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How to Memorize Vocabulary

There is just no doubt about it. Society judges us by the words we use. Vocabulary is the key linguistic measure of intelligence on IQ tests. It is the most statistically significant correlation on the SAT 1 sentence completions and passage-based reading components. It identifies a well-educated man or woman perhaps more that any other characteristic.

Many people want to improve their vocabularies, but memorization and retention are the key roadblocks. Not everyone has a natural ability to memorize. However, memorization is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with commitment and practice.

Let’s begin by understanding how we learn vocabulary. We learn most of our first 10,000 survival words through oral language. Beyond this number, most words are learned through reading, by using surrounding context clues to figure out the meanings of unknown words. Readers who read challenging text with academic language and unfamiliar words learn much more vocabulary than readers who stick with the T.V. Guide and People magazines. Good readers have good vocabularies. It’s as simple as that.

We also learn vocabulary through the structural components of our words. Many teachers do a wonderful job of teaching the building bocks of our academic words. Memorizing the common Greek and Latin word parts significantly increases word recognition.

Finally, we do learn vocabulary by making a conscious effort to learn and retain the meanings of new words. Becoming a word sleuth works. However, detectives have to investigate; they can’t just wait for the evidence to show up on their doorsteps. Those who want to learn new vocabulary have to intentionally expose themselves to new words. How? Read more challenging text, improve your ability to use context clues, learn the common Greek and Latinates, and use resources to practice “word play,” such as crosswords.

Practical Tips to Memorize Vocabulary

1. People start forgetting immediately after learning, so make a conscious effort to practice new words when you are exposed to them. Don’t wait. Information that is practiced immediately is retained. After the first few hours, the “forgetting cycle” kicks in.
2. People remember events or information that is rehearsed frequently. Frequent recitation improves retention. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Practice. Practice. Practice. Then repeat. Short study periods and small amounts of information divided by periods of rest produces better retention than cramming. Periodic practice of new vocabulary will keep the words stored in the long term memory. Use the words in your everyday speech. Talk to yourself and you won’t sound pretentious.
3. People remember information best when that information is organized in a structured manner.
Key a simple vocabulary journal or use index cards to keep track of new words. Write down the word, the definition (in your own words), and a context clue sentence that shows the meaning of the word.
4. People remember information that has clear multi-sensory connections. Practice new words out loud and in writing. Make a conscious effort to visualize a connection between new words and their meanings through concrete images. For example, precocious means someone who is ahead of his or her time. Picture a toddler you know, dressing up in a tuxedo, saying “I am precocious.”
5. Use vivid imagery. Make the effort to associate a new word with something else that produces memorable imagery. For example, a stunning rainbow connected with the new word spectrum is much more memorable than a simple definition. Use brief illustrations in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards to reinforce the images.
6. Connect what we naturally remember to newly acquired vocabulary. People remember events and information that are made exciting, interesting, or even embarrassing. Connect the discovery of a piece of spinach between your teeth to a new word, such as mortifying.
7. People remember information best that is personalized. Place yourself front and center into your memory association to better retain word meanings.
8. Learn it right the first time. The better a word is originally learned, the better is the retention. Define new words with precision. If possible, write down antonyms and synonyms in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards.
9. Key words prompt recall of larger amounts of information. Learn the base words well and commonly added inflections will be simple to add to your memory bank. For example, the base word parse (to figure out or analyze), if learned well, leads to understanding a whole host of related words, such as parsing or parsimonious.
10. Practice your vocabulary by visualizing the word, looking up and left. Hemispheric brain research has led to some interesting correlations. Good memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes up and left. Poor memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes downward.
Here are FREE samples of vocabulary worksheets from this comprehensive program–ready to teach in your class today. Each resource includes directions, four grade-specific vocabulary worksheets, worksheet answers, vocabulary study cards, and a short unit test with answers.

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  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  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  program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary
Grades 4-8 Programs

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

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Precise Vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vocabulary Ladder

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

Example Vocabulary Word: democracy

Full Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

-The definition is… rule by the people.

