  • When marking pupils' writing, reward effective and ambitious vocabulary choices and any pupil commentary that recognises the implications of vocabulary choice in texts under study.
  • Draw out through self-evaluation, peer-comment and reflection the extent to which pupils see their own distinctive 'voice' emerging as writers and the contribution vocabulary choice plays. For example, encourage in poetry writers the ability to talk through their approaches, reflect on specific choices and interrogate their own language, building a sense of their own tone and style.
  • Link this notion of 'voice' to other areas – how would a particular presenter on television or radio characterise their voice in relation to the vocabulary they use? (For example, Simon Cowell – 'straight-talking' – what do such descriptions mean about the language choices made?)