Interpret vocabulary

Expand vocabulary to understand academic written language in increasingly complex texts with fluency and comprehension.


Discussion around textbook language needs to be carefully integrated into all classroom activities.

After discussion teachers may need to explain to students the meaning of new or unfamiliar vocabulary using every day spoken language.

Contrast ‘colloquial’ (everyday) spoken language with ‘academic’ written language. Ensure students use standard Australian English terms by having students them use the formal terms in written explanations and when speaking on formal occasions. When students use spoken dialect ask – how can we say the same thing but make it sound more like a textbook?

Activity 1: 8 ways of learning for Aboriginal students

Consider how you can include any of the following 8 Ways of Learning for Aboriginal students in your teaching.

  • Story sharing: approaching learning through narrative
  • Learning maps: explicitly mapping/visualising processes.
  • Non-verbal: applying intrapersonal and kinaesthetic skills to thinking and learning.
  • Symbols and images: using images and metaphors to understand concepts and content
  • Land links: place–based learning, linking content to local land and place
  • Non-linear: producing innovations and understanding by thinking laterally or combining systems.
  • Deconstruct/reconstruct: modelling and scaffolding, working from wholes to parts (watch then do)
  • Community links: centring local viewpoints, applying learning for community benefit

These 8 ways can be considered more simply as:

  • Tell a story
  • Make a plan
  • Think and do
  • Draw it
  • Take it outside
  • Try a new way
  • Watch first, then do
  • Share it with others

Note that symbols and images (draw it) is a strategy that is highly relevant to teaching figurative language.

Activity 2: vocabulary pre-reading activities

It is essential that teachers go through all texts that are to be presented in class beforehand and identify unfamiliar vocabulary that needs to be explained. Talk about the context and content of the text before reading using every day language and build up an understanding of the concepts that will be covered in the text. For example, just instructions like ‘investigate the topic further’ can be expressed more simply as ‘look up information about the topic’.

Activity 3: deconstructing texts (from whole to part)

Start from the meaning of the whole text and work down to the word level by talking to students about the text. Discuss any pictures and summarise the story or facts and talk about unfamiliar formal or complex terms using everyday language. Once students understand what the text is about, read it through. Then read the text again, modelling how to ‘think aloud’ about the meaning as you read in order to encourage students to make connections and infer what is not directly stated. Students in pairs could then take turns to read sentences and ‘think aloud’ or say in their own words what they think each sentence means.

Study each paragraph sentence by sentence, looking at how the clauses and phrases are put together. Rearrange them to see how that changes the meaning and why the author wrote it that way. In the final deconstruction phase, assist students to analyse the meaning and spelling of words by breaking them into their parts (morphemes) by studying the etymology of words and how prefixes and suffixes change the semantic (content) and syntactic (structural) meaning of words. For example, the word, disinclination meaning ’not being inclined to‘ comes from the Latin ‘inclinaire’ meaning incline, slope or lean. The suffix, ‘tion’, identifies the word as a noun and the prefix ‘dis’ means ‘not’.

See how the ‘Deconstruct and Reconstruct’ way of learning in 8 ways of learning for Aboriginal students relates to quality teaching.

Activity 4: develop vocabulary by creating hip hop songs

Developing more complexity in student’s spoken language can assist them to understand and use complexity in written language. If students are interested in hip hop music this can be an effective context to engage them in writing poetry and verse, as it gives students an investment in and ownership of the work. Students often become enthusiastic word smiths while looking for rhyming words to create the songs.

At Collarenebri Central School an English teacher started a hip hop group called the Colli Crew which was designed to improve attendance. The Colli Crew met in first period and students had to be there to participate. The project helped the students to code switch between Aboriginal English and standard English and this group of students went on to have improved results in NAPLAN.

An important aspect of any Indigenous project is involvement with the local Aboriginal community and the project’s success was largely due to the teacher and students working closely with local Elders.

Several videos were created as part of an ongoing hip hop mentoring program with Toby Finlayson from Desert Pea Media and the students. The following video shows students performing confidently using standard Australian English with advanced vocabulary such as nominalisations to present meaningful lyrics that show deep understanding of Australian history.

View the Colli crew – change the game.

The students used iPods, iPads, free easy rap and hip hop beats, and several apps including:

  • B-rhymes dictionary
  • Song writers pad
  • Lyric master 4000
  • Instant poetry
  • GarageBand
  • How to rap
  • Ruppy™ beats


Australian curriculum

ACELT1767: Examining literature: Interpret and analyse language choices, including sentence patterns, dialogue, imagery and other language features, in short stories, literary essays and plays.

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: Interpret and analyse language choices, including sentence patterns, dialogue, imagery and other language features, in short stories, literary essays and plays.

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