How to Motivate Students to Learn Vocabulary

How to Motivate Students to Learn Vocabulary

Think about the students that have been taught vocabulary during classroom instruction: Are they the typical ones that enjoy learning vocabulary? If “no,” what steps are necessary to teach students how to learn vocabulary?

Understandably, students’ reading is a pivotal part of their education, and vocabulary is an important part in their understanding reading.

In fact, Reading Pockets states Michael Graves (2000) explains four components of an effective vocabulary program. While reviewing the four components, think about the students that seminal research and classroom teachers report about student- reading: Are students the mirror image of someone applying the following components of an effective vocabulary program?

(1) Extensive reading to expand word knowledge
(2) Instruction of specific words from text
(3) Instruction for independent word-learning strategies
(4) Word consciousness and word play to enhance learning

In their experiences of teaching vocabulary, teachers might agree that number one and number three components are problematic for many students because students—especially poor readers—do not have a high level of interest in learning vocabulary (Education Psychology.)

Indeed, for many students, vocabulary is the main reason they dislike reading: Words are difficult to understand to pronounce and to make sense of words in sentence structures. If a student believes he or she is incapable of learning vocabulary, the student will be less likely to attempt learning words (Education Psychology).

Thus, the vocabulary components mentioned serve students appropriately if an addendum were to be added to the components.

Take another look at number one: “Wide extensive independent reading to expand word knowledge”: A proactive strategy to motivate students is to motivate them to read any book they choose—even magazines or cartoons—and to instruct students to write every word they encounter of difficulty.

Teachers may instruct students to define words. With any continuance, it would be ideal for students to learn the part of speech and etymology of each word, yet that endeavor might prove frustrating for some students because of the effort involved (Bandura (1997); still, to be even more proactive, a mini lesson on “perseverance” would be an effective interference to push students along in learning.

To embrace component number one for effective instruction, it must fall in line behind motivating students to complete the basic skills they need before they attempt to become independent readers.

Moreover, component number three, “independent word learning strategies” is similar to number one. Students must be the type learners that will study on their own, which is rarely the case.

Students must have the innate desire to work perseveringly before they will attempt applying the components outlined.

Thus, teachers should view the understanding that reluctant readers need specific motivational-learning strategies before students can apply vocabulary instruction, which inevitably eludes many of them.

The National Reading Panel states that vocabulary is essential to reading success and that if students do not learn vocabulary—along with the other elements to reading effectively—students will inevitably meet failure (Biemier 2005).

Now that a better understanding of how to influence students’ reading is understood, teachers may realize that many students need basic learning strategies; thus, how will strategies be instructed?

Research shares ideas that teachers may find helpful, and a mention of the ideas follows; caution, however, for some teachers might need to examine their own students’ vocabulary levels to individualize instruction.

The National Reading Panel provided scientifically based foundation for the design of a rich, multifaceted vocabulary instruction, and three out of eight of their strategies appear to this writer’s blog to be commensurate to the learning skills struggling readers need before they become independent readers, and they are as follows:

(1) Provide direct instruction of vocabulary words from text. This tip makes sense because when students recognize the vocabulary words as they are reading, they feel smart and empowered and motivated to continue to read. To help students feel good about themselves and their learning should be every teacher’s goal.

(2) Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items: This tip is helpful because students may explore many styles of creating vocabulary words. Students may draw and color the words, may connect words of inanimate objects, may use words in a song, may write words repeatedly to lock the words in memory. Each of these designs would be fun and easy for students to complete; additionally, for advanced students, they may apply Bloom’s Taxonomy high levels of analysis and evaluation to explain the words in detail and to extend the words’ significance by writing a report or by giving a speech. Multiple exposures to vocabulary terms is a proven method of learning words.

(3) Computer technology can be used effectively to teach vocabulary: This tip is effective because instruction may allow students to use the computer to discover words in area of their interest. Students may take a word of interest, say, “beauty,” for example, and locate synonyms of the word to extend their knowledge of the word, or they may use the computer to create images about “beauty” that they may have never imagined before. Using the computer to master deep learning of words is a smart lesson to support and will help students boost their understanding of vocabulary. 

While the delineated strategies are helpful for students to learn vocabulary, teachers should continue to look for innovative ways to instruct word learning. Human beings have an innate vision of how to help someone else learn when their own capacity for teaching and learning relates to education, experience, and willingness to influence.

Have trust to be able to deliver instruction effectively. Be prepared to perform the seemingly impossible, and to enforce learning.

Moreover, remember that homework is still supportive. Marzano (2000) explains homework for practice as an instructional strategy, highlighting homework as an intentional specific goal outcome.

Therefore, when assigning vocabulary homework, make sure students apply specific techniques for their learning.

Additionally, make sure to contact parents to alert them that their child has been given a list of vocabulary words to study.

Parents usually react favorably to teachers who call them to discuss the lessons their child is studying. This type contact is more favorable to receiving than to receiving a complaint regarding their child.

Also, how many words should students learn? Research shows that vocabulary instruction should cover many words that have been carefully chosen to reduce a vocabulary-gap among peers and to improve students’ abilities to apply word knowledge and comprehension.

Ideally, students should learn 3000 to 4000 words a year (NRP). However, during instructional and homework time, the number of vocabulary words to study daily should be approximately 10 to 15 words per subject matter.

That’s a total of 50 words a week. However, with a strategy to accomplish learning a significant number of vocabularies, students will realize the learning power that lies within themselves.

Studying 50 words a week may seem excessive; yet, according to brain research, the human brain retains information that is often applied through multiple ways of learning.

Thus, students should study to pronounce the words, to write the words, to draw the words, to connect the words to similar words they already know, and students should practice learning the words during different times a day or a week.

Studying 10 words a day is a good number for authentic practice.

To motivate students to persist in learning vocabulary, teachers should share with them that the study of vocabulary is important because it encompasses all the words they must know to access background knowledge, to express ideas, and to communicate effectively. . . (National Reading Panel).

Much of not learning of any skill is the absent of knowing why to learn the skill. Students must have meaning for continuance: When effort becomes students’ main force of maneuvering, teachers must show students the relevance of lessons so that students connect learning to their personal lives.


To help facilitate student learning of vocabulary terms, instruct them to try the learning tips below:

  1. Download the app to access meaning and pronunciation of unknown words.
  2. Before reading a novel, scan it to write and define unknown words.
  3. To add to memory, write each word eight times.
  4. If you enjoy drawing, try drawing the word’s meaning.
  5. Use a microphone recording tool to record yourself pronouncing and spelling words and your making personal comments about the words.
  6. If applicable, group words based on their similarities and differences.
  7. By using the app, review examples of words used in sentences, then try to write your own similar sentences.
  8. Ask your mom or dad or sibling or best friend to drill your practice of spelling and defining each word. To upgrade, identify each word’s part of speech.
  9. To build your self-confidence, look yourself in the mirror as you pronounce and spell each word.
  10. Study vocabulary one hour for five days a week; leave two days of not studying for relaxing.

High School Teacher

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Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.

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