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Fluency Assessment Problems

The Problem with Reading Fluency Assessments

The Problems with Fluency Assessments

The heart of effective reading intervention, whether in a comprehensive Response to Intervention (RtI) program, individual remedial reading classes, reading tutoring, or in-class literacy centers, guided reading, readers workshop, etc. is assessment-based instruction. The devil is in the details, especially with respect to the diagnostic (and placement) reading assessments. This article focuses on reading fluency assessments.

Background

As a reading specialist, I’ve worn three different hats in four different grade-level settings. My first hat has been worn as a district trainer of trainers and professional development instructor for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. My second hat has been worn as a site-level reading program diagnostician and supervisor at the eight elementary schools and one high school. My third hat has been worn as a reading intervention teacher in grades 4–6 elementary, grade 7 middle school, grade 9 high school, and the reading lab at a community college.

What I Learned

After earning my M.A. as a reading specialist, I began my three-hat, four grade-level setting career. I quickly learned that my grad school experience provided the theoretical framework, but not the tools (specifically the assessment tools) to ply my trade. As I learned and developed those assessment tools in the real world of teachers and their classrooms, I found that teachers were more than willing to try some new tools, but the tools had to be on their terms and conditions

Teacher Terms and Conditions

1. Minimal expenditure of assessment time including testing, correction, data recording, data analysis, progress monitoring, and grade-level or school-wide meetings.

2. Minimal expense for testing tools. Teachers prefer spending school and personal money on teaching, not testing, resources. After all, teachers got into the business to teach, not to test.

3. Teachable assessment tools. Teachers love meaningful and simple test data, but only quantitative data. Teachers don’t like the random sample tests that university professors produce. Teachers prefer comprehensive test data which identify learning gaps that teachers can tackle in their instruction. 

4. No evaluations based upon progress monitoring. Teachers are at different places on their learning curves and are teaching uncontrolled variables, that is their students, with behavioral issues, language challenges, soci0-economic issues, and school structures, such as time allotments for reading instruction, training, supplies, and administrative support.

I started making an impact on teachers and on my struggling readers when I accepted and applied these conditional terms for assessment-based instruction.

Brief Critique of Popular Fluency Assessments

To my mind, the most popular fluency assessment programs fail to meet some or all of these teacher terms and conditions: Dibels, aimsweb, and Read Naturally®. Their products are 1. Time-consuming 2. Expensive (Dibels being a partial exception) 3. Not simple, nor teachable (explanation follows) and 4. Too-amenable to evaluation of teachers, rather than their students.

The two aims of these diagnostic reading fluency assessments are to determine baseline data with regard to grade-level fluency scores and to establish a subsequent instructional fluency level to provide practice at the student’s proximal zone of development (Vygotsky). In other words, find out how the student compares to other grade-level reading fluency norms and figure out the reading levels that provide the optimal practice.

Sounds great in theory; however, I have doubts (as do most teachers) about the validity and practicality of these approaches to diagnostic fluency assessment. First, giving a grade-level fluency passage to a struggling reader introduces too many variables: vocabulary, multi-syllabic decoding, sentence length and construction to name a few. True that a sixth grader reading a sixth grade passage at 65 WCPM (words correct per minute) does have reading problems. However, to say that the data indicates a reading fluency deficiency is an over-reach and useless as a teachable tool for the teacher.

Jan Hasbrouk, co-author of the widely-used grades 1–8 fluency norms research labels diagnostic reading fluency assessments as a “canary in a coal mine.” She comments:

A score falling more than 10 words below the 50th percentile should raise a concern; the student may need additional assistance, and further assessments may be needed to diagnose the source of the below-average performance. Depending on the age of the student and any concerns about reading performance noted by the teacher or parents, such additional testing might include assessments of oral language development, phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, and/or comprehension (Hasbrouk).

I would agree that a diagnostic reading fluency assessment can be an important “canary,” but not a grade-level fluency.

