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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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Why Johnny Still Can’t Read

Meet Johnny. Although… you probably already know him. In fact, you probably have a Johnny in your class right now. It may also be possible that you also have a few Johnnys that you don’t know about yet. Johnny has reading problems.

Johnny didn’t quite catch on to reading in kindergarten and first grade. His second and third grade teachers did spend a few minutes each day with Johnny, along with a few other students, and he did make some progress. However, by the time Johnny was handed his fourth grade social studies and science textbooks, he was not at all prepared for the multi-syllabic decoding, academic vocabulary, and expository text structure of these books. Apparently, other students had reading problems, because the teacher rarely used the textbooks. Instead, she taught the “power standards” to prepare her students for the standardized tests in both subject areas. His upper elementary and middle school teachers focused on the short stories in the literature anthology and on the assigned “core novels.” The teacher read the stories out loud or had the students take turns reading in “popcorn” style. Sometimes the teachers played audio books. Of course, Johnny’s teachers wisely learned to avoid calling on him to read to protect his self-esteem. Clearly, Johnny’s reading deficits continued to compound.

In middle school, Johnny was placed in an intervention class for language arts. The focus of the class was to teach grade-level language arts standards at a slower pace. Addressing individual reading problems was not the primary focus of class, although the composition of the class was loosely based upon the reading scores of last year’s standards-based test. Johnny scored “Far Below Basic” because he was able to read only parts of the passages. Undoubtedly, a few students were placed in the class because they randomly marked answers on the test. Most of the students in this intervention class did have significant reading problems. However, they did not all have the same reading problems. Some students, such as Johnny, lacked phonemic awareness and could not decode. Other students had poor comprehension or low fluency scores. Still others were English language-learners. A few students were simply placed in the class due to behavioral problems.

Visit most public schools today and you will be able to spot more than a few Johnnys. Unfortunately, the Matthew Effect (Stanovich) is alive and well in our schools today. The rich do, indeed, get richer and the Johnnys get poorer. Students who learn to read well in their primary school years tend to continue this success because they use their reading skills to learn content and vocabulary in their intermediate elementary and middle school years. Students who do not learn to read well in their primary school years fall even further behind in school and the gap between good and poor readers widens. While the statistics indicate that only one in six remedial readers ever close this gap, Johnny can be that one. With the right diagnostic tools and instructional materials, caring teachers can better the odds for their students with reading problems.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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