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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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How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts Vocabulary

How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts Vocabulary

How to Teach Greek and Latin Word Parts

Earlier in my teaching career I taught SAT/ACT preparation courses on the side. No, not the math. 

In checking out all of the SAT prep books I found page after page of Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes. As I began reviewing countless practice tests, I saw why. Academic vocabulary is loaded with Greek and Latin word parts. In fact, I discovered later that over 50% of the words in our dictionaries contain one or more Greek or Latin morphemes (the word parts which have meaning, not grammatical inflections).

Now, I never had a class in Latin in high school; it wasn’t offered and I wouldn’t have taken this dead language if it had been. However, having subsequently earned my MA as a reading specialist, having taught ELA at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels for twenty years, and having taken two years of Greek classes, I certainly see the value of learning both Greek and Latin to enhance one’s English vocabulary.

Memorizing high frequency Greek and Latin word parts is truly the most efficient short-cut to academic language acquisition.

I do wish to say that I have found little long-term retention of vocabulary learned through simple rote memorization. The keys to memorization involve deep learning, association, and continued practice. Students won’t benefit from these Greek and Latin short-cuts by simply learning a list of 20 per week with a quiz on Friday. Instead, a few well-chosen, high frequency Greek and Latin word parts learned well in the word analysis context, associated with each other to develop mental linking, and practiced in the four communicative contexts of listening, speaking, writing, and reading works so much better.

Let’s refresh our knowledge of the Common Core State Standards to see how learning Greek and Latin word parts fits into a balanced approach to vocabulary development:

  • 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)

An Instructional Approach

Although many instructional techniques can be used to practice Greek and Latin vocabulary acquisition, I have never come across an effective instructional approach to introduce Greek and Latin word parts, so I had to invent my own. First, I had to select the right words. I used three criteria for doing so:

1. Frequency

I found high frequency research on prefixes, suffixes, and roots and examined the recent Academic Word List to verify that the Greek and Latin word parts I chose appeared in Tier 2 words (cross-curricular academic language) and not the domain-specific Tier 3 words (ones which each academic discipline has, yet is relatively exclusive to that discipline). Here’s a nice high frequency list.

2. Grade Level Utility

Frequency is important, but grade-level utility is an essential criterion as well. For example, the prefix em (meaning in) as used in emphatic is ranked #5 in the high frequency Greek and Latin prefixes; however, the prefix pre (meaning before) as used in preview is down the list at #13. No fourth grade teacher I know would argue that students should learn em before pre. You see the research studies don’t measure high frequency at reading grade levels. So, which words to teach can’t solely be based upon frequency.

3. Pairing

Lastly, I considered which words to teach in conjunction with which other words. First, I decided to avoid the conjugations. For example, if you were learning English, you would certainly need to learn the root, view, at some point. However, you would not have to memorize viewed, has viewed, had viewed, viewing, was viewing, will view, etc. This criterion cuts out a lot of memorization. Second, I chose word parts which link to other word parts by meaning, for example, em and en mean in and association, for example, pre dict. Again, the prefix pre (meaning before) associates with the root dict (meaning to say). Together they mean to say before. Highly memorable. Of course, precocious teachers are adding on the suffix ion (meaning process or result) to form prediction (the process or result of saying before). 

Now, besides the memorable association, this pairing also helps students problem-solve the meaning of the whole word. As you know, Greek and Latin word parts are usually, but not always helpful cues to the meanings of words. The pairing serves as an educated guess or predicted meaning.

I next required students to check their predictions. Students look up the Greek and Latin pairings as whole words in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the words.

Finally, I required students to divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Now, that’s how to introduce Greek and Latin word parts!

Example

In addition to Greek and Latin word parts, 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 BUNDLES. Each 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:

Literacy Centers, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Common Core Vocabulary

One quick glance at the Vocabulary Standards (see below) will convince most teachers that the traditional method of vocabulary instruction in our schools: pre-teaching a few challenging words before reading an article or story and handing out a vocabulary word list of Greek and Latin word parts, a few homonyms, the weekly spelling words, and a few hard words to be studied at home and tested on Friday is simply not the vocabulary instruction that the Common Core authors have in mind.

