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How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

Every teacher knows that word parts are the building blocks of words. Most teachers know that learning individual word parts and how they fit together to form multi-syllabic words is the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition, second only to that of widespread reading at the student’s independent reading level. These word parts that are, indeed, the keys to academic vocabulary—the types of words that students especially need to succeed in school. However, most teachers do not know the best instructional methods to teach these important word parts.

How Most Teachers Teach Prefixes

The Test Method: “Here is your list of ten prefixes with game cards to memorize this week. Test on Friday.” No instruction + no practice = no success.

The Literature-based Method: “Notice the prefix pre in the author’s word preamble? That means before. Let’s look for other ones.

The Word Sort Method: “Here is a list of 20 big words. Sort all of the words that start with pre in the first box.”

The Intensive Vocabulary Study Methods: “Let’s use our Four Square vocabulary chart to study the prefix pre. Who knows an antonym? Who knows an example word? Who knows a synonym? Who knows an inflection that can be added to the word? Who knows…? Spend at least 15 minutes “studying” this one prefix.” How inefficient can you get?

The Modality Methods (VAK): “Let’s draw the prefix pre in the word preamble. Then draw a symbol of the word that will help you remember the word. Use at least three colors. If you prefer, design a Lego® model of the prefix.” Check out this relevant article on Don’t Teach to Learning Styles or Multiple Intelligences.

Better Ways to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

Choose the Right Word Parts

Teaching the high utility Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes is a very efficient tool to acquire academic vocabulary. These morphological (meaning-based) word parts that form the basis of English academic vocabulary are primarily Greek and Latinates. Prefixes and roots carry the bulk of important word meanings; however, some key suffixes are important, as well. Over 50% of multi-syllabic words beyond the most frequently used 10,000 words contain a Greek or Latin word part. Since Greek and Latinates are so common in our academic language, it makes sense to memorize the highest frequency word parts. See the attached list of High Frequency Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots for reference.

Teach by Analogy

Word part clues are highly memorable because readers have frequent exposure to and practice with the high frequency word parts. Additionally, they are memorable because the simple to understand use of the word part can be applied to more complex usages. For example, bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped. Analogy is a powerful learning aid and its application in academic vocabulary is of paramount importance.

One of the most effective strategies for learning and practicing word parts by analogy is to have students build upon their previous knowledge of words that use the targeted word parts. Building student vocabularies based upon their own prior knowledge ensures that your example words will more likely be within their grade-level experience, rather than arbitrarily providing examples beyond their reading and listening experience.

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions (I suggest a combination of prefixes, roots, and suffixes), ask students to brainstorm words that they already know that use each of the word parts. Give students two minutes to quick-write all the words that they know that use the selected prefix, root, or suffix. Then, ask students to share their words in class discussion. Quickly write down and define each word that clearly uses the definition that you have provided. Ignore those words that use the word part, but do not clearly exemplify the definition that you have provided. Require students to write down each word that you have written in their Vocabulary Journals. Award points for all student contributions.

Teach through Word Play

Effective vocabulary study involves practice. One of the best ways to practice prefixes is through vocabulary games. A terrific list of word play games with clear instructions is found in Vocabulary Review Games.

Teach through Association

Memorization through association places learning into the long-term memory. Connection to other word parts helps students memorize important prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

Fifteen Power Words

These fifteen words have prefixes or roots that are part of over 15,000 words. That is as many words as most student dictionaries! Memorize these words and the meanings of their prefixes and roots and you have significantly improved your vocabulary.

1. inaudible     (not, hear)

2. dismiss        (away from, send)

3. transport      (across, carry)

4. unsubscribe (not, under, write)

5. predict         (before, say)

6. remit            (again, send)

7. encounter    (in, against)

8. offer              (against, carry)

9. inspect         (in, see)

10. epilogue     (upon, word)

11. antigen      (against, people)

12. empathy    (in, feeling)

13. intermediate (between, middle)

14. destruction    (apart from, build)

15. superimpose (over, in, put)

Put-Togethers

Have students spread out vocabulary word part cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups on their desks. Business card size works best. The object of the game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

1 point for each prefix—root combination

1 point for each root—suffix combination

2 points for a prefix—root combination that no one else in the group has

2 points for a root—suffix combination that no one else in the group has

3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination

5 points for a prefix—root—suffix combination that no one else has.

