Vocabulary Take 2

Last week I made these statements:  “Vocabulary instruction for our students facing this vocabulary gap must be accelerated, repetitive and intentional.  Our instruction needs to include read aloud, explicit vocabulary instruction, word learning strategies including context clues and graphic organizers, independent reading paired with guided reading, immersion into a topic or theme with multi-sensory activities and graphics.”  Pretty big request!  So where to start!!??!!

Before we look at strategies, I want you to know how this fits into our standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

These three standards are under Language and focus specifically on vocabulary.  There are so many standards and we often focus on the reading and math standards that speaking, listening and language often get lost. The above standards are deeply connected to our reading standards and our students cannot comprehend text without this piece.  These standards should help anchor our word study, spelling and word work stations during guided reading time.  The speaking and listening standards are the vehicles that help vocabulary “stick.”  With role play, acting out, creating rhymes, partner discussions of definitions and classifying as well as illustrations (realia) , etc., vocabulary comes to life for the student.

First, our students have to be excited and truly interested in the vocabulary for it to transfer. There has to be a reason for them learning it–this can be a connection to a content area, a story in guided reading, a read aloud connection, a personal interest, etc. If they do not care–they will not learn it–passive participation will not respond in learning words.  Immersion into a learning topic with tons of photographs, realia, labels and captions is a great start.  Word walls are great but word walls with graphics are even better!  Competition can also go a long way here!

Love these two ideas for exciting student learning of words:  http://www.cli.org/blog/two-activities-that-can-transform-your-vocabulary-instruction/.  You can also do word jars ( pull out word and explore them) use online resources such as shahi or wordhippo to interact with words, act them out, or even play class pictionary.

Second, our teaching must be explicit but paired with implicit opportunities.  Focusing on a small number of words (less than 7 at a time) allows multiple opportunities for the student to interact with the words. Our basal, begins with a vocabulary story and then works with the words in context of another story. This models the importance of students seeing the words you are teaching in different texts and used in different ways for them to process the meaning.  Adding the use of context clues instruction, visuals, and the study of semantics helps readers see the word from multiple perspectives. (Semantics refers to the study of language.  This means helping students see how words change as you look at an individual word, in a phrase, sentence or within the entire text.  Examples of semantics are strategies such as looking at multiple meanings for words, the connotation, whether the use is figurative or literal, is the use including a homophone or used as a pun.) Sometimes words are implicitly taught, such as Tier III words, which need a quick explanation or sometimes a deep context moment to understand the word.

Ex.  Teaching the word “crash”

Crash has multiple meanings including an auto accident, reference to a drop in the stock market, attending a party or event without being invited, ocean waves moving against the shore, going to sleep, a sound made when something falls or when cymbals are hit together.

Crash can be used in figurative ways–see example below from:  http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/crash


See how confusing a word can be for a student?  Showing them how it can be used in a variety of ways helps them make sense of the word when it is found in a different context than they are used to or had learned the word.

What does Explicit Vocabulary Instruction look like?

1.  Immerse students into the study of a topic or story.

2.  Choose vocabulary that you can show in more than one context within text.  Look at Tier II words that cross different texts

3.  Use graphic organizers, word webs and tools that allow students to visually display the meaning of words.  By using graphic organizers (semantic maps) you are help students identify, understand the word meaning and the visual helps students to recall the word in new settings.

Basic Word Mapping–How to

1.  Pick a word you do not know from the text you are reading (highlight, bold, underline, circle, etc.)

2.  Place word in the middle of the map. (in journal, online map or map template)

3.   Pronounce the word or use an online dictionary to help you. (http://dictionary.reference.com/)

4.  Reread the text for context clues and related words.

5.  Use a dictionary or thesaurus to help. On an online visual dictionary will help you select pics, if not the student can draw them. Add these words, phrases, images to your map.

6.  Read the text and add the meaning of the word to the map.  Students can add  meaning, phrases, and synonyms.  Students will then look to determine the closest meaning of the words in the web to the meaning in the text. They will then share and compare with your peers

*This is a great direct instruction activity to model for younger students and a way to help expand their vocabulary.

Example from younger grades:



There are mapping templates which are more formal but either technique is effective.  Here are examples of word mapping templates you might want to consider.





frayer cards template


You can have students map words online using Spiderscribe, bubblus or creately but a student reading journal, pencil and dictionary–works fine too!