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. Although much of our Tier 2 (academic language) vocabulary is acquired through reading challenging text, other gateways to vocabulary acquisition are best taught through explicit instruction. Let’s take a look at the Common Core Vocabulary Standards and the key instructional strategies to teach each Standard:

  • 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)

Instructional Strategies

Multiple Meaning Words

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.

Greek and Latin Word Parts

Greek and Latin word parts appear in 50% of our Tier 2 academic words. In choosing which Greek and Latin word parts to teach, teachers should consider three criteria:

  1. Frequency research
  2. Utility for grade-level Tier 2 words
  3. Pairing:

Regarding #s 2 and 3, pairing word parts as Greek or Latin prefix-roots or root-suffix combinations enhances memorization and demonstrates utility of the Greek and Latin word parts. For example, pre (before) is paired with view (to see). Students use these combinations to make educated guesses about the meaning of the whole word. This word analysis is critical to teaching students how to problem-solve the meanings of unknown words.

Check out more on how to teach Greek and Latin word part vocabulary HERE and Greek and Latin word part games and a fantastic list of 15 Power Words which include the paired (and more) word parts HERE.

Language Resources

Students can look up the Greek and Latin pairings as whole words in a dictionary (print or online) to compare and contrast their educated guesses to the denotative definition of the words. Students should divide the vocabulary word into syl/la/bles, mark its primary áccent, list its part of speech, and write its primary definition.

Additionally, students can extend their learning by writing synonyms, antonyms, or inflected forms of the word, using either the dictionary or thesaurus (print or online). This activity helps students develop a more precise understanding of the word.

Figures of Speech

Students should learn a variety of figures of speech (non-literal expression used by a certain group of people). The Common Core Vocabulary Standards assign specific types of figures of speech to each grade level. For example, grade 4 students should learn idioms, similes, metaphors, imagery, adages, alliteration, proverbs, and onomatopoeia. Students should review each of these in grades 5−7 and learn personification, symbolism, colloquialisms, allusions, consonance, assonance, verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony, and puns by grade 8. Complexity should increase grade to grade.

Word Relationships

Students must learn not only to recognize context clues to discover the meanings of unknown words in their reading, but also learn how to apply context clues strategies to show the meanings of unfamiliar words and technical terms in their own writing.

Students do so by learning the categories of word relationships. Again, vocabulary instructional programs should increase in complexity from grade to grade. For example, a grade 4 word relationship category of item to category with examples such as hurricane to weather makes sense, By grade 8, students should learn more challenging word relationship categories, such as problem to solution with examples like infection to diagnosis.

Connotations: Shades of Meaning

Students need to be exposed to new grade-level vocabulary words which have similar denotative meanings, but different connotative meanings. From the provided definitions, 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.

Academic Language

The Common Core authors write a helpful explanation of why Tier 2 words (academic vocabulary) should be the focus of vocabulary instruction. Many of these words will be discovered and learned implicitly or explicitly in the context of challenging reading, using appropriately leveled independent reading, such as grade-level class novels and specific reading strategies, such as close reading with shorter, focused text. Establishing an instructional scope and sequence of these Tier 2 words with grade-level, below, and above teaching colleagues is critical to non-repetitive curricular mapping from grade to grade level.

Additionally, direct instruction of high utility and high frequency academic vocabulary is certainly worthwhile. Teachers may wish to check out the research-based Academic Word List. Students can use the four square (definition, synonym, antonym, and example-characteristic-picture) Frayer model to learn these words. The Common Core authors and reading specialists (like me) refer to this process as learning vocabulary with depth of instruction.

If you are looking for a program to teach each of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards for your grade level, the author provides several program options. Each option includes vocabulary worksheets as described above to teach the grade-level Vocabulary Standards (L.4, 5, 6).