Game can be played timed or untimed.

Teach through Syllabication

Teaching basic syllabication skills helps students understand and apply how syllable patterns fit in with decodable word parts. The Transformers activity teaches the basic syllables skills through inductive examples.

In addition to the basics, the Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules provide the guidelines for correct pronunciation and writing.

Teaching the Ten Accent Rules, including the schwa, will assist students in accurate pronunciation and spelling.

Teach through Spelling

Using a comprehensive spelling pattern spelling program will teach how prefixes absorb and assimilate with connected roots, how roots change spellings to accommodate pronunciation and suffix spelling, and how suffixes determine the grammar, verb tense, and limit the meaning of preceding prefixes and roots. Beyond primary sound-spellings, spelling and vocabulary have an important relationship in the structure of academic vocabulary. Only recently has spelling been relegated to the elementary classroom. Check out Differentiated Spelling Instruction to see how a grade-level spelling program can effectively incorporate advanced vocabulary development.

Context Clues Reading

Even knowing just one word part will provide a clue to meaning of an unknown word. For example, a reader may not understand the meaning of the word bicameral. However, knowing that the prefix bi means two certainly helps the reader gain a sense of the word, especially when combined with other context clues such as synonyms, antonyms, logic-based, and example clues. For example, let’s look at the following sentence:

The bicameral legislative system of the House and Senate provide important checks and balances.

Identifying the context example clues, “House and Senate” and “checks and balances,” combines with the reader’s knowledge of the word part, bi and help the reader problem-solve the meaning of the unknown word: bicameral.

Context Clues Writing

Similarly, having students develop their own context clue sentences, in which they suggest the meaning of the word parts and words with surrounding synonyms, antonyms, logic-based, and example clues is excellent practice.

Inventive Writing

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions (I suggest two prefixes, three roots, and two suffixes per week), ask students to invent words that use each word part in a sentence, that uses context clues to show the meaning of each nonsense word. Encourage students to use “real” word parts to combine with each targeted word part to form multi-syllabic words. Award extra points for words used from prior week’s words.

Don’t want to reinvent the wheel? Find every resource you need to teach vocabulary in Pennington Publishing’s newly released Grades 4-8 Teaching the Language Strand. This comprehensive program is designed to help students catch up and keep up with grade-level Standards in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. The vocabulary worksheets are designed to teach every grade level Common Core Standard. Check out the YouTube introductory video for a concise overview of the program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

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Ten English Accent Rules

Most teachers are unfamiliar with the role that pronunciation plays in orthography (the study of spelling rules). Key to proper pronunciation is the accent. The accent is the stress placed in varying degrees upon the vowel sounds in syllables. The primary accent refers to the vowel sound with the greatest “punch” or “stress.” A good way to teach accents is to have students clap on the accented syllable and snap on the unaccented syllables. Teachers may choose to add on secondary accents; however, these have minimal influences on pronunciation and spelling. Check out How to Teach Syllabication after you skim through this helpful list of accent rules. The Ten English Accent Rules are important to understand and apply to be able to correctly pronounce and spell English words.

Accent Rule #1: Each word with two or more syllables has one syllable whose vowel is accented. For example, for-gét. Accents are very important to spelling rules. Accented means that the sound of that vowel is stressed, or louder, than those in other syllables.

Accent Rule #2: A long word may have more than one accent. The vowel that is stressed more or most is called the primary accent. The primary accent is key to many of the spelling rules. A second accented vowel is called the secondary accent.  For example, cón-ver-sá-tion. Very long words can have even more stressed vowel sounds, but only one primary accent.

Accent Rule #3: The primary accent is usually on the root before a double consonant. For example, for-gét-ting.

Accent Rule #4: Unaccented vowel sounds frequently have the soft /uh/ schwa sound, especially when there is only one letter in the syllable. All vowels can have the schwa sound. For example, the a in a-boút.

Accent Rule #5: The primary accent is usually on the first syllable in two-syllable words. For example, páy-ment.

Accent Rule #6: The primary accent is usually on the second syllable of two-syllable words that have a prefix in the first syllable and a root in the second syllable. For example, dis-tráct.

Accent Rule #7: For two-syllable words that act as both nouns and verbs, the primary accent is usually on the prefix (first syllable) of the noun and on the root (second syllable) of the verb. For example, pró-duce as a noun; pro-dúce as a verb.

