Educational Lingo–Oh My Take 2

Education is a world of acronyms and vocabulary that do not seem to fit into the “real world.”  In the spring, in a blog entitled, “Accommodations and Modifications and Educational Lingo—Oh My!” I tried to clarify terms such as accommodation, intervention, progress monitoring and remediation to ensure we use the right word in the right context.    

After many data studies and conversations, we as a school, have decided that we need to “up our rigor.”  We use words like rigor, conceptual understanding, and complexity—what in the world?  This blog will seek to clarify these terms to help you understand what your instructional coach is TRYING to say and wanting you to do!  

The words Rigor and Complexity are the main buzz words at our school right now—but what does this mean?   

Rigor is an overarching term that refers to the teacher’s ability to create a balance between the reader, task and text.  I like to think of the dangling carrot—because this demonstrates the engagement that is created when the reader is matched appropriately (just barely out of reach) to the text and the task. dangling-carrot Rigor requires constant adjustment by the teacher between scaffolding instruction and change in materials and activities.  When a student attains, the teacher should constantly “move the carrot” forward to encourage thinking and learning.  “Moving the carrot” or rigor requires three components working together which are:

1) Conceptual Understanding through the Domains of Literacy

2) Procedural Fluency

3)  Real World Application

More crazy terms—right??  Conceptual understanding simply means that a student can speak, read and write about a concept.  If a child can understand a concept to the point that they can share their thoughts, manipulate the thoughts into another format or put them in writing—they have conceptual understanding of the topic or subject.  Procedural fluency simply refers to the application of foundational skills necessary for the student to show conceptual understanding. They can apply foundational skills effortlessly and automatically.  Finally, real world application refers to taking the new knowledge or information and using it in a meaningful way that requires applying, synthesizing, creating and evaluating.  Real world application does NOT mean that it has to be how they would use it in the real world. It means that it needs to be relevant to the child.  The three components of rigor work together to ensure that you are increasing expectations for students and ensuring that you are “moving the carrot” forward for students to continue learning.

Complexity is more specifically related to text or a task. To examine whether something is complex, you must look at quantitative and qualitative measures.


A text or activity is complex when it balances both qualitative and quantitative measures.  If you use a complex text, you may balance it with scaffolding and text features. If the text is less complex, then take away the scaffolding to require students to dig deeper into the text independently.  Don’t fall into the trap of just giving a higher lexile text to students because the lexile is only measuring words, phrases, syllables, etc. A lexile level does not take into account the meaning and author’s craft.  Remember that The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is lexiled at 680L which is a second/third grade reading band.  Really?  Be careful when choosing text and remember to KNOW it- because the qualities it possesses can make it complex regardless of the lexile or vice versa.

With an increase in rigor and complexity, you hear the words scaffolding, text dependent questions and higher order questioning.  These terms refer to instructional practices utilized by teachers to ensure that you are extending or supporting learning for your students.

Scaffolding is a word that encompasses all the ways teachers support a learner while they interact with text or content.  This can take the form of the materials you provide such as graphic organizers and text feature support. It can take form in the instructional strategies you use such as turn and talk to support thinking or Socratic questioning to extend ideas.

One important element of scaffolding is questioning.  Text Dependent Questions are questions that are tied directly to the text and require the student to find evidence to support their answers WITHIN THE TEXT.  Higher order questioning is similar but usually refers to using the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy or Marzano’s Thinking Levels.   Both of these taxonomies require thinking to develop from the concrete—right there questions to the more abstract.  Both types of questioning have a place and importance in daily instruction. (See resources below for more information on types of questioning)

As we progress through the year, on the blog, I will periodically review educational “lingo” we are using that may be confusing or used inappropriately.  Please remember to ask if you are unsure!  If you do not know, others are probably unsure as well.


Bloom’s Taxonomy from Curriculet


Marzano Question Stems



Encourage Wonder

Children amaze me with their curiosity.  They lack barriers when they think and can generate ideas outside the box that adults can often not fathom.  Somewhere we, as adults, have forgotten how to open our minds to capture imagination and wonder.

Wonder…a powerful verb. 