Secondly, the time-consuming (even with computer software) task of determining the right fluency practice levels rests on some unproven assumptions. Since when does practicing the same thing (grade-level passages) over and over again (even at so-called challenge levels) prepare the student for something more difficult (the next reading grade level)? For example, if I asked my math specialist friend about how she would remediate students’ multiplication deficits, I sincerely doubt if she would advise a third grade teacher to solely require students to practice the 1–5’s repeatedly (even with the challenging 4 x 5) until mastery before moving on to the 1–10’s. At some point the teacher needs to help students practice the next level before or they never are going to get to the rest of the table, nor make sense of the whole.

As an aside, the same criticism and caution can be applied to the use of leveled readers. Controlled vocabulary may provide a certain level of access to students, but it also limits progress. Plus, don’t even get me (and other teachers) started about the scientific differences (Lexiles) for short fluency practice passages. Lastly, my take is that expository diagnostic reading fluency assessments present a much better picture of the reading most grades 3–adult students are exposed to in the classroom.

An Alternative Diagnostic Fluency Assessment

The Pets Fluency Assessment: 1. Quick 2. FREE 3. Simple and Teachable 4. Non-Evaluative Expository Article

The “Pets” fluency passage is an expository article leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second-grade level; the third paragraph is at the third-grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level that builds confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language through successive approximation. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity.

1. Quick: Although two-minutes, rather than the traditional one-minute, no follow-up instructional level assessments need to be administered, graded, and recorded. Experienced teachers recognize that two minutes provides a much better indicator than a one-minute timing. One itch or word stumble can ruin a one-minute score.

2. FREE: Click below and I will send you the directions, student copy, and teacher copy with word counts.

3. SIMPLE: When I look at the directions for the popular reading fluency assessments critiqued above, I am shocked at the grading complexity. I’ve used them and find them difficult to mark while concurrently paying attention to the students’ prosody (qualitative factors such as expression, intonation, attention to punctuation). The directions for the Pets Fluency Assessment are simple. Para-professionals and parents can certainly administer this assessment with fidelity.

TEACHABLE: The  two-minute timing allow teachers to see how students read increasingly difficult text and to gain a good gut level feel for the students’ independent reading levels, as well as other reading deficits, such as sight words and phonics. After all, there’s no better reading assessment than reading.

4. Non-Evaluative: The Pets Fluency Assessment is diagnostic and teachable. It’s design is one and done. Teachers rightly complain that other fluency programs using increasingly difficult benchmark reading fluencies (typically monthly or quarterly), compare apples to oranges. If the teacher (administrator or parent or reading coach) is curious about reading progress, the reading sub-skills to fluency (such as decoding) are much better indicators.

Check out the author’s reading intervention program resources, including the Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Of course the toolkit provides the Pets Fluency Assessment… plus 43 expository animal fluency articles, each marked with words per line to help students monitor their own fluency progress. At last! Quality fluency practice in the expository (not narrative) genre. Reading experts agree that students need extensive reading practice in the expository domain to internalize the text structure and multi-syllabic vocabulary of social studies and science textbooks. Not to mention the expository articles found on standardized tests. Yes, fluency timing charts are provided. Plus, each of the 43 fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds to provide the appropriate challenge level for each of your students. This toolkit provides the YouTube links to these 129 modeled readings.

This toolkit also provides 43 corresponding animal comprehension worksheets with content-specific comprehension questions listed in the margins next to the relevant text. These low-higher order thinking questions ask readers to summarize, connect, re-think, interpret, and predict (the SCRIP comprehension strategy) to promote reader dialog with the text. Students practice self-monitoring their own reading comprehension as they read.

Get the Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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Reading Fluency Norms

New Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms

As we all know, reading fluency is highly correlated with reading comprehension. Of course it makes so much sense that if readers can read quickly with expression, accuracy, and attention to punctuation, they will more likely understand what they read than if they don’t have these skill sets. Now it is certainly true that veteran teachers and reading specialists will no doubt have run across an exception or two in their careers. I have tested children and adults with brilliant reading fluency, but poor comprehension. Conversely, I have run across slow, stumbling, readers with monotone expression who seem to understand and remember every single detail.

This being said, reading fluency assessments are universally recognized as important initial looks into how a reader processes text. Unlike other measures, such as comprehension and vocabulary assessments, reading fluency assessments give the classroom teacher and diagnostician not only qualitative, but also quantitative data. We love numbers!

As an elementary reading specialist in a large school district in Northern California, I learned (with my colleagues) the value of comparing student fluency scores in grade-level text to grade-level norms. We had two research studies on group norms for Words Read per Minute (WRPM) to rely upon: those by University of Oregon researchers, Hasbrouck and Tindal (1992, 2006). However, these studies provided data for students from grades 2–5.

When I moved into the middle school setting as an ELA and reading intervention teacher, I (and others) was tough out of luck. No group norms for grades 6–8. Of course, I still designed reading fluency assessments and helped students practice reading fluency, but I was flying blind. Until 2006 when the same two researchers added on grades 6–8 reading fluency norms. Woo hoo!

The same two researchers, Hasbrouck and Tindal, have now (2017) have replicated their initial study for grades 1–6. Following is the latest data, i.e. 2017 for grades 1–6 and 2006 for 6–8. Afterwards, read the concise explanation of the tables by Jan Hasbrouck. Note the “middle school slump” in the second chart.

Grades 1-6 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 1-6

Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies Comprehensive Reading Intervention Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grades 7-8 Reading Fluency Norms

Reading Fluency Norms Grades 7-8

 

 

 

 

 

“Oral reading fluency norms identify performance benchmarks at the beginning (fall), middle (winter), and end (spring) of the year. An individual student’s WCPM score can be compared to these benchmarks and determined to be either significantly above benchmark, above benchmark, at the expected benchmark, below benchmark, or significantly below benchmark. Those students below or significantly below benchmark are at possible risk of reading difficulties. They are good candidates for further diagnostic assessments to help teachers determine their skill strengths or weaknesses, and plan appropriately targeted instruction and intervention” (Hasbrouck, 2010). http://www.brtprojects.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/TechRpt_1702ORFNorms_Fini.pdf

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Books for Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers

Books for Struggling Readers

As a reading specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students at the full spectrum of age groups from preK to adult ed. My passion has always been to help struggling readers, especially older readers. You find these students in reading intervention classes, ESL/ELD/ELL programs, special education classes, and learning centers.

Ask any reading teacher, who’s been there and done that, what is the key correlate to reading improvement for older struggling readers and you’ll hear the word, motivation, more often than not.

Long ago I learned the power of motivation upon student achievement. It took me awhile. In my sixth year of teaching I made a study of two teachers teaching my same subject, who were getting better results than I. I sat in their classes during my prep. Initially, I was confused.

“I’m at least as good as Mr. S,” I thought, “and I’m much better than Mr. B.”

I’ve never been diagnosed as “self-esteem deficient.”

However, I cornered some of Mr. S’s and Mr. B’s kids during passing periods and asked them, “What makes you succeed in his class?”

It was motivation. Mr. S loved kids and they knew it. He had the relationships in and out of class that made his students want to learn. Mr. B had a different approach: the behavioral approach of carrot and stick. Rewards and fear made his students have to learn.

I couldn’t be either teacher; Lame as it sounds: I had to be me. It took me years of experimenting and quite a few humbling make-overs to begin motivating some of my students.

My secret? What works for me is a constant self-reminder that I am teaching students, not reading. To really teach struggling readers how to improve their reading, teachers need to know what makes them tick and adapt instruction and teaching resources accordingly. For your struggling readers, you need the books that will motivate these older kids to read.

Even though I mentioned that I am not “self-esteem deficient,” my struggling readers certainly are. Despite the apathetic “I don’t care” self-defense mechanisms of most struggling readers, they really do care that they aren’t like the rest of their peers. No one want to stand out as a poor reader. I’ve never heard the most unreachable fourth grader, middle schooler, high schooler, or community college adult (and I’ve taught them all) say, “I’m a poor reader and proud of it.”

My main point in this article is to get reading teachers to be hypersensitive to the effects of motivation on learning to read. Specifically, we have got to stop unintentionally tearing away at the self-esteem of our struggling readers.

Take a moment to look at your teaching resources. Do they match the age of your students?

I just finished a comment on a teacher’s post asking for feedback on her self-authored ESL teaching resources and chapter books. I was struck by the beautiful cover illustrations. I previewed the book internal pages and the graphics and pictures were so professional. However, the images were perfectly appropriate for beginning readers, not her target grades 4‒8 age group. Struggling readers certainly do judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, my comments maintained a complimentary/constructive balance. Her self-esteem matters, as well!

