Tag Archives: Vocabulary Instruction

Intentional Word Work

I have written about teaching vocabulary often on this blog and share different ways to help students become word learners. Recently, my eighth grade students started reading nonfiction historical graphic novels with social justice themes and there are two dozen words that my students might not know. Some are specific the to historical events like legions, furor, and internment. Whereas other words provide vivid vocabulary like scrupulous and flabbergasted. In order to be more intention with student’s vocabulary building, I created a hyperdoc to help bring word work to forefront of the classroom.

When students do not understand an author’s vocabulary, they cannot fully understand the text.

Good vocabulary instruction emphasizes useful words (words students see frequently), important words (keywords that help students understand the text), and difficult words (words with more than one meaning).

In improving vocabulary instruction teachers can help students by:

  • Activating their prior knowledge
  • Defining words in multiple contexts
  • Helping students see context clues
  • Helping students understand the structure of words (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots — SPROOTS)
  • Teaching students how to use the dictionary and showing them the range of information it provides
  • Encouraging deep processing — integrating new words into working vocabularies
  • Giving multiple exposure
  • Focusing on a small number of important words

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words(1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction. 

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

I use interactive foldables with my students and early in the school year I give them a foldable to remind them of effective word detective strategies. These strategies include:

Context Clues – Read before and after words that might help explain the words

Word Parts (SPROOTS) – Look for word parts that are recognizable. Students can decode words by knowing prefixes, suffixes, and root words

Connotation & Tone – Take the word and apply it to the character and what the character is doing in order to understand the passage. Does this word offer a positive or negative tone?

Outside Connections – Have I heard this word in a song, movie, or maybe world language? Connect the word with what you already know. 

In addition to the foldable that students have in their notebooks to refer to throughout the school year, I mix up the different ways that I teach vocabulary. Here are five additional ideas to teach vocabulary in any content area classroom:

1. Take a Poll – Using an online polling website like Polleverywhere.com I poll my student about a definition of a word. Students use their mobile devices to select the best definition for a word.

2. Idea Completions – Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation.

3. Questions, Reasons, Examples –

What is something you could do to impress your teacher (mother, friend)? Why?

What are some things that should be done cautiously? Why? 

Which one of these things might be extraordinary? Why or why not? 

-A shirt that was comfortable, or a shirt that washed itself? 

-A flower that kept blooming all year, or a flower that bloomed for 3 days?

-A person who has a library card, or a person who has read all the books in the library? 

4. Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.”

-Winning a million dollars. 

-Earning a gold medal. 

-Walking to the post office. 

-Cleaning your room. 

-Having a picture you painted hung in the school library.

5. Act It Out – Add some theater in your classroom and have students present a scenario or tableau that represent the word.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

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Robust Vocabulary Instruction

How can I teach vocabulary in a meaningful way so that students will learn and use it?

This is a question that I ask myself and often have parents ask me how I am teaching vocabulary in my middle school classroom. Research shows that vocabulary best practices include:

1. Avoid presenting a long list of vocabulary words to be learned before students are able to read the text.

2. Choose only those words that are important to the meaning and/or will be likely to actually enter your students’ vocabulary.

3. Consider a way of involving students in identifying their own vocabulary words.

4. Try to give your students experiences in figuring out words in context, rather than simply memorizing them.

5. If possible, devise a way for students to locate and define their own words, rather than relying on your choices and definitions.

6. Consider alternatives to students’ learning definitions of words individually. Think about creating collaborative learning experiences, if possible.

7. Find a way to evaluate what your students have learned without relying on a traditional vocabulary test (multiple choice or fill in the blank).

 We know a wide range of vocabulary activities and routines . . . involve students in content-rich collaborative tasks. Here are 8 strategies to help students become word nerds.

Word Wizards – Students gain points by bringing in evidence of hearing, seeing, or using target words outside of the classroom.

In the Media – A revised version of Word Wizards. Students are asked to find target words in any media source – video games, newspaper, on the web.

Idea Completions – Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation. 

Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.” 

 -Winning a million dollars. 

 -Earning a gold medal. 

 -Walking to the post office. 

 -Cleaning your room. 

 -Having a picture you painted hung in the school library. 

Frayer Models – Have students generate examples and non-examples for the words. This can be dones with visual or kinesthetic illustrations as well as descriptions.

SPROOTS – Proficient readers use different strategies to help define words they do not know and determine whether the definition is pertinent to understanding a text. SPROOTS stands for Suffix, Prefixes, and Roots of the words. Students can use etymology and parts of speech to help make sense of the word.

Illustrate It – Show pictures or video clips that demonstrate the meaning of the word. Have students draw and label something illustrating the meaning of the word.  Chrome Extensions like Read&Write offers illustrated dictionaries for students.

Multi sensory Instruction – Have students act out the words and create kinesthetic definitions or play charades.

Want more, check out these two additional blog posts on vocabulary.

WORD WIZARDS, WORD NERDS, & THE IMPORTANCE OF VOCABULARY IN THE CONTENT AREAS

BUILDING WORDSMITHS: 8 ACTIVITIES FOR TEACHING VOCABULARY

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Teaching Vocabulary in Context

In the picture book The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, a boy named Selig collects interesting words, and I want students to become as excited about discovering new words as Selig becomes.

“An avid word-hoarder, Selig delights in discovering new terms, recording them on paper scraps, and stowing them in pockets…”

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The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter

I am often asked how I teach vocabulary.  Do I give students weekly word lists or front load challenging vocabulary from readings? Do I have students use any vocabulary building apps or games online?

Research shows that proficient readers use different strategies to help define words they do not know and determine whether the definition is pertinent to understanding the text. As word detectives, students use context clues, SPROOTs (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots), Connotation, and even outside connections to help them determine the meaning of words within a text. Additionally, teaching students how to use the dictionary and thesaurus, and showing them the range of information it provides is crucial to vocabulary development. 

Rather than teaching students to be word collectors and word wizards with vocabulary lists, I believe that reading is what helps develop vocabulary. Vocabulary instruction needs to go beyond basic definitions and students must be able to apply the words in context.

What that looks like in my classroom depends on the reading and writing unit that students are working on. When studying the Japanese Internment there are key vocabulary words needs need to know to understand the complexities of this time in our history. I use active learning stations help to build background knowledge and word knowledge.

When designing vocabulary “lessons,” keep in mind the following:

  1. Avoid presenting a long list of vocabulary words to be learned before students are able to read the text.
  2. Choose only those words that are important to the meaning and/or will be likely to actually enter your students’ vocabulary.
  3. Consider a way of involving students in identifying their own vocabulary words.
  4. Try to give your students experiences in figuring out words in context, rather than simply memorizing them.
  5. If possible, devise a way for students to locate and define their own words, rather than relying on your choices and definitions.
  6. Consider alternatives to students’ learning definitions of words individually. Think about creating collaborative learning experiences, if possible.
  7. Find a way to evaluate what your students have learned without relying on a traditional vocabulary test (multiple choice or fill in the blank).

Considering ENLs, ELLs, and students with IEPs, word banks are helpful to front load important academic vocabulary. Students can use any of the Quizlet activities (Learn, Flashcards, Live) to learn new vocabulary words.  Go beyond the traditional word wall posting definitions by creating walls displaying Wordart.com or sketch noting vocabulary words. 

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Looking for more ideas, check out these additional resources:

 

 

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Word Wizards, Word Nerds, & the Importance of Vocabulary in the Content Areas

What are the essential vocabulary words necessary for students to succeed in your classroom? This can be discipline specific vocabulary or academic vocabulary. For example, you could not possibly comprehend a social studies chapter on the geography of Africa if you do not know the meanings of the words “desert,” “savannah,” and “rainforest.”

Vocabulary is at the heart of the content areas we teach.  Each content has its own vocabulary unique to the understanding of the content material taught.  Most researchers would agree that you improve an individual’s vocabulary knowledge and comprehension through students immersed in a wide variety of reading and writing activities. 

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm. 

As a content area teacher, vocabulary is intertwined with reading and understanding a text. As a teacher, your task is to devise a way of teaching vocabulary in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of a text. Each of our content areas has specific content area vocabulary that is necessary in building understanding of our disciplines. In the TEDx Sonoma County talk from Dr. Kelly Corrigan, “Reading Matters, Vocabulary Matters” she addresses how “word learning is a way to understand concepts more deeply, connect to topics and information intentionally, approach challenging words with strategies good readers use to make sense of complicated texts, and to transfer this understanding into consumption and creation” (Shaelynn Farnsworth).

 

I want my graduate students to understand the importance of teaching vocabulary in the content areas and be able to design and create word enriched lessons for their classrooms. I designed a vocabulary Hyperdoc and Choice Board to help them meet these objectives. This choice board is designed with three (3) rows and three (3) columns. Students choose one activity per row (Learn, Dig Deep, Apply) and track your understanding on the KUD Sheet. Vocabulary Choice Board

The KUD note catcher allows students to show what they Know, Understand, and can Do.

K: What Students Should KNOW

This includes information that can be acquired through memorization, such as facts or categories of facts, dates, names of people or places, names and details of important events, definitions of terms or concepts, academic vocabulary, steps in a process, or rules.

U: What Students Should UNDERSTAND

An understand goal is an insight, truth, or “a-ha” that students should gain as a result of acquiringcontent and skills. An understand goal represents an idea that will last beyond a single lesson or unit—it has staying power. An understand goal often makes a statement about or connects concepts. A concept is a broad abstract idea, typically one to two words, under which various topics and facts can fit (Erickson, 2002). They can be general or discipline-specific.

D: What Students Should DO

A do goal articulates skills that students should master. These can be thinking skills, organizational skills, habits of mind, procedural skills, or skills associated with a discipline (e.g., science, cartography, mathematics).

Have engaging vocabulary activités in your content area, share them in the comments section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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