Brain research shows that when given an interesting question or image the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that actually gives you a bump in mood and seems to stimulate the cells that are associated with learning.  According to LA Johnson (2014) at NPR (, curiosity increases retention of information, the ability to remember minor details and increases the ability to make connections. Each child has a different level of motivation and degree of curiosity which can be impacted by factors such as stress, medications, genetics, etc.

Brain studies show that a person’s attention and engagement lapses throughout a lesson depending on their interest.  You have about 2 minutes to engage a student in a lesson.  We often call this first few minutes of the lesson—the hook.  If you don’t hook a student quickly—they will not engage as sufficiently as they could even with redirecting.  To encourage the engagement we need to hook them with WONDER and curiosity to want to learn more.

How can we as educators cultivate this wonder?  Here are 3 tips!

Tip#1:  Start with a related image or video that provides information about the topic but without text.  By providing a visual for students it helps them to begin brainstorming, categorizing information and synthesizing that information.  By encouraging students to think and discover—you are stimulating divergent thinking.

Example:  Begin a unit on plate tectonics by showing this graphic from National Geographic.


  1. Have students write all the words that come to their mind when they look at this photograph. (Give them one minute)
  2. Pair students with a partner and have them discuss the words they chose and why. (2 minutes)
  3. Discuss whole group the words they brainstormed and list them on the board.
  4. Then put 4 key vocabulary words for the unit (related to the picture) on the board. Such as fissure, plate, lava, molten and valley. Challenge students to talk to their partners and see if they can match the word or concept to the photograph. They need to be able to explain their thinking. (Give them 3 minutes)
  5. Partner students up with someone new and let them repeat their discussion and change or add any ideas. (2 minutes)
  6. Discuss whole group and label the vocabulary to the photograph. (5-7 minutes)

This activity challenges students to use their background knowledge to apply new vocabulary.  As you discuss vocabulary you can reinforce suffixes, prefixes, root words or examples to help students make connections from the word to the concept.  This allows students to discover new ideas, utilize what they know and make sense of new ideas by talking through their own ideas. This activity cultivates wonder because students are able to begin with their own knowledge and “thoughts” and then build on those ideas with academic vocabulary. We must allow students to access their own knowledge, learn new information and then make this information their own.

Tip #2:  Have props or realia around the room prior to a unit or lesson.  Do not provide information and do not answer questions—just simply let students investigate.

Example 1:  Prior to a Native American Unit have pottery, baskets, Native American blanket, arrowheads, pumpkins, corn, etc. on a table or around the room.

Example 2:  Tape maps to the floor prior to an explorer unit. Be sure that the maps represent different time periods.

Example 3:  When reading a book, create a collection of items so that as you read the book—students can discover what the items represent. (For the book Blue by Joyce Hostetter you could create a basket with blue overalls, a blue glass bottle, a penny, five dollar bill, ration coupon, dried wisteria, seeds, quarantine sign, etc.)

When someone asks a question—what is this for? What is this? Shrug your shoulders and respond—what do you think?  Allow students to discover and make connections.  You don’t have to engage,  just direct them to investigate and ask—what do you think?

Tip #3: Use thought provoking questions.  There is an art in questioning.  If I ask, “what, who, where, when and how (“how does” requires students to explain but “how would” begins to think outside the box) questions…your brain immediately seeks to answer the question  However, when you ask, “WHY” you are immediately demanding the brain to problem solve.  Use question starters like—

  • Can you find evidence to prove (disprove) _______________?
  • Why would _______________________occur?
  • Why would _____________think this way? (make this mistake)
  • How would you _______________________?

As you plan, think about a way to “hook” your students and excite them about the topic. Encourage their discovery.  Pictures, video, realia and asking the right questions can help students want to find out and engage rather than regurgitate back information.  Learning is discovery which must start with curiosity.  It is time to help our students “find wonder!”


Other Suggestions:

  • Have students close their eyes and tell them “a story” that could describe a character, historical event, dilemma or controversy, etc.  This allows students to build a visual image of what you will be talking about.
  • Play a song that has a connection to the topic as students come in the classroom.
  • Use an analogy to create a comparison for students
  • Dress up or act something out for students
  • PHOTOGRAPH Gallery Walk
  • Start with a demonstration or a experiment


Share any ideas you have to hook students in the comment section!