ESL/ELD/ELL, special education, reading intervention, and adult ed learners need reading resources and books that motivate them to learn, not humiliate them into shutting down or acting out in the classroom.

Yes, these materials are hard to find.

I sell two products, Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books and the Teaching Reading Strategies comprehensive reading intervention program that have been designed to motivate struggling readers.

The former product (54 eight-page booklets) uses teenage (non big-head) cartoons and plots. The illustrator, David Rickert, is a high school ELA teacher and we were both sensitive to ensuring that our visuals matched the maturity of our focus age group.

The latter product includes sound-spelling cards like most other reading programs. However, I selected animals as an ageless theme and photographs, not illustrations, to appeal to older kids.

Teaching Reading Strategies Reading Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

 

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How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words Vocabulary

Multiple Meaning Words

How to Teach Multiple Meaning Words

From an old vaudeville act:

“You drove me to drink!” her husband shouted.

“No, you walked there yourself every night,” his wife responded.

This mildly humorous exchange is built upon word play. Word play is a basic tool for many writing and speaking genre. The word play in the short vaudevillian dialog involves the double-meaning of the verb, drove. It also involves different uses of the parts of speech: The husband uses to drink as an infinitive (an unconjugated verb). The wife interprets her husband’s word, drink, as a common noun place (say a bar) and the object of the prepositional phrase to drink (where). Finally, the husband uses the verb phrase, drove me toas an idiom, meaning forced me or caused me, whereas the wife uses drove me as a colloquialism meaning he used the car to drive (no one drives a person).

Enough already! English-language arts teachers certainly can take the fun out of anything. My point is that multiple meaning words are important components of any language. English has plenty of them.

The Common Core authors include multiple meaning words in the Language Strand as Standard L.4.a., but word play is also included in word relationships Standard L.5.b. and figures of speech Standard L.5.a. By the way, I love the fact that the Standards include puns (my boldface):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5.A
Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.

See how multiple meaning words fit into the breadth of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards in the Language Strand:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

What is the instructional focus of multiple meaning words?

Our instructional focus with multiple meaning words is centered on homonyms. A brief reminder: Homonyms represents a general category, literally meaning same names, that is used to indicate similar words which have different meanings. Homographs (words spelled the same, but pronounced differently, such as bass (a deep tone or voice) and bass (a type of fish), and homophones (words pronounced the same but spelled differently, such as reed and read) are subsets of homonyms. So, yes, bass, reed, and read are all examples of homonyms.

How do context clues fit in… the Standard does not mention these.

True, however words are always used in context. Without context clues, we wouldn’t understand homonyms. For example, saying “I like a lot of bass” is meaningless unless we surround the homograph with context clues, such as “I like a lot of bass on my speakers” or “I like a lot of bass, but not a lot of trout.”

As an aside, the Common Core Standards are quite explicit in some sections as exemplars for instruction; however, they are not a detailed instructional scope and sequence (see below for a helpful example). The Common Core authors expect teachers to use their brains to fill in the blanks. As an educational author, I always list applicable Standards; however, I also include a good measure of common sense. For example, the Language Strand Language Conventions Standards (L.2) include plenty of specific Standards regarding the use of different verb forms; however, the Standards nowhere mention “Thou shalt teach thine students what a verb is.”

Which Multiple Meaning Words to Use and How to Team Them

Students should practice grade-level homonyms (same spelling homographs and sound homophones) in context clue sentences which show the different meanings and function (part of speech) for each word.

Examples

In my three vocabulary programs (see below), I use vocabulary worksheets to help students learn grade-level multiple meaning words and context clue strategies to explain their use. Check out my S.A.L.E. Context Clue Strategies with free lessons HERE.

Homonyms

Multiple Meaning Words

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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:

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How to Teach Figures of Speech Vocabulary

“Walk through the door and into my room. Chill in your seat until I can take care of this business. I swear I feel like I’m casting all my pearls

How to Teach Figures of Speech Vocabulary

How to Teach Figures of Speech

before swine,” said the exasperated teacher.

Idiomatic expressions, slang, double-meanings, and proverbs in the span of three-sentences? Wow!

