Effective Strategies for Building Vocabulary

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A broad, diverse vocabulary is essential to good writing, and that’s a fact!  Since vocabulary directly affects Word Choice and Voice, two of the Traits of Effective Writing, meaningful vocabulary instruction is absolutely imperative.  As you decide how to approach vocabulary instruction in your classroom, look for effective strategies that will help students:  (a) understand and learn new words, (b) make sense of new vocabulary by incorporating it into what they already know, and (c) remember the meanings of words when they are encountered at a later date or in new material. 

Here are some effective strategies to build vocabulary:

 1. Synonyms and Antonyms: A great place to start building vocabulary is with synonyms and antonyms of words students know.  Synonyms and antonyms can help you write by giving you choices for saying things in more interesting ways. 

2. Read, read, read!: Books, magazines, and newspapers contain more words that you will ever use or hear in a conversation or on television.  Reading teaches new vocabulary, so spend time reading!

3. Context Clues: As you come across a word you don’t know when you are reading, try using the other words in the sentence to figure it out. 

  • Study the sentences before and after the sentence that contains the word you don’t know.
  • Search for clues to identify the new word’s part of speech.
  • See if a synonym or antonym is given.

4. Vocabulary Notebooks: One way to increase your vocabulary is to keep a list of words you know and add new words as you learn them.  Increase your knowledge by including the word’s definition and also write a sentence using the word.

5. Use the Thesaurus: The thesaurus is a book of words and their synonyms.  It’s a book that can help you find the best way to say something by giving you those synonyms as other options or word choices.  The thesaurus also includes antonym word choices.

6. Use a Dictionary: A dictionary helps you understand the meaning of a word.  It also teaches:

  • Spelling
  • Capital Letters
  • Syllable Division
  • Accent Marks
  • Pronunciation
  • Part of Speech
  • Etymology
  • Synonyms and Antonyms

7. Study Word Parts and Forms: You can figure out the meanings of new words by learning about prefixes, suffixes, and roots.  Study them so you can commit them to memory.  Also, look for other word forms of words you already know.


Students need a strong command of different vocabulary words so that they can express themselves using just the right words.  The more words they have in the “word-bank,” the richer their communications with others will be!  Invest in your student’s vocabulary today!

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Jamie Geneva

Jamie Geneva is the Senior National Consultant at Shurley Instructional Materials and is a seasoned subject matter expert in the realm of English Language Arts.  Her career with the company began during the days of the Shurley Method binder, which was pre-1st Edition, and has spanned across three decades.  Over the years, her various roles have included teacher, presenter, state representative, consultant, manager, and most recently, a Shurley English Digital Assistant.  You might not recognize her face, but her voice could certainly sound familar.  That’s because she’s recorded Jingles, Q&A Flow Sentences, and other Shurley English content for many, many years. 

Jamie and her husband, Garret, live in the foothills of eastern Oklahoma. She loves spending quality time with her family, traveling, reading, cooking, and staying connected on social media.

Ms. Geneva received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Public School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK.