Month: July 2017

The Power of Vocabulary

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The first time I learned about The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3, I was horrified. To confirm that the achievement gap starts well before a child can even make it to kindergarten is heartbreaking. What’s more, teachers receive much of the blame for under-performing children, and not nearly enough resources to combat the problem. Instead, best practices drop from the sky like candy from a pinata, and districts catch what they can in the process. Teachers sit through professional developments that produce book studies and additional responsibilities, but still not necessarily the solutions needed. This process holds true for vocabulary as well.

It is widely known and accepted that it is best practice to teach students vocabulary through direct instruction, and it is clear that students should be receiving tier 2 words 20170724_095740(words students see in print) on a regular basis. However, the process itself – the actual way that students are taught vocabulary words – is quite murky. Marzano gives us 6-steps, and I often hear all the rave about the Frayer Model, which is a great tool, but many students are still not acquiring words in a meaningful way that allows them to expand their vocabulary. What’s more, I was shocked to learn that of the two different districts where I’ve worked that no one deemed it necessary to require vocabulary instruction. That said, I took matters into my own hands. I worked relentlessly to build my students’ vocabulary through a system that proved to be beneficial to not only their reading comprehension, but also to their verbal and written communication. But before I started randomly throwing word lists together, I considered a few things:

  1. Word Choice: What words should my students know? This is a loaded question. When you consider grade-level, there are words that frequent the grade-level text, and students need to know these words for comprehension purposes, but what about demographic?
  2. Demographic: What we learn from the 30 Million Word Gap is that every child does not receive the same exposure. Consequently, some students need more exposure than others. A vocabulary list in an affluent district may look very different than one in a struggling district. However, I strongly believe some of those words should overlap.
  3. Application: How hard is it for students to apply the words they are given? Where will they hear the words? My word lists came from SAT word lists and class reading assignments, but that left much to choose from. So, to help narrow it down, I also thought about the music they listened to and where they could find relevance in the words given.
  4. Exposure: What role did I play in using those words in the classroom? If I could not use them in everyday conversation with my students, were they actually good words, and how could I expect my students to use them if I could not?
  5. Expectation: How would I require and encourage students to use their vocabulary words? If I was just handing out lists without any follow-up or expectation for continued use, I was wasting my time and theirs.

After considering all of these things, and constantly requiring students to look up words I used, but they did not know, I knew there was an opportunity to make a real difference in their vocabulary and reading comprehension. I began to develop vocabulary lists until I had enough of them for an entire school year. Each set provided 3 days of practice with 5-6 different opportunities for students to use their new words. I quizzed students over the words and gave a summative assessment at the end of each set of 3. The outcome was nothing short of a miracle. Even my complainers used their vocabulary words. In turn, reading comprehension increased and their writing skills were better. The proof was not only in my grade book, but also in my students’ standardized testing scores.

Ultimately, vocabulary is an integral part of all learning, no matter the subject. Every teacher should use direct instruction to teach vocabulary to not only increase student achievement, but to also close the gap.

No Prep High School Vocabulary Activities

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Direct vocabulary instruction was an instrumental part of my daily instruction. Used for homework, stations, and bell ringers, I intentionally taught students words and required that they use them on a regular basis.

Here are two different schedules for instruction:

Daily Instruction

Vocabulary Schedule

Block Scheduling

Vocabulary Block Scheduling

Once the schedule is complete, the breakdown is as follows:

Day 1: Introduction and Direct Instruction

  1. Introduce the new words. Have students use context clues to determine the 20170502_220221meanings rather than just giving the definition or having them look them up.
  2. Provide the definitions. I’ve never found much value in having students look up definitions. For one thing, many words have more than one option. How could I effectively assess students when everyone did not have the same definition? Second, now that we all have Google and Siri, the actual use of a dictionary is pretty lost on this generation. I wanted to maximize instruction time.
  3. Require students to write the words down. In a recent issue of Educational Leadership, there was much focus on the importance of having students write things down. In fact, the stuy showed that…. So, before turning in their vocabulary activities, students were required to write the words in a notebook. Randomly we would revisit previous words or do activities, and I would reward students who had word lists.

20170502_220303Day 2: Independent Practice – Vocabulary Graphic Organizer

I gave students a graphic organizer of some sort that allowed them to break down their words in a variety of ways – synonyms, antonyms, derivatives (different parts of speech), use each word in a sentence, and provide the definition.

FREEBIE: You can download this organizer for free in my TpT store.

20170502_220325Day 3: More Practice

More practice. On this day, students were given 2-3 different activities ranging from analogies, writing original definitions, using the words in a creative story or a reflection, and/or sentence completion. Each of the activities allowed students to take ownership of the word and showed me the level of mastery for each word.

Day 4: Quiz Day

I used to give students a spelling test and have them write the definitions, but this didn’t really bring about the results I had hoped for. Some students had great phonemic awareness and others great context clues, so when I said the word and then read it in a sentence, it still did not prove that each student really knew and could apply the word. As a result, I switched to multiple choice quizzes. These quizzes used original short stories or excerpts and students has to answer common core aligned questions. These proved far more challenging and gave me more information that allowed me to make data-driven decisions.

After a quiz day, an entire set of vocabulary was complete. I then started the process over with a new set of vocabulary words. After 3 sets of vocabulary, students took a summative assessment over all 3 lessons. From definitions to sentences, analogies, and close reading, the assessment required students to put every skill to use. In the beginning, it was a major catastrophe. Students were not prepared to display knowledge in this manner. However, each summative got better and better. Students studied differently. They used their words without prompting. Many even used their words at home and with friends. It was at this point that I knew the system worked.

Resources Available
If you are interested in this vocabulary system, be the first to rate these new products and other vocabulary resources in my TpT store:

Critical Thinking: Analyzing Quotes

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I have always found great appreciation for a thought-provoking quote. In fact, I can remember having great discussions in class about quotes from whichever novel we were reading. Sometimes I would provide the quotes, and other times I would require students to find their own meaningful quotes. What was most interesting about the process was student application. Students are impressive young people, and when you hit the right cord, they will blow your socks off. And so, a quote activity was born.

 What’s Included

  • 18 weeks of analyzing quotes, 1 for each week.
  • 5 activities for each quote
  • Critical thinking, constructed response, text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world activities, and more.
  • Challenges for students to share their own quotes and create activities
  • Opportunities to work with a partner

How It Works

I20170717_101832.jpgf possible, print each student their own booklet of quotes. The booklets can be stored in the classroom so students always have them if there is a concern about the notebooks being lost.

At the beginning of each week, assign students a new quote. Have them complete the paraphrase activity first. This is a great way to assess students’ understanding of the quote because they have to rewrite it in their own words.

As you progress through the week, have students complete a different activity each day. To generate discussion

, you can have students share their responses with a peer or in small groups. For class discussions, have students share their responses and respond to other’s points of view.

At the end of the week, you can collect the notebooks and provide students with feedback. Another option is to use daily discussion to gather information about each student’s comprehension and provide feedback through discussions.

The Purpose

The purpose of the activity is to teach students to think critically. Instead of giving students a grade for a “right” or “wrong” answer, provide them with feedback. Ask them questions as opposed to giving them an answer as there are a variety of ways to answer these critical thinking questions.


By the end of the 18 weeks, students will be able to:

  1. analyze quotes for meaning
  2. make connections between quotes, themselves, the real word, and other texts.
  3. determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in context (RL.4).
  4. analyze the impact of specific word choice on meaning and tone (RL.4).
  5. cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says (RL.1).

To purchase this activity, click here.