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!

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