Strategy Eight: Vocabulary

It’s no secret that vocabulary is essential to success in many areas at GCSE. At every CPD session, no doubt there is some mention of literacy across the curriculum and equipping our students with the vocabulary that they need to access increasingly complex exams. Numerous studies have been done on vocabulary. This is especially prevalent in the field of ‘closing the gap’.

Isabel Beck explores this particularly well in her book, Bringing Words To Life. In short, this discusses the disparity in vocabulary for children from low income backgrounds compared to those whose parents hold degrees or middle class jobs. The text includes strategies for the explicit teaching of large volumes of vocabulary, covering gaps in the second tier of language. The tiered system is a helpful way to consider the language that we teach within our classrooms:


(adapted from No Tears for Tiers: Common Core Tiered Vocabulary Made Simple by Kimberly Tyson, found at:

The second tier is often the focus of many vocabulary orientated studies and discussions. The focus here at Meopham School is no different. Following in this vein, the explicit teaching of tier 2 vocabulary has been a growing focus. This is easily viewed in English, as demonstrated in the example below. However can also be found in History, Science, Geography, BTEC subjects and so on.

vocab slide

With big issues such as vocabulary, especially when considering students from more disadvantaged backgrounds, tend to feel overwhelming at first. Many a teacher has stood before a class and wondered how to patch holes that expand faster than you can fill them. However, beginning a lesson with some target words for students (and yourself!) to use, including a little incentive for when they use them correctly can be an easy strategy to implement across all stage, subjects, styles and schools.

Alternatively you could also use a challenging word as part of the instruction so that students not only have to look up the meaning, but also understand and use it as the framework for the learning that lesson. This could be especially used for lower groups where retention may be another factor that you need to consider. An example of this might be:

Explore Nancy’s predicament in closer detail by looking at her choices. Look at the pros and cons.

Here, students would need to use the word ‘predicament’ accurately within a lesson, solidifying their vocabulary far more than simply learning words by rote. Of course, this is the sort of task that you would need to  check for understanding for within a few minutes of setting students off to check that they don’t learn the word incorrectly. However, this style of question will additionally build resilience in the students when they encounter the challenging vocabulary of GCSE questions.

Other helpful sources to consider: