Teaching Vocabulary to Students in Grades 4 to 6

Updated on February 3, 2019
Timothy G Weih profile image

I am a husband, father, and grandfather. I was an elementary teacher for 14 years, and I am currently an associate professor of education.

Vocabulary-rich children's books.

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This article covers teaching the meanings of words or vocabulary to students in grades 4 to 6 within a content literacy program, i.e., a program that includes instruction in reading, writing (which includes knowing how to apply the correct words when composing text), listening, speaking (which includes knowing how to apply the correct words when talking), viewing, and presenting infused into the subject areas of science, social studies, math, language arts, and literature.

Infusing Vocabulary Instruction into the Subject Areas

Teachers in grades 4-6 can teach their students key vocabulary words that represent important concepts and ideas in the content subject areas. Students will also learn how to apply these words accurately in their writing. Moreover, they will learn how to apply the key words accurately in their speech or discussion, through content literacy strategy lesson plans aimed at how to learn new, key words.

These lesson plans are different than the ones aimed at learning how to say and write key words which are more focused on learning how words are physically constructed with alphabetical letters and word parts (see Weih, 2015, 2018), but that is not to say that the two cannot be taught in concert with each other.

There is a systematic approach elementary teachers can implement that secures their students are getting the best instruction possible in learning new, key content subject area vocabulary. This systematic approach is presented in the next section.

Systematic Approach for Teaching Key Words to Students before Reading Events

When teachers teach to their students what the key words mean that are contained in content subject area texts and novels prior to students reading them on their own, teachers assure more students are ready to learn the main ideas and concepts contained within the text, thus, reading comprehension can be fostered and enhanced. The approach outlined below builds on the previous approach covered in Weih (2018).

  • Teachers first study the text, select the key words, type the key words, and then show the students the key words on the classroom screen or some other means of assuring that all students can view the words at the same time.
  • Second, the teacher says each word aloud while pointing to it.
  • Third, the teacher says each word again while pointing to it, and this time the students repeat the word aloud, chorally, after the teacher says it.
  • Fourth, the students write the key words into a Word Journal that has been titled with the chapter, section, or lesson number of the text that they are about to read. While they write, they say the words in whisper voices to themselves, and the teacher circulates among the students checking on the writing and the pronunciation of the words, and teaching as necessary.
  • Fifth, after the students have written the words into their journals, they write each word again three times each, on a practice piece of paper while saying each word in whisper voices.
  • Sixth, this is the new step that is different from Weih (2018), students research the meanings of each word by looking them up in dictionaries (print or online) or by looking up the words in glossaries found within the content subject texts.

If all students have computers, they could type each word into an electronic word journal titled with the chapter, section, or lesson number of the text that they are about to read, AFTER they have done the physical handwriting parts.

The above outlined approach constitutes a systematic method for teaching the meanings of key words to students in grades 4-6, but it should not stop at this point, see the next section.

Teaching Students the Meaning of Key Vocabulary Words through Content Literacy Strategy Lessons

Teachers should follow up the systematic approach for teaching key words to their elementary students that was presented in the previous section with content literacy strategy lessons (see Weih, 2015). Many such strategy lessons are available online through Google searches. Once these are located, then teachers can use the information to create, develop, and design their own content literacy strategy lessons using the format as covered in Weih (2015).

For the sake of giving teachers some guidance in doing their online research into these strategies, I have included below some strategy lesson titles to use for Internet searches:

  • List, Group, Label
  • Word Maps
  • Personal Word Walls
  • Thematic Word Walls
  • Topic Word Walls
  • Four Square Vocabulary
  • Possible Sentences
  • Word Expert
  • Vocabulary Carousel
  • Vocabulary Self-Concept
  • Vocabulary Crosswords (game)
  • Alphabet Books (focused on the word meanings in addition to the alphabet)

Closing Comments

This article covered teaching the meanings of key words or vocabulary, to students in grades 4-6 within a content literacy program, i.e., a program that includes instruction in reading, writing (which includes knowing how to apply the correct words when composing text), listening, speaking (which includes knowing how to apply the correct words when talking), viewing, and presenting INFUSED into the subject areas of science, social studies, math, language arts, and literature.

One of the most important instructional practices to include in both the teaching of elementary students how to say, write, and understand key words from the content subject areas is to engage them in the Guided Practice and Checking on Understanding of the Content Literacy Strategy Lesson Plan format that calls for students to read, write, and discuss together as they are learning together for the sake of social learning advantages (see Weih, 2015). This methodology works best when the small groups of children have mixed abilities, rather than grouped by reading level or some other form of academic leveled grouping. Academic leveled groupings do not represent the natural way children learn from each other, and many times, this practice promotes public shaming and divisiveness among children, rather than promoting a community of learners in which all have an equal voice.


Weih, T. G. (2015). Content Literacy Curriculum and Instructional Program for Grades K-6. Saching.com.

Weih, T. G. (2015). Literature-Based Phonics Instruction for Grades K-3. Saching.com.

Weih, T. G. (2018). Teaching how to say and Write Words to Students in Grades 4-6. Saching.com.

For Further Reading see the Following References

Weih, T. G. (2015). Oral reading fluency instruction for grades K-3. Saching.com.

Weih, T.G. (2015). Literature-Based Content Writing Instruction for Grades K-3. Saching.com.

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