Basic Understanding

Semantic Spectrums

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

Example Vocabulary Words: even-tempered and vicious

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

Extreme kind-hearted/nice/warm/even-tempered/cool/mean/cruel/vicious/hateful Extreme

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

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  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  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  program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary
Grades 4-8 Programs

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

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

Vocabulary Review Games

Memorizing vocabulary words can present a problem for many students. Spending class time practicing vocabulary memorization may seem, on the surface, a waste of valuable time. After all, doesn’t memorization all come down to study and practice? True, but  most of us did not leap out of the womb already knowing how to study and practice. In fact, many students have never learned how to study effectively, and many do not have home environments that are conducive to sufficient practice.

Vocabulary Review

Vocabulary Review Games

Good teachers know that we have to teach both content and process. The goal may be to get students to learn their vocabulary words (the content), but teaching a variety of study techniques to learn those vocabulary words helps students learn valuable critical thinking skills (the process). As a bonus, taking the time to model practice routines in the classroom will help instill habits that will carry over to homework.

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary review games for groups and individuals in and out of the classroom. Check out Vocabulary Word Part Games for more.

Group Review Games

The Quick Picks Game

Divide your students into two groups and select one student as the host. Give the list of vocabulary words and definitions to the host for reference. Then, tell your students to take out their Vocabulary Study Cards for study and practice. Have the students spread out their cards on their desks word side up. The host announces the definition of one of the words and the students race to pick up the word that matches that definition. It is certainly fair for group members to help each other out. The first group with all students holding up the correct word part wins a point. Tell students to place each card word side down after it has been announced.. Once all words have been announced, reverse the procedure and announce definitions and students pick up the definition side up cards.

Vocabulary Millionaire

Divide your students into two groups and select one student as the host. Give the list of vocabulary words and definitions to the host for reference. Then, tell your students to take out their Vocabulary Study Cards for study and practice. Students stand next to their desks. The host flips a coin to determine which group goes first. The host announces a vocabulary word and the first student in the row must provide the definition. If the student is unsure of the definition, he or she may use a “lifeline” to ask another group member for assistance, but only once per game. If the student gets the definition correct, he or she remains standing; if incorrect, the student takes a seat and the next word goes to the opposing team. The team with the last student standing wins.

Concentration

Divide your students into groups of four and tell students to select two students whose printed Vocabulary Study Cards look very different from each other, so they can be easily separated. Have one of these students lay out the cards vocabulary word side up and the other student lay out the cards definition side up. Students choose cards to pair the vocabulary word with its definition. If a student selects a correct match, that student chooses again; if not, the next student selects, etc. The winner has the most matches.

Baseball

The teacher creates or uses a student’s Vocabulary Study Cards with vocabulary words on front and definitions or examples on back. On the definitions or examples sides of the cards, the teacher labels each according to levels of difficulty: S for a single, D for a double, T for a triple, or H for a home run. Hint: Have many more singles cards than the others.

Divide your students into two teams and establish four bases. When in the field, students sit in seats; when “up,” the students stand in line waiting their turn to bat. The teacher shuffles the cards and announces whether the card is a single, double, triple, or home run.  The teacher says the vocabulary word and the batter must provide the definition within five seconds or the batter is out. Mix it up by giving definitions and having students respond with the matching vocabulary words. Three outs per each team per inning. Select a student to serve as scorekeeper, and have that student keep the team scores on the board.

Examples: Teacher picks a card and says, “single” and the vocabulary word, “Alliteration.” Student batter responds with the definition: “Repetition of initial consonant sounds.” Teacher motions the student to first base.

Three outs per each team per inning. Some form of team incentives sparks friendly (or cut-throat) competition.

Individual Review Games

Knock-Out

Have all students stand and quiz each student with a vocabulary word or definition. If the student gets it right within five seconds, the student remains standing; if not, the student sits. Last one standing wins the game.

