How to teach new vocabulary using quotidian phrases.

I have always loved words. When I taught elementary school, I made a concerted effort to elevate the level of my vocabulary when I spoke to my students. In particular, I incorporated higher-level vocabulary that was supported by context in my discourse. I was a bilingual teacher and did not feel that I should water-down my vocabulary level in order to communicate with the students. If you have high expectations, students will rise to the occasion. For example, when the noise level in our class became too loud, I would often say that “the cacophony needs to end and we need to refocus.” I never taught them that word specifically, but the context, which they were creating, clearly defined it for them. One day students submitted illegible essays. I told them that because of the cacography I could not read and grade the papers and that they would have to rewrite them.  Of course, they knew what I meant because they knew a word from the same family and because, again, they helped create the context! I must note that my bilingual children took to much laughter when I first started to use the words cacophony and cacography. If you know anything about Spanish cognates then you might see the rationale behind the mirth.

In one of my undergraduate courses this semester, we were discussing the difference between direct and indirect vocabulary instruction and how vocabulary can be promoted through oral language. A good vocabulary program teaches words formal and informally (Kame’enui & Baumann, 2004). The students learned that word knowledge can increase with simple exposure to new words in meaningful contexts.

Some researchers have arrived at the consensus that children learn between 2,000 to 3,500 distinct words per year (Anderson & Nagy, 1992; Anglin, 1993; Beck & McKeown, 1991; White et al., 1990). Schools are directly teaching between 8 to 10 words per week (400 words per year) (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). Therefore, it stands to reason that children are acquiring many words through quotidian, everyday life, exposure (in oral or written contexts). To show the pre-service teachers in my classroom how they could augment the level of vocabulary as part of common and frequently used  phrases, I asked them to create a list of 10 quotidian teacher phrases and to increase the level of vocabulary used in those phrases to at least a Tier II or Tier III.

As I was grading papers, I found myself enjoying a good laugh, so I had to share these with you. Can you picture yourself saying any of the following?


Quotidian Phrase Teachable Moment Phrase
Behave yourself. Comport yourself.
Do not waste time. Do not dawdle. or Do not be dilatory.
Does anybody have a question? Does anybody have an inquiry they would like to present (or pose) to the class?
Please be nice. Please conduct yourself amiably.
Listen closely. Hark! (Why not use Old English?)
I like your good work! Your conscientious effort was evident in this assignment, I am proud of you!
Go to the end of the line. Go to the end of the queue.
Please, participate in class. Please, partake in the discourse.
Let’s see who is absent, today. Let’s see who is AWOL or possibly truant, today. (adding some criminal undertones to absenteeism).
What do you think and why? Please share your perceptivity.



Anderson, RR. C., & Nagy, . E. 1992. The vocabulary conundrum. American Educator, 16, 14 – 18, 44-47.

Anglin, J. M. (193). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysis. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Serial No.  238, 58(10).

Beck, I. L.,  McKeown, M. G. (1991). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition, In R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, (Vol. 2, pp. 789-814). New York, NY: Longman.

Kame’enui, J. F.  & Baumann, E. J. (2004). Vocabulary: The plot of the reading story, In Kame’enui, J. F.  & Baumann, E. J. (Eds.), Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (pp. 3 – 10). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Stahl, S. A. & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56, 72-110.

White, T. G., Sowell, J., & Yanagihara, A. (1989). Teaching elementary students to use word-part clues. The Reading Teacher, 42, 302-309.

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