Reading aloud & direct vocabulary instruction: The how

By reading aloud:

  1. Reading skills are modelled,
  2. Vocabulary development is supported, 
  3. Listening  & attention skills are developed,
  4. Critical thinking and creativity are promoted,
  5. Positive responses to reading are nurtured and
  6. A culture of reading is cultivated.

This article will focus on vocabulary development and specifically how to implement robust vocabulary instruction.

We are all acutely aware of our students’ poor vocabulary skills!  Have you ever instructed a class to write a sentence with e.g. “ reluctant” and all they could think of is  “The boy is reluctant”? 

According to Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, 2013) learners’ vocabulary should increase by 2,000-3,000 words each year. In addition, about 400 of those words should be taught directly. The authors suggest the following steps for direct vocabulary instruction:

  1. Review the context: direct instruction occurs usually directly after  a story or paragraph was read. Should a word be needed for comprehending the text, the teacher should stop briefly and give a quick explanation.
  2. Give a child-friendly definition (not necessarily a dictionary definition).  
  3. Repeat the word: Pronouncing a word helps building a memory for the sound and the meaning of the word
  4. Give examples other than the one in the story
  5. Interaction with the word
  6. Repeat the word

The following is an example of possible direct vocabulary instruction from  Giraffes cannot dance by Giles Andreae. 


  • Gerald the Giraffe is good at munching leaves when standing still, but has real
  • difficulty with dancing.  At the annual Jungle Dance he tries once more, but the
  • animals  only laugh at him.  On his way home, he meets a cricket who teaches
  • Gerald that anyone can dance – he just needs to find the right music.

I picked 2 words from the text to illustrate the 6 steps of robust vocabulary instruction.

First Word: ENTRANCED 

1Give the contextIn the story the animals were entranced when watching Gerald dance in the end.
2DefineEntranced means to be so attracted by someone or something beautiful or impressive that you give them all your attention.
3Say the wordLet us say the word together
4Give more examplesPeople can also be entranced. A person might be entranced while watching a beautiful butterfly bouncing from one flower to the next.
5Interact with the wordShow how your face would look if you are entrancedOR(children finishes the sentence)I am entranced because…. ORClap when something will entrance you: a ballerina, a worm, toothbrush gardenORWhich will entrance you: a princess or a villain?, a box or a beautiful paintingORDescribe to a friend a time when you were entranced.
6Repeat the wordLet us say the word together again

Second word: MUNCH

1Give the contextIn the story Gerald was “munching” some leaves.
2DefineMunch means to eat something using your teeth and jaws in a noisy way
3Say the wordLet us say the word together
4Give more examplesA person can munch an apple.
5Interact with the wordSay “NO!” when I mention something which you CANNOT munch. Apple, computer, ring, cake, jacket, straw. ORIf you are munching, are you eating or reading?  Why? OR (indicate absurdities)I am munching an apple  (Yes, this can happen)I am munching a ladder (No, this cannot happen)
6Repeat the wordLet us say the word together again

Both words: entranced & munch

Let us think of the two new words: entranced and munch (additional Step 5 activities)

  • If you go to a ballet concert, will you be entranced or will you munch?
  • If you order a pizza at a restaurant, will you be entranced or will you munch?
  • Does EAT go with entranced or with munch? Does AWESOME go with entranced or with munch? Does HUNGRY go with entranced or with munch? Does restaurant go with entranced or with munch?  Does EMOTION go with entranced or with munch?

General tips

  • Target words should be identified when doing lesson preparation.  Choose only a few words at a time – 2 or 3 words will be enough. It is worthwhile to  formulate a good, child-friendly definition beforehand. is a valuable resource for good definitions. “Learner’s” dictionaries also provide friendly definitions 
  • Refrain from asking: “Who can tell me what X means?” This is time consuming and can often lead to incorrect associations being made.


Robust vocabulary training aims to instigate learner’s interest and awareness of words. Learners need to notice words in their environments which meanings they do not know. The authors of Bringing Words to Life (2013)  recommend extension activities beyond the classroom for maintaining attention  to words. They suggest a reward system for reporting word “sightings” outside the class. For example, when a learner brings in evidence of hearing, using or seeing target words outside the classroom, he gets to wear a Word Collector badge for the day.

Why not experience the magic of direct robust vocabulary instruction the next time you expect sentences with newly taught  vocabulary words.   Chances are very good that “The boy is reluctant” will change into “The reluctant boy shares his chocolate with his sister.” 

This article was originally published in Teacha! Magazine 2.3. To take a look at the latest edition, click here.

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