I love that idiom of ours: through the door. It always gets some head-shaking in my EL, SDAIE, ELD, ESL, etc. classes. But it’s the way we communicate, especially, but not solely in conversational English. It’s how we communicate in all other languages by the way.

When I arrived in Mexico City to really learn the language some years back, I already had six years of middle school and high school Spanish, one college conversational Spanish class and one Spanish-only literature class. I felt pretty confident with the language.

Upon my arrival I found that I only understood about 50% of what was being said to me. My new friends understood me fine, but those hundreds of hours in the Spanish listening labs were not working.

My Mexican roommate asked me if I had a chamarca. It was 90 degrees out and humid, as well. Why was he asking if I had a jacket? I looked at him strangely, and he substituted novia for charmarca. You see, chamarca is slang for novia, or girlfriend. I never learned that in Spanish classes back in the U.S.

Learning to really learn the language was all about learning the figures of speech. Especially the idioms. Spanish uses a lot.

The authors of the Common Core State Standards recognize the essential roles that figures of speech play in our English language. I especially appreciate the author’s understanding that a figure of speech is more than just the archaic “A stitch in time saves nine” examples that I used to teach, one per day, and have my students illustrate for Open House. The varied figures of speech standards are detailed in the Language Strand (L.5.a.). Did you know that the eighth grade standards include puns as a required figure of speech? I love that.

The Common Core State Standards emphasize a balanced approach to vocabulary development. Unlike some of the other ELA Standards, the vocabulary Standards are quite specific and especially so with figures of speech. Although much of our Tier 2 (academic language) vocabulary is acquired through reading challenging text, other methods of vocabulary acquisition are best taught through explicit, direct instruction. Take a moment to skim the vocabulary standards and see how you’re doing in your class or classes this year.

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

How to Teach Figures of Speech

In my three vocabulary programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (details follow), I use the wide variety of figures of speech (stated and suggested by the Language Standards) to teach students what the figure of speech is, what it means, and how to use it properly. My vocabulary worksheets require students to practice the figure of speech in the writing context, using surrounding context clues to show the meaning of the figure of speech.

Using Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech

Students love learning these figures of speech and practicing them in class conversations. This language play is essential to developing the utility and flexibility of our language. Students learn quite a bit about the etymologies of words and expresses with figures of speech.

As I mentioned, I provide three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Would you like to see a list of all 140 figures of speech used in my grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs? Sure. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not show this list to your colleagues and purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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:

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How to Teach Connotations: Shades of Meaning Vocabulary

How to Teach Connotations Shades of Meaning Vocabulary

How to Teach Connotations Shades of Meaning

Some of our English words are quite imprecise. Whereas the Greeks have at least four words for love, we only have one. How crazy is it that we can say, “I love you darling, and I also love hot dogs” in the same sentence? Some of our English words are extremely precise. When we’re discussing walking, we can use that general word, as in this example: Walking through the park, we stopped to feed the birds. However, we can assign more precision to the gerund by saying the following: Ambling, or Sauntering, or Cruising, or Strolling Walking through the park, we stopped to feed the birds.  

Whether the words we choose to say or write are imprecise or precise in the denotative sense (what the dictionary says), we pour meaning into the words (connotations) by the way we use the words and the surround context clues. After all, we could say, “I love you darling” in a romantic sense, in a sarcastic, mocking sense, or in a humorous sense. It all depends on the communication clues we provide.

However, words do mean something on their own and it makes sense to teach our students what they do mean apart from the surrounding clues to help developing speakers and writers make proper word choices. Teaching the connotative meanings of words is best facilitated through the use of synonyms.

The writers of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards include connotative vocabulary acquisition in CCSS L.5.c.:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

How to Teach Connotations

One great way to teach connotations is with semantic spectrums. Just like a rainbow is a color spectrum, certain vocabulary words can be placed within their own spectrum of meaning (semantics). Typically, when using semantic spectrums to introduce new words, the teacher selects two new words which have connotative meanings. The teacher provides the definitions of the two new words (or students look them up), and students write these new words on a semantic spectrum to fit in with two similar words, which most of your students will already know. For example, the two new words, abundant and scarce would fit in with the already known words, plentiful and rare, in this semantic order: abundant–plentiful–scarce–rare.