The Vocabulary Academic Literacy Center in available in grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 program levels. For teachers, opting for a non-literacy center approach to vocabulary instruction, the same resources (and more) are included in the author’s grades 4–8 Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits and in the grades 4–8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 4 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 5 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 6 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 7 VOCABULARY WORKSHEETS HERE.

PREVIEW THE GRADE 8 VOCABULARY WORKHEETS HERE.

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Free Structural Analysis, Syllabication & Oral Language Resources

1000 ELA and Reading Worksheets for Grades 4-8 Teachers

Every teacher needs back-up!

Word study is crucial to effective reading and spelling instruction. Knowing the structural components of words, including roots, affixes, and grammatical inflections will help your students read with greater understanding and less fear of multi-syllabic words. Studying how words are put together will help your students properly pronounce words. Learning the parts of words will help your student improve their vocabulary. Practicing the rules and patterns of word formation will help your students become better spellers. Oh yes… using the skills of word analysis will also help your students perform better on standardized English-language arts and reading tests.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding structural analysis, syllabication, and oral language development from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Structural Analysis, Syllabication, and Oral Language

Ten English Accent Rules

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/ten-english-accent-rules/

The Ten English Accent Rules are important to understand and apply to be able to correctly pronounce and spell English words.

How to Teach English Accent Rules

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-english-accent-rules/

Teaching students the syllable and accent rules through effective practice will noticeably improve their word attack and spelling skills. The accent rules and teaching procedure work well for both primary English speakers and English language-learners at all grade levels.

The Top Ten Syllable Rules

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/tag/syllable-division/

The Top Ten Syllable Rules will help students improve reading, pronunciation, and spelling accuracy. Applying these basic syllabication rules will also help readers identify prefixes, roots, and affixes, which improves word identification. Clear examples follow each syllable rule.

How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-syllabication-the-syllable-rules/

How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules is a three-minute whole-class instructional strategy that teaches students to properly pronounce and spell all of the phonetic sound-spelling and syllable patterns.

Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/twenty-advanced-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.

20 Embarrassing Mispronunciations

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/20-embarrassing-mispronunciations/

Educated Americans often look down their long noses at those who mispronounce common words. However, even these literary illuminati have their fair share of embarrassing pronunciation gaffes.

Top 40 Pronunciation Pet Peeves

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/top-40-pronunciation-pet-peeves/

Here is the definitive list of the Top 40 Pronunciation Pet Peeves that drive Americans crazy. Read, laugh, and cringe over mistakes that you or your friends make when saying these words.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Free Instructional Spelling Resources

Pennington Publishing's Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

Despite having spelling instruction relegated to a mere editing skill tagged onto the end of the Writing Process by some writing “gurus,” good teachers continue to teach spelling through direct and differentiated instruction. Recent reading and writing research have reinforced the need to teach the structural components of words. Word analysis promotes spelling accuracy, correct pronunciation, and vocabulary development.

Spelling instruction is not solely the responsibility of primary elementary teachers. Intermediate, middle, and high school teachers need to both remediate spelling deficiencies and teach advanced spelling skills to their students. After learning the sound-spelling relationships, advanced spelling skills are acquired by learning and practicing the advanced spelling rules, syllabication and accent rules, and language derivations.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to differentiate spelling instruction in the intermediate, middle, and high school from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Spelling

Spelling Scope and Sequence

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-scope-and-sequence/ 

Educators who once thought that spelling word check would solve students’ spelling and writing issues are squarely facing the fact that they do have a responsibility to teach spelling patterns. A spelling program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order. Check out the Common Core aligned grades 4-8 spelling scope and sequence of spelling patterns instruction.

Research-Based Spelling Worksheets

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/research-based-spelling-worksheets/

Of course spelling, grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary scores plummeted during the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparking yet another “Back to Basics” movement. Mom had warned her son about the cyclical nature of educational movements and philosophies. The educational research provides insight as to what makes a spelling worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

Spelling Diagnostic Assessment

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-spelling-part-i/

This diagnostic assessment tests all of the important vowel sound-spellings that students should have mastered (but frequently have not) as foundations to conventional English spelling. Included is a convenient recording matrix for the teacher to plan differentiated instruction to remediate unmastered spelling patterns.