Vocabulary Puzzles

Directions

1. With a dark pen or sharpie, the teacher (or older students) draw jigsaw puzzle lines on one side of white paper that will include the desired number of vocabulary words and their matching definitions. Avoid drawing small puzzle pieces to provide enough room to write longer definitions. Drawing curved lines takes less effort than straight ones and makes the puzzle more challenging to solve for students. Students will rely on vocabulary knowledge, as well as the shapes, to complete the puzzles.

2. The teacher or students print the vocabulary word at the edge of one puzzle piece and its matching definition at the edge of another puzzle piece that touches it. Finish labeling the puzzle. 

3. Cut out the puzzle pieces.

4. Have students place their puzzles in zip-lock bags to store. The baggies can be hole-punched to place in three-ring binders.

Note: To add more vocabulary words and definitions or to create the next set of vocabulary words and definitions, have students complete the previous puzzle, blank side up, and label the new vocabulary words and their definitions. Provides great review for both the new set of words, as well as the old. 

To Play

Have students race each other or along with the clock to set their own world puzzle completion records.


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

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  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  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  program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary
Grades 4-8 Programs

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

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vocabulary Word Part Games

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Memorizing vocabulary word parts are essential to academic vocabulary acquisition. However, memorization can present a problem for many students. Spending class time practicing vocabulary memorization may seem, on the surface, a waste of valuable time. After all, doesn’t memorization all come down to study and practice? True, but  most of us were not born already  knowing how to study and practice. In fact, many students have never learned how to study effectively, and many do not have home environments that are conducive to sufficient practice.

Good teachers know that we have to teach both content and process. The goal may be to get students to learn their vocabulary word parts (the content), but teaching a variety of study techniques to learn those word parts helps students learn valuable critical thinking skills (the process). As a bonus, taking the time to model practice routines in the classroom will help instill habits that will carry over to homework.

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary word part review games. Also, check out Vocabulary Review Games for more.

Word Part Brainstorming

After introducing the week’s word parts (such as Greek and Latinates) and their definitions, ask students to brainstorm words that they already know that use each of the word parts. Give students two minutes to quick-write all of these words that use the selected prefix, root, or suffix. Then, ask students to share their words in class discussion. On the board or display projector, write down student examples that clearly use the definition that you have provided. Require students to write down each word that you have written in a vocabulary journal. Award points for all student contributions.

Inventive Vocabulary Writing

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

For variety, require students to write in different genre. Examples: brief narratives, classified ads, game directions, how-to paragraphs, dialogs, journals, advice columns.

Put-Togethers

This game can be played once the teacher has introduced a sufficient number of word parts and the students have created Vocabulary Study Cards. Students spread out their cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups. The object of the game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

1 point for each prefix—root combination

1 point for each root—suffix combination

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

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

3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination

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

Word Part Monsters

This three-day activity works well before Halloween or Open House to get student art work up on the board—oh, and it also is a fun word part review activity. Tell your students that they will create their own Word Part Monsters from their Vocabulary Study Cards. Make a transparency copy of the following directions and models.

Directions

Day 1

1. Quick draw, in pencil, two rough-draft monsters, using at least three prefixes, roots, or suffixes from your Vocabulary Study Cards.

2. Write the name of your monsters, using the word parts, at the bottom of each drawing. Feel free to use connecting vowels to tie together the word parts.

Day 2

3. Choose one of your quick-draw monsters and neatly draw and color it on construction paper.

4. Write the monsters’ name on the back, using the word parts. Turn in your monster to the teacher. Don’t turn into a monster for your teacher.

Day 3

5. The teacher has numbered all of the monsters and posted them around the room. Number a sheet of binder paper and write down all of the monster’s names next to the correct number.

Option A (challenging)—Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board.

Option B (very challenging)— Choose from the monster names that the teacher has written on the board and use the definitions to write a sentence, describing what the monster is like.

Option C (very, very challenging)—The teacher does not write down the monster names on the board. You have to figure them out based upon the drawings alone.

6. The winner(s) are the students who identify the most monsters correctly.


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

Get the Grade 4 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 5 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 6 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 7 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

Get the Grade 8 Vocabulary Worksheets FREE Resource:

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  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  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  program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary
Grades 4-8 Programs

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

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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