Revisiting old posts: Ian’s work on vocabulary


This blog is a thank you to Iain Kemp – a Teach First participant who joined us this year. At the start of the academic year, Iain and I were sat down having our mentor meeting when we got on to the topic of vocabulary. Both Iain and I shared the viewpoint that pupils within our academy were word poor and we were keen to address this. I asked Iain to go away and read Isabella Beck’s ‘Bringing Words to Life’ and come back with a strategy for improving our pupils’ vocabulary. And he did. Not only did he read Isabella Beck’s book but he also researched vocabulary instruction through blogs and other research papers.

Iain drew up a rationale for a vocabulary strategy and presented this to the department. A four-lesson sequence, embedding some of the activities as suggested in the literature he had read.

Lesson 1:

Exercise 1 – An introduction to the words (these were a mixture of tier 2 words taken from the texts we study and words that would empower pupils to analyse texts) with a definition.

Exercise 2 – Look, cover, write and check.

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Lesson 2:

Exercise 1 – Look, cover, write and check

Exercise 2 – reading the definitions of words and identifying the correct word to go with it.

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Lesson 3:

Exercise 1 – Look, cover, write and check

Exercise 2 – pupils had to match the key words to one of two definitions or descriptions

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Lesson 4:

Exercise 1 – Look, cover, write and check

Exercise 2 – pupils had to label a diagram with one of the key words.

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These four exercises were then embedded through the KS3 units of work.

A few months down the road, I was having a conversation with Iain and we were talking about the success of the vocabulary instruction at the start of every lesson. I expressed to Iain my uncertainty about the impact it was having. Were the words featuring, as a result, in pupils’ responses and were they retaining these words over a longer period of time?

I asked Iain to share the work he had done with the department.  In the meeting, Iain shared sentences that pupils had used within their most recent assessment where the vocabulary from the Do it now tasks had been embedded in their written responses.  Some of our lowest attaining pupils were embedding the vocabulary throughout.  Success!  Iain also provided the results of his testing of these words showing that all pupils were developing their understanding and use of these key words.

v5 (2)Iain has now been tasked with ensuring this impact is department wide and that we continue to develop pupils’ retention of these words over a longer period of time. I can’t wait to see where he takes this.

Alongside this, the department are currently reading ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ and we are incredibly focused, as we move in to term 6 and ‘gained time’ that we really work on identifying our 300-400 words that we want our pupils to be exposed to over the year. Our new Medium-Term-Plan structure enables clarity with regard to these words.

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The tier two words are tackled through Iain’s four lesson structure.

The subject terminology will be addressed in a strategy developed by Michaela where by pupils at the start of the lesson offer a definition of the key word in a very quick and rapid-fire way. Something we did at the start of the year but have lost along the way.

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We now need to focus, as a department, on academic vocabulary and sentencing.  And I will be exploring a tutor time based root / prefix / suffix programme in my role as Lit Co-Ordinator.  Lots more to ponder and work through in term 6.

Massive thanks to Iain for his hard work.


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