Middle School Spelling

Middle School Spelling

Six Simple Steps to Teach Spelling

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/six-simple-steps-to-teaching-spelling/

Most veteran grades 4-8 teachers still teach spelling, especially in terms of spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, derivational and etymological influences, accent placements and vowel shifts because they know how structural word analysis facilitates proper use of our language, better reading comprehension, and improved writing.

30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/30-spelling-questions-answers-and-resources/

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. The article includes the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Spelling Assessment Questions and Answers

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-assessment-questions-and-answers/

That said, as an author of numerous spelling programs and an often-used Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I get two questions quite frequently: 1. Does a diagnostic spelling assessment make sense? and 2. How can we use the weekly pretest as a diagnostic assessment? But I’ll let teachers ask those questions in their own words…

How to Evaluate Spelling Programs

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-evaluate-spelling-programs/

With increasing attention on following Response to Intervention (RTI) guidelines, it makes sense to follow the criteria that orthographic research has established for quality spelling programs.

Ten Components of a Successful Spelling Program

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/ten-components-of-a-successful-spelling-program/

Teachers truly want to differentiate spelling instruction, but the materials, testing, instruction, and management can prove overwhelming to even the most conscientious professional. Using this Spelling Program Checklist can help teachers re-focus  to improve their spelling instruction.

How to Differentiate Spelling Instruction

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-differentiate-spelling-and-vocabulary-instruction/

It makes sense to teach spelling and vocabulary together. Simply put, one affects the other. However, not all of our students are at the same levels of spelling and vocabulary mastery. So, how can an informed teacher (that is you) differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction in an efficient manner?

Common Core Spelling Standards

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/common-core-spelling-standards/

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts provide instructional challenges for all conscientious upper elementary and middle school teachers. In addition to the Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening Strands, teachers are expected to teach the grammar, mechanics, language application, spelling, and vocabulary Standards of the CCSS Language Strand (Standards L. 1-6). When establishing instructional priorities to address these Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner.

The  “able” Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/2840/

The “able” suffix spelling is often misspelled, even by very accomplished spellers. Here are the applicable spelling rules for the “able” suffix.

The Vulgar “a” Spelling

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/the-vulgar-a-spelling/

This lesson on the vulgar “a” includes definitions, examples, writing hints, practice, a formative assessment, writing application, and related CCSS standards.

Visual Spelling Strategies

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/visual-spelling-strategies/

Spelling is primarily an auditory skill; however, when used as an appropriate instructional component of a comprehensive spelling program, visual spelling strategies, such as these “picture spellings” can make sense.

Why Spelling Is So Difficult

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/why-spelling-is-so-difficult/

This article explains why the English Spelling System is so difficult to master. Seven suggestions give hope to even the most challenged speller to improve his or her spelling.

Top Twelve Spelling Trends and Fads

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-instructional-trends-and-fads/

A dozen of the most popular instructional spelling trends and fads over the last thirty years are described and rated as “TRUE” or “FALSE,” in terms of recent spelling research. Get ready to be challenged, and perhaps redirected in how you teach spelling.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessments

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In this series on How to Teach Spelling, this first post discusses and provides teaching resources for diagnostic spelling tests.

English Sound-Spellings

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-spelling-part-ii/

In this series on How to Teach Spelling, this second post discusses and provides teaching resources for teaching the sound-spelling system. The sound-spelling system is the foundation of conventional spelling.

Spelling Rules

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-teach-spelling-part-iii/

In this series on How to Teach Spelling, this third post discusses and provides teaching resources for teaching the eight conventional spelling rules. These eight rules go beyond the sound-spelling system to lead students to conventional spelling mastery.