Accent Rule #8: The primary accent is usually on the first syllable in three-syllable words, if that syllable is a root. For example, chár-ac-ter.

Accent Rule #9: The primary accent is usually on the second  syllable in three-syllable words that are formed by a prefix-root-suffix. For example, in-vést-ment.

Accent Rule #10: The primary accent is usually on the second  syllable in four-syllable words. For example, in-tél-li-gent.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules

Syllable Rules

The 20 Syllable Rules

Teachers should take a look at the importance of direct instruction in syllabication. The syllable rules provide helpful guides to proper pronunciation, spelling, and reading. Check out How to Teach Syllabication once you’ve skimmed the following syllable rules. The Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules are critical to accurate pronunciation, decoding, and spelling. Knowing the patterns of affixes and roots will also facilitate vocabulary acquisition.

Syllable Rule #1: Every syllable has a vowel. The common vowels are a, e, i, o, and u.

Syllable Rule #2: When the vowel is not at the end of a syllable, it has a short sound. The Vowel-Consonant (VC) and Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) patterns are called closed syllables. For example, bas-ket is a CVC-CVC word with the short vowels ă and ě.

Syllable Rule #3: When the vowel is at the end of a syllable, it has a long sound. The Consonant-Vowel (CV) and Consonant-Consonant-Vowel (CCV) patterns are called open syllables. For example, be-low is a VC-VC word with the long vowels ā and ō.

Syllable Rule #4: Vowel digraphs are paired vowels that have only one vowel sound. Usually the first vowel indicates the sound of the vowel digraph. For example, in the word boat, the vowel digraph is “oa” and the sound is /ō/. Usually keep vowel digraphs in the same syllable.

Syllable Rule #5: Base words are roots that form complete words. A root is the meaning-based syllable that may or may not connect to prefixes or suffixes. Usually keep the original spelling of the base word when connecting to prefixes and suffixes. For example, kick in kicking.

Syllable Rule #6: Compound words consist of two or three base words (roots that form complete words). Usually keep the original spellings of the base words in compound words. The spelling rules do not change the spelling of the base words. For example, bridesmaid.

Syllable Rule #7: An incomplete root is the meaning-based syllable that connects to prefixes and/or suffixes. Unlike a base word, the incomplete root is not a complete word. Both ending vowels and consonants can change when connecting to other roots and suffixes. Sometimes a vowel or consonant is either added or dropped. For example, vis in visible.

Syllable Rule #8: Keep the silent final “e” and the vowel before in the same syllable. The silent final “e” makes the vowel before a long sound if there is only one consonant in between the vowel and the “e”. For example, basement.

Syllable Rule #9: Vowel diphthongs are paired vowels that have two vowel sounds. For example, “au” in sauces. Like vowel digraphs, they stay in the same syllable.

Syllable Rule #10: Prefixes are meaningful word parts attached to the beginnings of words. More than one prefix can begin a word. For example, mis and under in misunderstand.

Syllable Rule #11: Suffixes are word parts attached to the endings of words. They can add meaning to the word or indicate a part of speech. More than one suffix can end a word. For example, on and al in seasonal.

Syllable Rule #12: Consonant digraphs, such as sh, and consonant blends, such as str, stay in the same syllable. For example, shallow and straighten. The /sh/ consonant digraph frequently changes to another consonant sound between different grammatical forms of the same root. For example, /sh/ to /k/ in musician and magic.

Syllable Rule #13: Keep the r-controlled vowels (ar, er, ir, or, and ur) in the same syllable. For example, er-ror.

Syllable Rule #14: Divide syllables between doubled consonants, for example for-gét-ting, unless the doubled consonant is part of a syllable included in a base word, for example ful-fill-ment.

Syllable Rule #15: Some short vowel sounds change to the soft /uh/ schwa sound with a different grammatical form of the same word. For example, in cónduct and conductor the “o” changes from a short vowel to a schwa.

Syllable Rule #16: Some long vowel sounds change to the soft /uh/ schwa sound with a different grammatical form of the same word. For example, in repeat and repetition the “e” changes from a long vowel to a schwa.

Syllable Rule #17: Some long vowel sounds change to the short vowel sound with a different grammatical form of the same word. For example, in nation and national the “a” changes from a long vowel to a short vowel.

Syllable Rule #18: Some silent consonants are pronounced when connected to different grammatical forms of the same root. For example, numb and number.

