Active processing activities for teaching vocabulary

Engaging students in active processing activities is the most critical part of a rich approach to vocabulary instruction. Each word should:

1.  Be discussed in the context in which it is first encountered, and
2.  Be applied to a range of new contexts.

The example activities below are categorised as easier, moderate and harder. The demand of the task is also dependent on the complexity of the word. Depending on the level of your students, a selection of activities across a range of difficulties for each word could be used, or children could be moved during the year from simpler activities to increasingly more difficult ones. To make rich instruction most effective, ensure that students do tackle some moderate or harder active processing activities at some point.

Easier active processing activities
  • Judging examples of contexts or definitions
  • Acting out the words in a new context
  • Deciding which word fits a definition or context
  • Guessing a word from clues
  • Songs and games
Moderate active processing activities
  • Answering wh- questions about contexts
  • Generating antonyms/ considering counter-contexts
  • Classifying words
  • Word maps/ word clines
Harder active processing activities
  • Generating a definition/ synonym/ context of use/ example sentence
  • Using words to improve or generate a story
  • Consolidating word knowledge

Example of a harder active processing activity

Using words to improve or generate a story

Create a simple story and ask children to work on improving it by applying target words to the relevant contexts. This can be done orally or as a written task, as a class, in pairs or independently as teachers gradually release responsibility. Older or more capable students can be asked to generate their own short connected texts using
target vocabulary.

An example from InitiaLit-2. Target words from Pete the Sheep by Jackie French

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