What does Explicit Instruction Look Like–Continued

4.  Study of prefix, suffix, greek or latin word parts that fit together to form words.  In lower grades this begins with word families of course but moves up towards word parts when you get to multisyllabic words.

5.  Direct instruction, modeling, guided instruction and gradual release of responsibility with context clues instruction. Students must practice this on their own and then be given explicit instruction and modeling to ensure they “see and understand the process” MULTIPLE TIMES.

6.  Student created definitions, sentences and illustrations.

Other Important Elements

* teaching connotation

*teaching academic language (4 square method is effective for this)  Four-Square-Vocabulary-Intervention

*teaching figurative language

*teaching sentence structure and grammar

This semantic mapping strategy is a bit more complex–VERY effective

As I go into your classrooms, I see great vocabulary instruction–with our students–we just need MORE and consistent.  A great project would be for us as a school to really figure out what words we want highlighted at each grade level so we are maximizing our use of instructional time each year–anyone interested in helping?  It would have to be a school buy in and commitment but one I think that would be worth it. Let me know if this is something you would like to do as a school.

As I close out the blog for the week–I did not have any volunteers to share a vocabulary strategy with me but I did commandeer this one from Brooke. Anyone using their context clues to figure out what I mean by commandeer?  This is the kind of sentence you throw in  for students–one for them to see a word used in a different context.

photoFirst Brooke taught vocabulary using graphics, realia, and photographs for a story they are reading that takes place during WWII.  Her vocabulary test consisted of having students choose the picture that represented the word and then use it in context. Love this idea.

photo (2)  Thanks Brooke–I did not give you much choice but this type of example is so powerful for everyone!  I am sending out another plea–anyone with a great vocabulary idea they would like to share–please let me know!  Be careful though–I am a pirate and as Brooke will tell you–I will plunder your room and commandeer your idea if need be!  (Thanks Brooke)

Enjoy the rest of the weekend! Please share your ideas!

Vocabulary 101

A Student’s vocabulary is highly related to their ability to comprehend while reading in the upper grades.  Research shows that a student in pre-school who has a deficit vocabulary will struggle with reading comprehension by third grade.  (Dickinson and Tabois, 2001) Our students’ vocabulary in Kindergarten is a strong predictor of how they will perform as readers in upper elementary grades.  (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1997)  As you know, students who are from low socioeconomic families have said fewer words and have  a smaller vocabulary foundation.  From Hartley, 1995 research, a cumulative vocabulary for a 4 year old child from a professional family will know approximately 1,100 words compared to a child from a working class family who on average knows 700 words.  A child from a family of low socioeconomic means, they on average know about 500 words in stark comparison. (Great Article if you want to know more about this gap.)

Click on these charts to see statistics to support the need for strong vocabulary instruction.





Images from:  http://reading.uoregon.edu/big_ideas/voc/voc_what.php

Vocabulary instruction for our students facing this vocabulary gap must be accelerated, repetitive and intentional.  Our instruction needs to include read aloud, explicit vocabulary instruction, word learning strategies including context clues and graphic organizers, independent reading paired with guided reading, immersion into a topic or theme with multi-sensory activities and graphics.  In addition, our instruction needs to ensure Tier I vocabulary is “basic” (sight words) and needs to be learned to automaticity, Tier II words should be our focus because these are high frequency words used across grade levels (multiple meaning words/high frequency).  Tier III words are the content specific words we directly teach our students.

A few Resources:

Basic Guide to the Differences in Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III words

Tier I words for K-5

Tier II words for each grade level (printable–click on the left column for grade)

More in depth information about Tier II words

Tier III


So, what do we do?  What are some great strategies?  My next post will be a focus on vocabulary strategies for your classroom.  Please share something you do for vocabulary in your classroom so I can highlight it next week in Vocabulary Take 2.


Primary Sources and REALIA

For those of you who know me–know I LOVE history and helping children build background in this area.  It is not complicated but it does take some time to find the right resources to use. (This might be something your Instructional Facilitator could help you with–hint hint)

Primary Sources are documents, songs, poems, photographs or paintings and artifacts that was written or created during the time you are studying.  These items offer a view into the historical time period or culture you are studying.  Realia refers to everyday objects of a time or culture that may be authentic or not but can certainly impact your students by helping them to “see” and make connections. (Ex. 2nd Grade bringing in Sugar Skulls during their study of the Mexican Tradition or baskets when studying Native Americans)

There are three main types of Primary Sources or Realia that can be used which include:  1)  Original Documents   2) Creative Works and 3) Relics or Artifacts.  Original documents include letters, diary excepts, interviews, speeches, news film, court records, autobiographies, etc.  Creative Works include the art pieces, music, drama, novels and poetry.  Artifacts can include buildings, clothing, furniture, pottery, etc.