Syllable Rule #19: Many Greek and Latin prefixes change their spellings to match the roots to which they attach in order to make pronunciation easier. For example, in and mobile becomes immobile. These “chameleons” can change either their consonant or vowel spellings. Check out How to Teach Greek and Latin Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots.

Syllable Rule #20: Many Greek and Latin suffixes are morphemes, which means that the word part is meaningful. For example, viewable. Other suffixes serve as inflections, which means that the suffix helps change the part of speech, but does not add meaning to the word. For example, started.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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How to Teach Precise Vocabulary

Despite all of our educational focus these days on higher order critical thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Bloom, Costa, Depth of Knowledge, Any New Fads, etc.), the bulk of our teaching and learning at all levels of education remains at the lower levels of factual acquisition, comprehension, and application. Most educators would agree that our students do need this pool of knowledge to be able to accurately and efficiently inform our thinking and decision-making. This pool of knowledge consists of words. Knowing the precise meanings of these words is crucial to developing academic vocabulary to think, read, and write well. Words build upon words. These foundations hold up houses and skyscrapers.

Since independent reading remains the chief vehicle that we use to access words, educators would be wise to focus on this point of access. Learning precise vocabulary is, of course, one of the keys to reading. The point of this article is that it is the precision of vocabulary words are the lower level gatekeepers  that allow readers access to the higher level thinking, reading, and writing skills.

However, some may be thinking… How can we be sure of precision when even the dictionaries disagree? Merriam-Webster defines precision as “the degree of refinement with which an operation is performed or a measurement stated”. Oxford Dictionary defines precision as “The quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate“. 

Others may be thinking… Aren’t all words subject to individual interpretation? To some degree, yes. However, words do have a collective consciousness of meaning. They do connect to objective realities. In other words, words are not totally subjective. Words must be denotatively internalized and connotatively applied with a good deal of accuracy and skill to properly access information the way the author intends. Only when the reader understands the meaning of the author’s words can higher order thinking skills be then applied to the text.

Although that author-reader connection is a two-way street, the relationship should be weighted heavily on the side of the author. It is the author’s thoughts that we are trying to interpret, not ours per se. An author chooses words carefully because of their precise meanings and the connotations/feelings that the collective readers commonly will understand.

So, memorizing words with precise denotative and connotative definitions is important. Sloppy use of our language inhibits effective communication and leads to misunderstandings. So, what’s the bottom line here? What’s the application for teacher and learner? It is better to teach and learn fewer words with greater precision, than many words with less precision. Two vocabulary strategies assist in this effort: The Vocabulary Ladder and Semantic Spectrums.

The Vocabulary Ladder

Students draw a graphic representation of a ladder with five rungs. They take notes in between the rungs from each of the guiding prompts (in boldface). Begin with a clear, simple, and concise dictionary definition and work students up the ladder via class and teacher brainstorming and reference to appropriate text.

Example Vocabulary Word: democracy

Full Understanding

-It’s important because… it’s the foundation of our government.

-It’s different than… a republic because… a republic has a Constitution.

-It’s the same as… a republic because… both have citizens who are allowed to vote.

-Specific examples of it would be… direct democracy like a club, representative democracy like our Student Council.

-It’s an example of the following… ways decisions are made in governments and organizations.

-The definition is… rule by the people.

Basic Understanding

Semantic Spectrums

Students draw a number line with one end labeled Extreme and the other end labeled Opposite  Extreme. The object is to list words in their connotative order along the spectrum of meaning. Select two vocabulary words for this activity that students fully understand that are antonyms. For example, hot and cold. Have students brainstorm synonyms to each word at the ends of the spectrum and problem-solve via consensus as to where to list each new word by degree of meaning. Select one or two unknown vocabulary words that will fit along this spectrum and read a clear, simple, and concise dictionary definition of each. Assist the students’ decision-making as to where to place these new words. Have the students write down their definitions below the spectrum.

Example Vocabulary Words: even-tempered and vicious

<————————————————————————————————————————————->

Extreme kind-hearted/nice/warm/even-tempered/cool/mean/cruel/vicious/hateful Extreme
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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How to Teach Context Clues Strategies

Students learn context clue strategies to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words. But wouldn’t it be more precise to use the dictionary? No. The dictionary is a fine tool and should be used to look up words that are critical to the comprehension of any reading. However, the dictionary is not a practical tool for reading at the 5% unknown words reading level. Often, the definition frequently does not fit the connotative meaning of the word as used in the reading passage. Additionally, there are often multiple definitions—which one fits? Context always determines meaning. Also, looking up one in every twenty words adversely affects comprehension. Time spent looking up words is reductive. The few minutes it takes to look up and internalize the definition could be better spent reading more text, because the more words read provides more exposure and practice—the keys to efficient vocabulary acquisition.