Language Revisited

Do you have that one person in your life who just “says it?”  Tells you what others haven’t—your hair is sticking up, you have toilet paper on your shoe,  or NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU MEAN BY THE TERM LANGUAGE.  I love my Taylorsville colleagues who keep me grounded!

It had not occurred to me but we do use the word language in various ways. Normally, I refer to language in three ways.


  1. Language = Student to Student Interaction and communication
  2. Language = Common Core Standards L. 1-6
  3. “Academic Language” = the words, phrases, grammar choices and author’s craft in organizing a text


First, language is used to refer to our students’ ability to communicate ideas and thoughts through listening, speaking, reading and writing. Increasing student to student interaction allows time for processing and for students to make sense of knowledge. The four domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) are all interrelated and interact to affect one another.


Implications for our classrooms: 

  1. Students process information when they have the opportunity to interact.  Speaking helps students make sense of ideas, ask questions and begin to own their own thinking.  By putting ideas into your own words and examples demonstrates conceptual understanding of the topic.
  2. When you move students through a concept by listening then speaking and progressing to reading and writing—you are scaffolding instruction AND building conceptual understanding.
  3. Allowing students to paraphrase and put information into their own words aids students in making connections to the information on a deeper level.

Secondly, I often refer to the Common Core Language Standards as a way to “increase our focus on language.”  These standards are all grounded in the fundamentals of language and the domains of literacy and are written in a pattern that builds on prior knowledge.


Standard Meaning
L.1 Understanding of conventions and sentence structure


L.2 Understanding of capitalization and punctuation
L.3 Understanding why words were used and chosen and their affect within the text
L.4 Determining word meanings and phrases through context, word parts, reference materials,
L.5 Understanding figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings
L.6 Determining academic and domain specific words and phrases




Implications for our classrooms: 

  1. Language comprises of about 20-25% of the Reading End of Grade Test. Knowing this fact,  a focus on context clues, figurative language, words and phrases that affect characters, setting and mood should all be MAJOR focuses of instruction.
  2. “Language” in the form of words and phrases, woven within the text,  are written to affect the reader—teach students to see subtly and question the techniques used by the author—THIS IS HOW RIGOR IS ATTAINED!
  3. Remember that you must directly teach students what you want them to do. When teaching students how to figure out words and phrases in context teach all the different strategies you might use such as look at punctuation, synonyms, antonyms, grammar, examples embedded, etc. Be explicit when you show students and MODEL what you want for them—then let them try it and apply it.



Lastly, I refer to language in the form of “academic language” which is the words, phrases, grammar choices which affect the author’s craft and organization of the text.  This can be vocabulary but is usually more subtly the structure in which the text is organized.  When our students have knowledge of how sentences are structured can help students “untangle” more complex text.  Without the grammar and punctuation, students’ prosody (expressive reading and understanding of timing, phrasing, intonation and emphasis) is not possible.


Implications for our classrooms:

  1. Understanding phrases, clauses, punctuation and capitalization directly affects BOTH fluency and comprehension.
  2. Grammar should be embedded in discussions of word meanings and close reading to directly teach fluency and comprehension.
  3. Text choice should include structure that includes complex text which challenges students to examine multiple levels of meaning with subtle nuances that they may miss upon first read.  Ensuring text is “complex” with levels of meaning challenges students to read closer and dig deeper.

In summation, the term LANGUAGE is a HUGE component of EVERYTHING that we do in our classrooms because it truly plays a role in all aspects of learning.  We “use language” when communicating. Authors embed language within text to share meaning and to interest the reader.  Finally we integrate language as our instructional support with listening, speaking, reading and writing. We need to infuse it and use the Common Core Language standards as the “skeleton” of our instruction for our literature and informational standards. It is by infusing the grammar, capitalization, punctuation and an understanding of sentence structure within the areas of reading that you will deepen students’ understanding and comprehension.  Language is complex and certainly not something you can check off a list to show mastery.









Don’t Forget the Grammar!

