Getting Used to New Vocabulary

January 1, 2018

Research for this Tool

It is difficult for students to make sense of what they read or hear in class if they don’t have background knowledge of the vocabulary that is used in the text or the instruction. This is especially true for English language learners, students with disabilities, and students with limited exposure to content area vocabulary.

In content area classes, it is important that teachers not take for granted that students understand what they are talking about or what is in the students’ textbooks. For example, before beginning a unit of instruction in social studies or science, teachers should do a quick assessment to see if students know the key vocabulary. Most students are happy to let teachers know whether they know what words mean. If teachers find out in an informal assessment that all of their students know what a term means, great! However, if few of the students know what a key vocabulary word means, it should be introduced, taught directly and in context, and reviewed throughout the unit. There are many effective strategies for improving students’ vocabulary and the first step is to determine what they know and don’t know.

Sedita, J. (2005). Effective vocabulary instruction. Insights on Learning Disabilities, 2(1) 33-45.

How to Use this Tool

Getting Used to New VocabularyThis tool, Getting Used to New Vocabulary, allows students to self-assess and share information about their vocabulary knowledge with the teacher. To use the tool, teachers should create a list of critical vocabulary terms that are included in the unit of instruction and write them in the first column on the form. Next, let students self-evaluate their knowledge by checking the appropriate box next to each word. Teachers can then determine which terms will require direct instruction and which terms can be taught through repeated exposure and use in context.

We have worked with some teachers who enlarge this tool to poster size and post it in the classroom. They ask each student to make a tally mark in the appropriate column on the form for each vocabulary word, indicating a range of knowledge from, “I’ve never heard of it” to “I’m used to it. I use it, and here’s what it means…” The teacher can easily see which words most students know and which words students are totally unfamiliar with and adjust instruction to meet students’ needs.


“Getting Used to New Vocabulary” Form (.pdf)