All year the students in my 6th grade English class have been required to use a writer's notebook that is partitioned into three sections: journal/notes/vocabulary. The vocabulary they do is relevant to their own independent reading books. I do not give them weekly vocabulary lists on Monday and quiz them on the words on Friday. They have to hunt for their own vocabulary words and use the following format for three words per week:
word - (part of speech) definition
sentence from the book where they found the word (author, book, page #)
Then, throughout the year, we do different writing exercises or fun assignments that require them to use the vocabulary so they can start to imprint the words in their permanent vocabulary.
The way I tell them to find words is when they come across a word they don't recognize or is not a part of their permanent vocabulary, to flag the word with a post-it, and go back to the word later when they're doing their vocabulary to write the definition. They have been doing this all year, but today while one of my social studies classes had some unexpected down time, I had a student come up to me and say, "Mrs. S, can I please have a post-it flag? I came across this really cool word in my book and I want to make sure I put it in my writer's notebook." He then proceeded to show me the word and the look of genuine delight on his face made me beam with pride.
I honestly don't even remember what the word was. I just remember the warm feeling that pervaded me as I handed him a post-it flag. It was that moment I realized, it doesn't matter how much material you "cover" as a teacher; what matters more is creating good learning habits that will carry kids through the rest of their lives. That's my ultimate goal.