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TTAC at Radford University
TTAC 3-2-1: VDOE's Training & Technical Assistance Center at Radford University
November 19, 2015
3 Tips

3 Timely Tips

Explicit Vocabulary Instruction
Many years of research support the critical role vocabulary has in students’ academic success in the classroom (Hiebert & Kamil, 2005). There are a multitude of evidence-based practices that can be used to teach and improve vocabulary. Explicit vocabulary instruction is one method that allows students to make connections between past experiences and new concepts being learned, which gives them a better opportunity to access content across grade levels.  

When selecting vocabulary to be taught explicitly, teachers should identify no more than three to seven words for each specific story, portion of a chapter, or skill to be introduced. Teachers should choose terms that are “unknown, critical to content, useful in the future and difficult to obtain independently” (Archer & Hughes, 2011, p. 91). To avoid overloading working memory, teacher collaboration with grade level colleagues can help reduce instances of new vocabulary word introduction across multiple classes. See this resource for additional information about how to select vocabulary for explicit instruction.

The explicit vocabulary routine can be implemented in three steps: (1) introducing the word and its meaning, (2) illustrating the concept with examples, and (3) checking students' understanding.

Step One
In this step, the teacher projects the vocabulary word, reads the word aloud, and has the students repeat it (several times if students are unfamiliar with the word). The teacher then provides the students with a student-friendly definition and, if applicable, has the students read the explanation aloud.  

Step Two
This step illustrates and emphasizes the concept being taught through concrete, visual and verbal examples. By providing students with multiple exposures to the word being taught, students can assimilate word understanding into their previous experiences, making it meaningful to them.

Step Three
The final step is to check students’ understanding through a variety of means. Teachers can have students differentiate between examples and non-examples, have students create their own examples, or ask questions that require deeper understanding of the concept’s meaning.   

Actively engaging students in explicit vocabulary instruction using these three steps is an effective and efficient method for reaching diverse learners across grade levels in all content areas. 

Archer, A., & Hughes, C. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.

Hiebert, E. H., & Kamil, M. L. (2005). Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
2 Tools

2 Teaching Tools

Language Arts - Explicit Vocabulary Routine
Watch Anita Archer preparing a fourth grade class to read a passage on Ben Franklin using the routine for explicit vocabulary instruction. Specific words are being introduced and background knowledge provided in order to increase reading comprehension.

Math - Explicit Vocabulary Routine
The following is an example of how to teach students the math term slope for an algebra lesson.




Step 1

Introduce the word and meaning

  • Project the word and student-friendly definition so students can see it.

  • Read the word and tell the students the explanation (have them read it with you if appropriate).

  • Repeat the word and definition if needed


“Today we will be learning about slope.  Read the definition with me: Slope is the measure of steepness of a straight line.”


“If I want to know how steep a line is I measure the __________.” Slope

Step 2

Illustrate the word with examples

  • Provide concrete, visual or verbal examples

“The measure of the slope of this line is positive.”



“The measure of the slope of this line is negative.”



“The measure of the slope in this line is zero.”

Step 3

Check students’ understanding

  • Ask questions that require deep processing, or,

  • Have students distinguish between examples and non-examples, or,

  • Have students generate their own examples


“One way to think of slope is to imagine a ski slope.  Ski slopes can be very steep or not so steep.  Turn to you partner and think of other things that contain slope.”


*Another idea to check for understanding would be to have images of examples and non-examples for slope.  Vertical lines could be included in this discussion as a non-example of slope.

Graphics for the images above can be found at

1 Thought

1 Thought

“The more words you know, the more clearly and powerfully you will think...and the more ideas you will invite into your mind.”

Wilfred Funk (American author, poet, and publisher)
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