So, learning and practicing context clue strategies makes sense. Context clue strategies can be internalized with sufficient practice and can be flexibly applied by skillful readers to figure out the meaning of many unknown words without adversely impacting comprehension. The best way to apply context clue strategies is to learn the problem-solving strategies detailed in FP’S BAG SALE. When readers come to an unknown word, they apply the relevant steps of the FP’S BAG SALE strategy to get a good clue about the meaning of an unknown word. Download this strategy and two accompanying worksheets with answers.

Get the Context Clues Worksheets FREE Resource:

Flexibility is key to using context clue strategies. Multiple strategies provide multiple ways of problem-solving. Good readers learn to quickly sort through the options and select the strategy or strategies that works best. They also accept the fact that context clue strategies don’t always work and that understanding every single word is not necessary for the purpose of reading—effective meaning-making.

Initially, readers should follow the steps of the FP’S BAG SALE context clues approach in order to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words. Then, through teacher modeling and guided practice, students should learn to efficiently “hunt and peck” for clues to meaning by applying the individual steps.

FP’S BAG SALE

Finish the sentence. See how the word fits into the whole sentence.

Pronounce the word out loud. Sometimes hearing the word will give you a clue to meaning.

Syllables–Examine each word part. Word parts can be helpful clues to meaning.

Before–Read the sentence before the unknown word. The sentence before can hint at what the word means.

After–Read the sentence after the unknown word. The sentence after can define, explain, or provide an example of the word.

Grammar–Determine the part of speech. Pay attention to where the word is placed in the sentence, the ending of the word, and its grammatical relationship to other known words for clues to meaning.

Synonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of a synonym. Synonyms appear in apposition, in which case commas, dashes, or parentheses are used. Example: The wardrobe, or closet, opened the door to a brand new world.

Antonym–Sometimes an unknown word is defined by the use of an antonym. Antonym clues will often use Signal Words such as however, not, but, in contrast Example: He signaled a looey, not a right turn.

Logic–Your own knowledge about the content and text structure may provide clues to meaning. Logic clues can lead to a logical guess as to the meaning of an unknown word. Example: He petted the canine, and then made her sit up and beg for a bone.

Example–When part of a list of examples or if the unknown word itself provides an example, either provides good clues to meaning. Example clues will often use Signal Words such as for example, like, such as Example: Adventurous, rowdy, and crazy pioneers all found their way out West.

How to Practice Context Clue Strategies

Select passages from the textbook or literature that contain unknown words. Demonstrate how to problem-solve the meaning of the unknown words by doing a “Think-Aloud” of the FP’S BAG SALE strategies. Select words that can be specifically determined by each step of the process. Also, select words that have no helpful context clues to show how the process is not fool-proof.

Select passages from the textbook or literature, scan into a word processor and delete every twentieth word, skipping articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. This is known as a CLOZE passage. Then have the reader use the FP’S BAG SALE strategies to guess the meaning of the deleted words. Compare reader answers with the original words and award points for correct answers. Of course, synonyms are fine and will promote rich denotative and connotative word discussions.

Select unknown words that contain high frequency word parts as described in the next article titled “How We Learn Vocabulary from Word Parts Part IV.” Use sentences and three-sentence paragraphs that include these words as class openers. Good readers make use of structural analysis to problem-solve the meaning of unknown words. Although not technically context clues, word parts—both morphological (meaning-based) and grammatical (for example, parts of speech and inflections)—are essential components to vocabulary acquisition.

Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , ,

Learning Vocabulary from Independent Reading

Research has debunked the word list method of vocabulary instruction. The give-them-twenty-words-on-Monday-and-test-on-Friday approach is as American as apple pie, but is also highly inefficient. The English lexicon of over 800,000 words is just too vast to rely on rote memory of individual words. I suggested that the two most efficient methods of vocabulary instruction consist of 1. wide reading with refined context clues strategies and 2. word part memorization. This article will discuss how we learn vocabulary from reading.

