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How to Pick Vocabulary Words: What words?! Whenever I had a student who needed to work on vocabulary My mind started racing, ‘What words do I pick?’ ‘What are the right words to use?‘. When writing a goal we need to know what we are tracking. You cannot simply write with ‘classroom vocabulary’, that ain’t gonna fly if your case brought to due process.

You must have a list of the words you are going to target and track progress.

Now, there are lots of resources out there. I have read books like Bridge to Vocabulary, Bringing Words to Life, Building Academic Vocabulary, and Teaching Vocabulary and found them so valuable. These have been wonderful resources and I highly encourage you to check them out. A common theme across them all is to make the vocabulary meaningful for the child.

Explain why these words are so important,

point them out in daily living, show their actual application! Choosing the words to target when it comes to working on vocabulary doesn’t have to be an ordeal either. One of the best and most practical places to find words is to look at their academic worksheets, read the directions, and focus on the verbs. Words like arranging, summarize, incorporate, detail, etc will pop up left and right.

These are examples of tier 2, functional vocabulary words. I do not assume that the students know these words despite having been surrounded for years. So, if you’re stumped on what words to choose, start here.

“Failure to understand instructional verbs and thus what a teacher or textbook is asking of a child has the potential of creating a rift in the child’s engagement with the learning process.”

Lowman et al., 2018

Now, one of the most common questions after hearing this, ‘What verbs are the best to target then?’. So here is a list of instructional verbs, common for Kindergarten to 5th grade. Please keep in mind there are soooo many words available that our students are exposed to everyday, but if you need a jumping off point, then take a look at the list below.

How to Pick Vocabulary Words


I have also used these Vocabulary Kits with a lot of success too. I simply pick a word set and that is our focus for the year. The are research based so the vocabulary chosen aligns with the same academic practicality we need. This also includes scaffolded materials as well as a pretest/post-test. You can read more about this my Teaching Vocabulary in Speech Therapy post.

So when it comes to vocabulary, don’t stress. Words your kids need surround them all you have to do is to find the best fit for them.

Lowman, J., Stone, L. T., & Guo, J. (2018). Effects of interactive book reading for increasing children’s knowledge of instructional verbs. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 1-13. doi:10.1177/1525740117745639.


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Meet Maureen

Hey there! I’m Maureen Wilson, a school-base SLP who is data driven and caffeine powered. My passion is supporting other pediatric SLPs by teaching them how to harness the power of literacy and data to help their students achieve their goals…without sacrificing time they don’t have.

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your expertise in this area. Your insights in this tiopic is very valuable and useful for SLPs like me who tries to squeeze out every precious minute out of their day for getting new ideas and ways of doing a well-used skill in fresh, new ways. The flashcards are certainly more than ready to retire, hahahahahaha!

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