In my three standards-based vocabulary programs (described below with free downloads), my semantic spectrums look like this:

Connotative Semantic Spectrums

Semantic Spectrums

Notice that the parts of speech are all verbs for both the new words and already known words in the first example. In the second example, the new words are nouns, but the already known words are adjectives.

It makes no difference whether the parts of speech are consistent or not for the purposes of learning the connotations. Plus, it provides a nice means of extended learning, should you choose to use the teachable moment.

Teacher: Notice that social and shy are what kind adjectives. What inflected endings would we have to add onto our vocabulary words: extrovert and introvert to make them into what kind adjectives? 

Students: “ed.”

Teacher: Who could use the adjective forms in a sentence to show their meanings? What transition words would most likely be used to show the differences between extrovert and introvert? Can anyone think of another word to fit in our spectrum? Yes, you can use your thesaurus.

Semantic spectrums are wonderful teaching tools to help students master Connotations (L.5.c.) Standard. I provide 28 semantic spectrums for each of my vocabulary programs, different ones for each 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 grade level.

The full-year, twice-per-week, 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets are only part of these balanced programs. Among other resources, each lesson has vocabulary study cards and biweekly unit tests are provided. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Want to see all of the connotative vocabulary provided in each program? Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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:

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How to Teach Word Relationships Vocabulary

How to Teach Word Relationships Vocabulary

How to Teach Word Relationships

In Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards, the authors discuss the importance of learning new vocabulary in the context of word relationships. To deeply understand a new word, often students must see this word in light of its connections to other words. The authors state,

Students benefit from instruction about the connections and patterns in language.
Developing in students an analytical attitude toward the logic and sentence structure of their texts, alongside an
awareness of word parts, word origins, and word relationships, provides students with a sense of how language works
such that syntax, morphology, and etymology can become useful cues in building meaning as students encounter
new words and concepts (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008) (Appendix A 32).

Years ago the SAT tested vocabulary through word relationships, known as analogies. Knowing the typical analogy categories helped students make educated guesses to be able to match one set of word relationships to another. For example, NIGHT is to DAY in the same way as TALL is to SHORT. Both sets illustrate antonym categories.

Many teachers have found that teaching analogies helps students understand how new words fit into already-known words. Building these word connections helps students better memorize and also use the new vocabulary with greater precision.

Which Word Relationships and Which Words to Teach

Both word relationships and new vocabulary should increase in complexity throughout the grade levels. For example, from item to category, such as with hurricane to weather in grade 4, students should progress to problem to solution, such as with infection to diagnosis in grade 8. Where can you get such a list of word relationships and words? Print off my comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your vocabulary instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

The instructional scope and sequence is from my three vocabulary programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (described at the end of the article). Not only is there an instructional plan for word relationship, but all Vocabulary Standards are included:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

How to Teach Word Relationships

To teach word relationships deeply, provide students with paired words to be learned which have a definable category relationship. Require students to write sentences which apply context clues strategies to show the different meanings of the two words in relationship to each other. Teach the S.A.L.E. Context Clue Strategies to equip your students to use surrounding word clues.

Example

Using Word Relationships

Word Relationship Categories

The author provides three CCSS standards-based vocabulary program options for grades 4-8 teachers. Each includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test.

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:

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How to Teach Academic Language Vocabulary

How to Teach Academic Language Vocabulary

How to Teach Academic Language

It’s been a while (2009) since I’ve read the carefully-crafted Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards. Not light bedtime reading, but reading is the subject of this appendix. As a reading specialist, this compilation of reading research is quite remarkable. What is fascinating to me is how this appendix informs what is in the standards themselves. To understand the English-language arts Anchor Standards and the reading strands, you’ve got to know where the standards are coming from.

Nine years later, some of the authors’ comments seem prescient. For example, in discussing the need to read complex expository text, Marilyn Adams writes,

In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while
not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text… There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. To grow, our students must read lots, and more specifically they
must read lots of ‘complex’ texts—texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought (Appendix A 32).

So, teachers know that we have to up the level of text complexity and that includes more expository text. What is the key characteristic of complex text? Academic language vocabulary.