To understand how we learn vocabulary, it is helpful to examine how children build their bank of words through oral vocabulary acquisition. By age five, children have gained up to a 10,000 word vocabulary including common inflections such as suffixes. How did children who may only have one year of pre-school and one year of kindergarten gain such an extensive vocabulary? Exposure and practice. Children are bombarded with oral language from parent “oohs and ahs” to simple conversations to the background noises and words of daily life. In homes that are rich in communication, children before the age of four have heard 45 million words. In contrast, in homes that do not provide rich communication, children before the age of four have heard only 13 million words (Hart and Risley 1996).

Noam Chomsky’s theory of an innate universal grammar explains how children are able to apply words into meaningful phrases and sentence structures in an efficient manner. Children fit new words into the morphological (meaning) and syntactical (grammatical) context of old words and so language acquisition compounds. New words are not learned in isolation, but in the context of what has been previously mastered and practiced. But why do children learn words so quickly while adolescents and children learn words at such a slower rate? Is it because “you can’t teach a dog new tricks” or a change in brain development? No. Primarily the reasons are exposure and practice.

After the first 10,000 words, the rest are rare words, and these play a critical role in academic reading. The utility of our academic vocabulary is determined not by the first 10,000 words, but by how many of the rare words we understand (Hart and Risley 1996). The next 20,000 words learned by most college-educated adults takes about twenty years to acquire. Exposure to and practice of more sophisticated words is much less frequent than the “meat and potatoes” words of childhood. A brief example may be helpful. A child learns the word hungry at a very early age. The word has two syllables and is phonetically regular. A late teen or early adult may learn the word famished. The word has two syllables and is phonetically regular. The difference in word acquisition between hungry and famished is influenced by exposure. A child first hears the word hungry early in life and most every day thereafter from parents or from television. An adult may hear or read the word famished once every few months. The difference in word acquisition between hungry and famished is also influenced by practice. The word hungry is a high utility word. Both children and adults say this word often in all of its inflected forms. The word famished is just not said as often.

So, beyond the first 10,000 words of life, do we continue to learn most of our vocabulary through skillful listening? No. A few interesting facts will prove this point. The first 1,000 words acquired by children constitute the vast majority of words used by and heard by even the most educated adults on a daily basis. Watching and listening to thirty minutes of Sesame Street exposes the viewer to an average of only one word beyond the highest frequency 1,000 words. Watching and listening to the nightly news for the same amount of time exposes to viewer to only nineteen of these key words (adapted from Hayes and Athens 1988).

However, in contrast, reading provides a much higher exposure to words beyond the most frequently used 1,000 words. For example, reading a challenging comic book for thirty minutes exposes the reader to fifty-three of these words. Reading a challenging book for the same amount of time exposes a reader to seventy-five. So, reading challenging text certainly provides a greater opportunity to expand one’s vocabulary through exposure and practice than does listening alone.

Now, how can we make wide reading of challenging text more efficient for vocabulary acquisition? First of all, because exposure to the right words is so critical, it is essential to carefully choose reading text for optimal practice. According to reading specialists, reading text that has 5% unknown words should be our target reading text to maximize vocabulary acquisition. Readers can maintain good comprehension while exposing themselves to 300 unknown words in thirty minutes of reading. This assumes an average reading rate of 200 words per minute with 6,000 words read in thirty minutes, of which 5% unknown words would be 300. Assuming that a reader would “naturally” acquire 5% of these unknown words via unrefined use of context clues, the reader would have a net gain of 15 new words from the reading session. Thus, four days of thirty minutes (two hours) reading practice would better a reader’s vocabulary by 60 words—substantially better than acquiring 20 new words each week by memorizing a list of words. Also, the prospect of additional practice of these words is much higher than that of the random word list memorized for the Friday test.

How can you pick a book to read that has 5% unknown words? Choose a book of any genre and count the number of words on any complete page found near the beginning of the book and multiply that number by 3. Read a page toward the beginning of the book, counting the number of unknown words. A good guideline would be “if you can’t define it with a synonym, antonym, or example,” it is unknown. Then, read a page near the middle of the book and continue the count. Finally, read a page near the end of the book and finish the count. Divide the total number of unknown words by the total number of words found on the three pages. The result will be the percentage of unknown words. Anything within the 4-6% range is acceptable. For example, a reader counts the number of words on a page and arrives at 225. 225 x 3 = 750. After reading the three pages, the amount of unknown words totals 30. 30.00 divided by 750 = .05, or 5%. Check out these independent reading resources to help you develop a model independent reading program.