The Plurals Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-plurals-spelling-rule/

The Plurals Spelling Rule Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Ending “ion” Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-ending-“ion”-spelling-rule/

The Ending “ion” Spelling Rule Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The “able” or “ible” Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-“able”-or-“ible”-spelling-rule/

The “able” or “ible” Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules. Find other spelling rules, tests, and songs or raps in Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

The Ending “an” or “en” Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-ending-“an”-or-“en”-spelling-rule/

The Ending “an” or “en” Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Double the Consonant Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-double-the-consonant-spelling-rule/

The Double the Consonant Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Silent e Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-silent-e-spelling-rule/

The Silent Final e Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Final y Spelling Rule

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/the-final-y-spelling-rule/

The Final y Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The i before e Spelling Rule

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Although only 50% of English spellings conform to a predictable sound-spelling relationship, applying The i before e Spelling Rule will significantly increase spelling accuracy.

Spelling Lists and Tests

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-teach-spelling-part-iv/

Teachers who are serious about effective spelling instruction use the spelling pre-test as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction. In this article, teachers will learn how to supplement the spelling pre-test with useful free hyperlinked resources.

Effective Spelling Practice

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-teach-spelling-part-v/

Effective spelling practice is not exclusively memorization. Good spelling practice connects to language development, vocabulary, structural analysis, auditory processing, and writing. Learn how to practice spelling effectively.

Vowel Team Spelling Games

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/vowel-team-spelling-games/

Spellers often struggle in the “Within Word” stage of spelling development. The key challenge for spellers within this spelling stage involves the vowel sound-spellings. These three spelling games will help your remedial spellers both recognize and practice these vowel team spellings.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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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.

But half of those words on my list are from the literature selections this week.

But half of the words on my list are SAT®/ACT/academic language words.

But half of the words on my list 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.

But I make them create flashcards for each word.

But I use a crossword generator and have them do a crossword.

But I use a word jumble generator and have them do a word jumble.

But I have them underline the prefixes and suffixes and circle the roots.

Learning Vocabulary through Reading

Building Vocabulary through Reading

If some of us are truly honest about why we really teach what and how we teach, we might confess, “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 selection of the words, themselves, 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).”

Also, the problem of teaching vocabulary as described above is one of efficiency. Let’s do the math.

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, 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 reading 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.

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 (or more) this year that reading experts agree are necessary to achieve one-year-growth in reading levels. How? Through independent reading.

If students read challenging text (with about 5%) unknown Tier 2 words, 30 minutes per day, four days per week, they will be exposed to 30,000 new words during the school year. Assuming that students will master the meanings of about 10% of those words through context clues, they will meet the 3,000 new words goal. But, we can do better. By teaching students to use context clues more effectively, we can confidently up that level of contextual mastery during independent reading to 15 or 20%.

At this point, some some teachers might be tempted to follow former sixth grade teacher Donalyn Miller’s advice (The Book Whisperer) and allocate that 30 minutes of class time per day (or more) to independent reading. Perhaps vocabulary acquisition really is a natural process that is caught, not taught (Steven Krashen). Rather than teach, teachers should simply facilitate vocabulary acquisition by providing plenty of engaging books in their classrooms and time each day for sustained silent reading and rich literacy discussions.

Not so fast. I would encourage teachers not to give into that temptation. We still need to earn our paychecks. We can use homework for that independent reading time and save valuable class time for instruction. As a former principal of mine once said, “We’re not paying you the big teacher bucks to babysit students while they read.”

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

Non-contextual vocabulary instruction still has its place. We can use limited class time to teach non-contextual vocabulary, not through rote memorization, but through deep level practice. With non-contextual vocabulary, it does matter what you teach and how you teach it. We can build upon that annual 3,000 new words goal with the academic language students need to read even more challenging text.

To my mind, the best section of the Common Core State Standards is the Anchor Strand for Language. Following are the rigorous non-contextual vocabulary standards we should be teaching:

  • 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 deep level practice these vocabulary standards? Writing context clue sentences, Greek and Latin word part put-togethers, dictionary and thesaurus practice, semantic spectrums, four square vocabulary, and plenty more. Seeing how to teach these standards is much easier to understand than explaining.

Here are FREE samples of effective, non-contextual vocabulary 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, 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, 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, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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

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

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, 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 grades 4−high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics.

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