The importance of students acquiring a rich and varied vocabulary cannot be overstated… (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Becker, 1977; Stanovich, 1986), but vocabulary instruction has been neither frequent nor systematic in most schools (Biemiller, 2001; Durkin, 1978; Lesaux, Kieffer, Faller, & Kelley, 2010; Scott & Nagy, 1997) (Appendix A 32).

The authors clearly advocate explicit, frequent, and systematic vocabulary instruction. But what about reading a lot? Isn’t independent reading the most efficient means of acquiring vocabulary?

Yes, but… the question is what kind of vocabulary?

Both Tier 1 conversational vocabulary and Tier 3 domain-specific words are surrounded by context clues far more often than Tier 2 words. “What is more, many Tier Two words are far less well defined by contextual clues in the texts in which they appear and are far less likely to be defined explicitly within a text than are Tier Three words” (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008).

So, teachers need to explicitly teach Tier 2 academic language vocabulary. Is there any research about high frequency Tier 2 words?

Yes. Dr. Averil Coxhead, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies developed and evaluated The Academic Word List (AWL) for her MA thesis. The list has 570 word families which were selected according to certain criteria:

  • The word families must occur in over half of the 28 academic subject areas. “Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners, no matter what their area of study or what combination of subjects they take at tertiary level.”
  • “The AWL families had to occur over 100 times in the 3,500,000 word Academic Corpus in order to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the words will be met a reasonable number of times in academic texts.” The academic corpus refers to a computer-generated list of most-frequently occurring academic words.
  • “The AWL families had to occur a minimum of 10 times in each faculty of the Academic Corpus to be considered for inclusion in the list. This principle ensures that the vocabulary is useful for all learners.”

Words Excluded From the Academic Word List

  • “Words occurring in the first 2,000 words of English.” Tier 1 Words
  • “Narrow range words. Words which occurred in fewer than 4 faculty sections of the Academic Corpus or which occurred in fewer than 15 of the 28 subject areas of the Academic Corpus were excluded because they had narrow range. Technical or specialist words often have narrow range and were excluded on this basis.” Tier 3 Words
  • “Proper nouns. The names of places, people, countries, for example, New Zealand, Jim Bolger and Wellington were excluded from the list.”
  • “Latin forms. Some of the most common Latin forms in the Academic Corpus were et al, etc, ie, and ibid.” http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist/information

Are there any research-based word lists, divided into grade levels?

Yes. The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has divided the Academic Corpus into grade-level lists by frequency. These academic language words are included in his vocabulary programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

How should we teach the Tier 2 words?

Explicitly, frequently, and systematically (to borrow the language of the Common Core authors once again). Specifically, the author’s vocabulary programs use the Frayer Model: the four square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) method. The Common Core authors and reading specialists (like me) refer to this process as learning vocabulary with depth of instruction. Check out examples of these four square academic vocabulary instructional components in the author’s vocabulary worksheets:

Academic Vocabulary

Academic Language Instruction

In addition to academic language vocabulary, the author’s programs include rigorous, grade-level instruction in each of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards:

  • Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues (L.4.a.)
  • Greek and Latin Word Parts (L.4.a.)
  • Language Resources (L.4.c.d.)
  • Figures of Speech (L.5.a.)
  • Word Relationships (L.5.b.)
  • Connotations (L.5.c.)
  • Academic Language Words (L.6.0)

The author provides three vocabulary programs for grades 4-8 students: Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits | Vocabulary Academic Literacy Centers |Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLESEach program includes 56 grade-level vocabulary worksheets, study cards, and biweekly unit tests. Answers provided, of course. Available on both Teachers pay Teachers and Pennington Publishing. Enter discount code 3716 on the latter to receive a 10% discount on all purchases. Interested in convincing your colleagues to purchase multiple standards-based grade-level vocabulary programs with a coherent instructional scope and sequence? Print off this comprehensive grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence to plan your instruction: CCSS L.4,5,6 Grades 4-8 Vocabulary Scope and Sequence

Check out the following sample lessons (also available on the links above in the book previews). Each grade-level resource (available in all three programs) includes four vocabulary worksheets, plus the corresponding vocabulary study guide and unit test: a perfect test-drive to see if one of the author’s vocabulary programs will meet the needs of your students.

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:

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