Additionally, reading specialists would argue that the 5% retention rate can be doubled to 10% by applying refined context clue strategies. Doubling the number of words acquired from thirty minutes reading each day would produce a net gain of 30 new words from each reading session or 120 words each week, considering four such sessions. 120 words per week, multiplied by 33 weeks in a school year produces 3960 new words in a school year—surpassing the target for the 3,000 new words that reading specialists suggest are necessary to make grade level growth in vocabulary development.

In order to refine context clue strategies, readers need to learn the types of context clues that work most often to help readers figure out unknown words. By examining surrounding sentence and word clues according to these context clue categories, more unknown words can be figured out. So, grab a second cup of coffee for the next article, Part III, and learn how to teach the refined context clue strategies that will double the amount of words that readers acquire through reading challenging text.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , ,

Learn Vocabulary by Reading

Don’t read this article if you susceptible to thin-skin teacher disease. The typical vocabulary instruction in many classrooms includes passing out a “big words” list of 20 vocabulary terms on Monday and quizzing on this list on Friday. Starting to cringe? And now the “buts” start to formulate. Some of the “buts” will focus on the content of the list: “But half of those words are from the literature selections this week” or “But half of those words are SAT® words” or “But half of those words are grade-level words that my students should know.” Other “buts” will focus on the learning process: “But I make them write out each word ten times” or “But I make them create game cards for each word” or “But I have them underline the prefixes and suffixes and circle the roots.” The last “but” is all-too pervasive, if some of us are truly honest about why we really teach what and how we teach: “But that’s what and how I learned, and I turned out okay.”

The problem with the typical vocabulary instructional practice described above is not necessarily the content, nor the teaching approach. Indeed, the problem is one of effectiveness. According to research, “Rote memorization of words and definitions is the least effective instructional method resulting in little long-term effect (Kameenui, Dixon, Carine 1987).”

If students remember all 20 words, each week for the entire school year, they will have mastered 600 words. Now, realistically, if teachers got students to remember half of those words by the end of the year (think standardized test), most would be pleased. That leaves 300 words mastered per school year.

But, the American lexicon is over 800,000 words, and the SAT® word bank is over 30,000 words. Students need to learn 3,000 new words per year just to make one grade level progress (Honig 1983). Learning 300 words per year is a very small drop in a very big bucket. So, not only is rote word memorization ineffective, it is also inefficient.

Additionally, teaching vocabulary isolated from reading and spelling instruction ignores the structural components of words: phonics (decoding) and spelling (encoding), as well as the meaning-making purpose of words: understanding (comprehension) and communication (syntax, tone, clarity, etc).

At this point, frustration sets in… Even the most dedicated teachers might be thinking “Why teach vocabulary at all, then? Maybe students will just learn it on their own” or “I can’t spend any more time, teaching more words, than I already do. After all, I have reading skills, literary analysis, spelling, grammar, writing etc. to teach, as well” or “If I ignore it, it just might go away.”

For thick-skinned teachers who have made it to this point in the article, there is hope. Students can master the 3,000 new words this year that reading experts agree are necessary to achieve two-year-growth in reading levels. Your teaching can impact these levels of vocabulary acquisition. And you don’t have to spend much more class time to teach vocabulary efficiently. So what are the most efficient strategies? I call the two most efficient strategies to vocabulary acquisition 1. Efficient Reading and 2. Efficient Word Study.

Briefly defined, Efficient Reading involves re-orienting your homework assignments to focus on independent level reading with targeted context clues practice. The downsides? This approach requires some additional class time allocated to context clues instruction, additional record-keeping/accountability, and elimination of most other written homework assignments by default. The upsides? Increased vocabulary and comprehension, as well as a high likelihood of creating life-long readers.

Briefly defined, Efficient Word Study involves teaching the survive words: the academic language, literary terms, and those words essential to the understanding of literature selections and the thrive words: the morphological prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The downsides? You will have to spend a bit more class time teaching “deep-level” vocabulary techniques for the survive words. You will also have to spend a bit more class time on Greek and Latinates/word analysis for the thrive words. The upsides? Increased vocabulary and word recognition skills that complement context clue skills.

Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,