I mentioned with my post on inferences that you can find primary sources online through the National Archives, Library of Congress, NC Museum of History, etc. I wanted to get you ready for the next few months with some great places to begin using Primary Sources.  Here are common topics around this time of year and AWESOME documents to accompany your study.

4th Grade BLUE- Dust Bowl This site has photographs, lessons, and ideas

The Mayflower Compact

Native Americans

Thanksgiving Photographs/Documents and Teaching Ideas

3-5 resources Thanksgiving– the pictures could be used with any grade level

I know you are looking at this and thinking–KELLY THIS YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.  But actually, not so much!  Think about this lesson:

Pilgrimsclick on this photograph and it take you to a larger version.


Show this photograph and have students discuss with a partner. What do they see? What are the people doing? The are simply sharing what they see. Have a set of partners pair up with another set of partners and discuss their ideas.  Bring together whole group and have students share out what they see.

After you have about 10 items on your list–stop them and tell students you are going to look deeper at their list. You will have things on the list like:  a woman is fainting, a man has his hand on his head, a book is open, etc.  It will be normal every day things–not spectacular but that is okay.

Say to the student–It is time to make some inferences about what we are seeing. Why do you think the lady is fainting? What evidence do you have to support that?  Why does the man have his hand on his head? How is he feeling? How do you know?

As you make inferences–if no one has noticed the title–point this out and ask what further information this provides us as the viewers.  How does the title change what we think about the woman fainting–what reasons does a voyage make you think about?  Continue discussing and asking questions.

Finally, you have went through this list and have lots of inferences. You might stop there because your students struggled but what if you go a step further and ask–So, now that we have all these inferences–what conclusions can we draw from this about the Pilgrims Voyage? Help students put ideas together such as the man with his hand on his head was feeling bad and maybe sick–the lady is fainting so this might help us draw the conclusion that many people got sick on the journey.  Make a list as students come up with conclusions. This list would be great to investigate or research to see if they were right.

Remember that inferences and conclusions are not easy but with modeling and visuals–it is much easier. AND if this is HARD–GREAT!! Know that it takes a lot of wrong answers to get to a right one and most of all a student who is engaged and struggling is more productive than a student who already knows the answer is regurgitating the info back to you.

I would love for you to try a Primary Source lesson and let me know how it goes!  I will be happy to help you find resources if you need me to do that!  GOOD LUCK!  Can’t wait to hear some great things from you!



Read Aloud 101

For those of you that know me–know that ONE of my many soapbox discussions is READ ALOUD. This is a crucial element for any classroom–no matter the subject area. (EVEN MATH)  So, here is the beginners guide to read aloud.


What is it?

Read Aloud is a strategy where a teacher sets aside time to read aloud to students on a consistent basis from texts that are above their independent level.  The importance of it being at a higher level is to expose them to rich text and vocabulary that they cannot access without assistance.

Why do you Read Aloud?

A teacher uses this strategy for MANY reasons including to support social studies and science, to encourage student interests, broaden students exposure to different genres, to encourage reading discussion, for writing and reflection opportunities, to model skills, think aloud and most of all enjoyment!

Reading aloud gives teachers the opportunity to model fluent and expressive reading for students. You can stop and think aloud, model inferring, predictions, and figuring out unknown words. You can help students build background–stop and look up images online as you read.  You can help students make connections between topics you are studying and other texts.

What Texts do you Read Aloud?

Fiction:  short stories, poetry,  picture books, high interest selections, novels, books with absorbing plots/developed characters and books with multiple perspectives.

Informational Text:  Biography, Autobiography, speeches, historical documents, newspaper articles, magazine articles


How do you Plan for a Read Aloud?

1.  Read and REREAD the selection. Think about your goals and identify where you want to stop–discuss and where you may need to build background.  Highlight or put sticky notes on sections with questions or places to stop predict, infer or make connections.