I recently was in a meeting where the question was asked: Does grammar affect reading? My answer—ABSOLUTELY!  Students must understand how sentences work both orally and in written form.  Having experience with sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar helps students to “untangle” difficult sentences they encounter. Without grammar and  punctuation students’ prosody (expressive reading with understanding of timing, phrasing, intonation and emphasis) is not possible.

Common Core brought three shifts in the English Language Curriculum including the following:

  1. Exposure of complex text AND their academic language
  2. Reading, writing and speaking grounded in the evidence from the text source
  3. Increase informational text

The second shift makes grammar essential to the ELA classroom.  Remember a few weeks ago, in a blog entitled What Does ELA Rigor and Complexity Look Like?shared what elements make a text complex.  Academic language is the words, grammar and the author’s craft in organizing a text. The academic language is used to describe the complex ideas that are embedded in the rigorous text. It is this essential shift in our ELA standards that reminds us that we must embed grammar and teach students to use these skills to decode and “untangle” ideas in the text rather than to teach it in isolation.

We think of academic language as only Tier II and III words but it is actually made up of three components which each include a piece aided by grammar understanding:

  1. Words/Phrases and use of multi-meaning words (understanding grammar aids students using Context Clues)
  2. Sentence Dimension including uses of phrases and clauses (embedded Grammar Understanding including punctuation and sentence structure helps students understand complex sentences)
  3. Oral and written language to communicate complex ideas (better understanding of grammar helps writing and oral communication to improve)

When we provide students complex text at any level, they have to “untangle” it and grammar is a vehicle by which this can happen.  Complex text can be used at any grade level.

For example, the BFG by Roald Dahl, is not a particularly complex text upon first glance with a 720 Lexile Level (3rd Grade).  However, in a guided reading group, you could pull out this excerpt:

“Sometimes, on a very clear night,” the BFG said, “’and if I is swiggling my ears in the right direction, “—and here he swiveled his great ears upwards so they were facing the ceiling—“if I is swiggling them like this and the night is very clear, I is sometimes hearing faraway music coming from the stars in the night sky.”

Example of excerpt to give students: excerpt

Try this:

  1. Asking students to read this small section and have them read it independently. Do you think they would know how to use proper intonation while reading? Would they understand the purpose of the hyphen, quotation marks, apostrophe, and commas which each contribute to the meaning and understanding of the words swiggling and swiveled.
  2. Have students “chunk the text” to show the intonation for reading. After or above each “chunk,” ask students to explain what each chunk means through annotation.IMG_1026IMG_1027
  3. Pair students to discuss how similar their “chunks” are to one another.
  4. Have each partner read the excerpt the way they think it should be read and then the other. Have them discuss which sections they felt sounded different between one another and why?
  5. Teacher then should model how to chunk the sentence properly and explain the “grammar” or features (phrases, clauses, punctuation, etc.) that help the reader understand.
  6.  Students should then practice with their partner the correct intonation together for several minutes.

This is a simple activity that will provide direct instruction on fluency AND increase students’ awareness of how sentences are structured.

This type of lesson can follow grammar instruction. If you have been teaching about commas in a list, you can find a complex sentence that embeds a list with commas. Have the students chunk it and figure out how those commas affect the reader and meaning.  Instead of daily grammar practice, you can embed grammar instruction in your guided reading groups each week.

Do not leave grammar out!  Hopefully, this begins your thinking about how grammar plays a part in our students’ comprehension and fluency.   This can be done at any level—even in kindergarten!  See this video for an example:  Kindergarten Butterfly Lesson:

Try this out in a guided reading group—this is a great example of a close read while working on fluency!  I am excited that my school’s 4th and 5th grade teachers are finding ways to use grammar to deepen learning. Hoping this idea may help!  Look below for some other resources that may help—AND as always—I am here!



NCDPI ELA Wiki–look at “Juicy Sentences” lesson

This article explains why embedding grammar works–check out this article: Teaching Grammar a Method that Works

PPT from Lynne Weber has some great advice on types of grammar you can focus on and examples.  This is one that will help you learn as an educator!

Article on Sentence Combining which is a great read. Research shows one of the best ways to improve writing of students is to teach and practice sentence combining.


Subscribe By Email

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar