The average Kindergartener starts school knowing about 5,000 words just from listening. But once a child enters school, most of the new vocabulary –which totals about 3000 words by the end of 2nd grade–comes from reading. Reading a lot is the very best way for kids to learn vocabulary, but research has shown us that students also need multiple and various exposures to a word before they fully comprehend the word and apply it.  Here are some research-proven methods for teaching vocabulary to help your student achieve vocabulary success but also have fun in the process.

1. Teaching Vocabulary Implicitly

Implicit vocabulary instruction are words that are taught “in the moment.” Students read a text and learn the vocabulary in context. The first step is to select a text that your student will read. It can be a story, or an excerpt from a chapter book or even a textbook. If you are unsure of your student’s reading level, read my previous post titled, >> How to Find Your Child’s Reading Level

While you and your student are reading aloud, focus on finding, learning, and reviewing unknown words. This not only helps your student comprehend the text they are reading, but also leads to a greater understanding of the world itself. Here’s what the strategy looks like in action: 

  1. Pause reading and tell the student the word.
  2. Talk about the word, giving as much background as possible – a science or history lesson when appropriate.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the word in a sentence.
  4. Discuss multiple meanings of the word with the student.
  5. Practice visualization. For example, to teach the word “avid,” ask the student to visualize a person that they might know who is an avid reader or avid bowler and then trace the word avid while they imagine the person.
  6. Together with the student, compose a simple definition and have the student write it on the whiteboard.

2. Teaching Vocabulary Explicitly


Explicit vocabulary instruction  means selecting words ahead of time that you know your student will frequently encounter during reading. This might be a specific set of words that you want your student to use in their writing or it might be a specific set of words that you want your student to comprehend for an upcoming lesson.  Either way, the words are intentional.  Students who are not spending time reading independently will need this explicit and direct teaching to help them increase their vocabulary.  

After picking a list of intentional vocabulary words for your student, you will:

1.  Provide a student-friendly definition. Use everyday language to help your student understand the meaning of the word. Think about the definitions from a young learner’s point of view. Include the words: something, someone, or describes in your explanation.

2.  Ask you student to look up the word in a classroom dictionary and read the definitions. Then ask the student to talk about what they think the definition means. What was the most helpful to them in understanding the definition? What was confusing?

3.  Provide multiple exposures. This should include multisensory activities and games. Continue reading for a list of vocabulary games and activities.

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3. Teaching Vocabulary With Games and Activities


Have your student write the word on one side and write the definition on the back side. You will want to review the flashcards with your student constantly, practicing them for the entire school year. It makes teaching vocabulary rewarding for you and your student because the bundle of words your student has learned grows bigger and bigger.

Draw the Word

Have your student draw an image of each vocabulary word. Make the images funny and memorable so that they really stick into your student’s mind. You can also use these drawings as flashcards.

Vocabulary Word of the Day

First, post one of the flashcards up on the front door. Every time your student walks in and out of the door, they have to give you the word in a sentence. Encourage the whole classroom or the family to participate–-so much fun! You can also make it into a Vocabulary Word of the Week if your student (or anyone else) needs extra practice time.

Play Charades

Make a game out of learning the vocabulary words by playing charades. Take turns where your student has to act out the word and you have to guess it, and then the other way around.  

Write a Story

You can have your student use the vocabulary words into a fun and creative story. This will really help your student spell and practice using the words in sentences.

Adapt Classic Games

Once you have at least a dozen vocabulary words collected, you can a take familiar game like BINGO and use the vocabulary words to fill in the squares. This really makes teaching vocabulary fun because you can always add more words, use the game to review words, and use something tasty for the markers. Check out our Literacy Lunch video to see how to make an Orton-Gillingham BINGO board:

A Word About Audio Books

Listen to audiobooks regularly! Audio books are a natural way to expand your student’s vocabulary through listening. Later, when your student sees same word in print, they will be better able to decipher the word because they have already had the exposure to it beforehand.

Another great strategy for setting your reader up for success is you listening to a novel first, then reading it. It gives them the pronunciation of those difficult to pronounce locations, names and other Proper Nouns that they struggle with when reading.

Your local library will offer free audiobooks with a library card. If your student has a learning disability diagnosis, I recommend connecting with Learning Ally. It is non-profit volunteer organization whose mission is to make audiobooks accessible to all people with reading difficulties. 

Next Steps

Effective, fun vocabulary instruction is so important for young readers, but is only one piece of the intricate puzzle of mastering vocabulary and reading.  Here are a few other posts that talk about other aspects of reading instruction:

How to Find Your Child’s Reading Level

My Favorite Sight Word Activities

Our PRIDE Reading Program incorporates direct vocabulary instruction as part of our research-based Orton-Gillingham, structured literacy lessons. If you’re looking for a comprehensive, affordable reading program designed for students with reading difficulties, click here for more information. 

Karina Richland, M.A., is the author of the PRIDE Reading Program, a multisensory Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and comprehension curriculum that is available worldwide for parents, tutors, teachers and homeschoolers of struggling readers. Karina has an extensive background in working with students of all ages and various learning modalities. She has spent many years researching learning differences and differentiated teaching practices. You can reach her by email at or visit the website at