2.  Plan things you want to talk about–think aloud opportunities and even activities throughout the text.

3.  Build Background knowledge for your students.  Activate prior knowledge with a picture walk within the book or with real images if it is a topic such as segregation, immigration or the Civil War.  You may even have students complete an Anticipation Guide to determine their ideas on a topic before you begin and to help shape discussions throughout the text.

Taking time to prepare for a Read Aloud will help you provide meaningful conversations around the selection. You can help students make meaning out of tough topics and help to make comparisons to other topics and ideas you have read about. This time also allows you to find ways to infuse opportunities to reinforce skills you are working on in the classroom such as predictions, inferences, comparing and contrasting or drawing conclusions.

How do you Conduct a Read Aloud?

There is no right answer for how to conduct a read aloud. It is simply important to read and discuss with students–however, here are some of the steps I have used to enrich the Read Aloud experience.

1.  Build Background as mentioned above when appropriate.

2.  As you read it is important to have ongoing interaction with the students and not having them listen passively.  You can have students make responses verbally or in written form. They can create story maps, think pair share, partner discussions, act out, reflections, etc. I used to keep a poster in my room with the following words:  STOP Draw, STOP Act Out, Stop Jot, and Stop and Talk. These are the options students would participate in as we read and made notes in their reading journals.                                                                 stop

poster Read Aloud

The interaction does not have to be seriously intense but ways to help students get involved.

More importantly for students, READ and Enjoy!  So many of the homes our students come from do not have books and the chance to hear and enjoy books.

Please post a great read aloud book in the comment section for your colleagues!




Is a Prediction an Inference?

The answer is simply–not simple!  One of the hardest reading skills for students is inferring and it can all start with a prediction.  A prediction is when a student decides what they think will happen next based upon the text, the author and their own background knowledge (schema).  Students say it is a “guess” and it is but it must be based on the clues that are provided in the story or from your schema. Inferences are when a student decides what happens or why something is happening based on clues and experiences.   So, you are thinking–exactly–these are the same!  But, not exactly!

Predictions are actually a basic form of inferring and should begin happening in K-2 classrooms.  A prediction is the perfect way to model for students how to make inferences AND to be able to show them if they were right or not. An inference is not always validated and you may not find out if you were correct but predictions are normally confirmed or refuted. In addition, our inferences (guesses using clues and knowledge) often lead to drawing conclusions which further complicates the issue.


Begin teaching Predictions!  Once students see how predictions work and how they use clues and their background to make a “guess” than you can move on to working on inferences which is dealing with a much more abstract concept.  When students make a prediction have them explain their reasoning and really focus them back to evidence in the text or text structure.  After the event, model for students how to review their predictions–Why was it right? What evidence did the author give us? What hints were given?  Why was it wrong?  As the teacher Model, Model and Think Aloud for the student while you review over and OVER.   With repetitive practice, students begin to see how we use hints, events, text structure, character’s actions and thoughts, etc. to help us make predictions. These discussion starters a great way for students to begin showing their thinking.

photo (6)

Follow the Clues Lesson Plan and Graphic Organizer

I have given you this video clip before but it is great for modeling predictions The Catch.  Stop at .59 to predict what the boy will do–Have students explain why they make their prediction and what evidence supports it. After the event.  Review the evidence–Did we think from what the author provided? Or what we wanted to happen?  Stop again at 1.09 and repeat the process.

From Predictions to Inferences

When students understand how to use the text and their schema–move on to inferences. I recommend using pictures to begin.

K-2 Examples


Use Pictures of the day from any of the following resources:

When making inferences with pictures, have students fill out a graphic organizer and focusing on what they see and know and then move on towards inferences and why.
Inference basic for Pictures Graphic Organizer
After students are comfortable with pictures, I like to move to video clips. Commercials are awesome for this. Here are two of my favorites but you can do any one you like.  Here is a graphic organizer to use:  inference and evidence
Finally, when students are ready–begin with text.  Picture books are great for this.  Graphic organizer is here or any other one works. GraphicOrganizerMakingInferences
A few of my favorites:
The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg
Stellaluna by Cannon
Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson
For your higher level students–go for primary documents such as real life photographs, artifacts and documents.
Please see these resources from:  The national Archives.  These document analysis worksheets were created by the Education Staff at the archives. some amazing inferring opportunities are found here:

Please put a comment at the end of this blog post with a book, video or activity you use to teach predictions or inferences. Help a colleague by sharing your ideas!


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