Knowing the meaning of commonly used words and developing a growing writing vocabulary of high frequency words, words of personal significance, words used to describe everyday events and experiences and key topic or content words.

What is my writing topic?


Explicit teaching

In order to begin building their writing vocabulary beyond a small collection of high frequency and familiar words, students need to have opportunities to learn and rehearse a wider range of vocabulary in meaningful contexts. Consider the vocabulary demands of units of learning and plan in order to provide explicit learning opportunities in all learning areas for key content vocabulary.

Teach students to identify and use environmental print in their writing.

General strategies

Model strategies for using topic vocabulary during shared writing or reading experiences in all learning areas and categorise the vocabulary - for example - I want to use the word ‘rectangle’ to describe my book; ‘rectangle’ is a shape word; can anyone see the word ‘rectangle’ around the room?

Prompt students to think about the meaning of less familiar words and use clues from the context of a word, such as visuals or the sentence or text it appears in - for example - Have a look at this poster; it’s showing a frog’s life cycle; ‘cycle’ means going around. Why do you think this is called a life cycle?

Provide many opportunities to rehearse and use relevant vocabulary using speaking, writing and drawing. For example, after talking about different kinds of weather and recording terms on the board or IWB ask students to draw a picture of the different kinds of weather and label their drawing.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: word detective

This quick game can be played as a lesson break or writing warm-up to support students familiarity with the environmental print in the classroom and encourage the use of this vocabulary in their writing. Play as few or as many rounds as you want.

  • One student is the word detective per round (can select two students or create teams for competitive element).
  • Each round the teacher states a word (the word should be able to be found in print somewhere in the room).
  • Give a time limit (30sec/1min) for the word detective to find the word; the detective remains in until they do not find a word in time and then a new detective can be chosen.
  • Vary difficulty by choosing more or less obvious words from the available environmental print – this is a teaching opportunity so it is okay if the detective can’t find the word e.g. a word from a book title.
  • When children are familiar with the game you can hand over the teacher’s role to a student.
  • To connect the game to students’ writing vocabulary, set a word detective writing task (could also be a daily challenge) such as: Write a sentence using a word from around the room. Students must show you their sentence and where they found the word.

Activity 2: topic word banks using think/pair/share

This strategy supports students developing topic or content specific writing vocabulary, particularly for EAL/D students or if the focus is a less familiar topic.

Following a shared experience such as a shared text, excursion, workshop or class game:

  • Think: ask students a focus question and provide wait time e.g. How would you describe the dragon in that story?
  • Pair: students pair up to tell a partner their ideas (this allows rehearsal, generates more vocabulary and support student to student modelling).
  • Share: ask students to touch their nose until it is their turn to share a descriptive word, this reassures students that they will get a turn, can assist with recall and ensures you hear from every student.
  • Write all contributions for display even if you do not agree with them, the focus of this activity is to generate ideas and vocabulary.
  • Encourage and praise original contributions rather than repetitions but if a student can’t think of a new word acknowledge their contribution by ticking the repeated word.
  • After hearing from everybody read all the vocabulary on the word bank together.
  • Explain the writing task – should be the same or similar to the focus question e.g. You are going to write a description of a dragon using a word from our word bank.
  • Do some verbal examples together (avoid written modelling here unless your lesson focus is shared composition as temptation to copy an exemplar will overcome students’ self-expression).

Always follow-up the creation of a topic word bank with a writing task that draws on the generated vocabulary. Students need to use words many times before they become part of their known vocabulary and it is important to create an explicit link between the topic words and their use in students’ own writing.


Australian curriculum

ACELY1651: Creating texts: Create short texts to explore, record and report ideas and events using familiar words and beginning writing knowledge.

NSW syllabus

ENe-9B: Outcome 9: demonstrates developing skills and knowledge in grammar, punctuation and vocabulary when responding to and composing texts (ENe-9B) - Respond to and compose texts: use a growing vocabulary to describe everyday events and experience.

Teacher resources

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