Sunday, November 17, 2013

Teaching Vocabulary... Making Words Stick!

Hi again! It's Angie from The First Grade Scoop. I thought I'd stop by and share a bit with you about one of those kinda tricky things to teach... Vocabulary! It's so crucial to build our students' vocabularies with high-utility words, and it's critical that readers have a strong vocabulary - and ways to determine what new words mean - in order to have good comprehension. Here's a strategy that's worked well for me...

I teach in a school with a very high ELL population, and I always have a range of linguistic needs in my classroom. Vocabulary is SUCH a critical area to develop in all students, and particularly in ELLs, since it's key to comprehending reading. Without a specific vocabulary instruction program, I began searching for ideas for how to teach vocabulary several years ago. I found a wonderful post (I think on A to Z Teacher Stuff) but I cannot for the life of me find it anymore. It had a wonderful idea for teaching vocab, and I've used it ever since.

My read aloud time tends to alternate between a theme or author study and a chapter book. I try to read a range of chapter books to my students, including longer nonfiction books, like level 3 or 4 Time for Kids readers. For each book, I try to pull out about 15-16 Tier 2 words, or words that are not terribly common (like "green" or "milk"), but that aren't highly academic (like "photosynthesis"). These are the kind of words I'd like my students to use more of in their own speaking and writing, and that they're likely to encounter again in their reading.

I take a piece of chart paper and fold it into 16 squares. Each day, I write two or three new words on the chart, one per square. I leave the rest of the square blank. Before reading, I tell the students the words they should listen for in that day's chapter. When I get to the word, students put their thumbs up. I often will stop and reread a couple sentences before and after the new word. Then, we discuss the word, using context clues to help determine the word's meaning. We do a lot of acting out, and discuss scenarios in which the word makes sense. Sometimes, I draw the picture right then, to help give students another visual to associate with the word, but other times, I draw the picture after school. I may also write a synonym underneath the picture. By the end of the book, we have a chart that looks like this:

(This was a chart for Toys Go Out, which is a GREAT read aloud about toys that come to life when their owner goes to bed. It's hilarious and very engaging, especially for my boys.)

After we complete the chart, I give pairs of students each a card with a vocabulary word on it and we play charades to review the words. The next day, my kiddos take a short quiz, using the words in a sentence and briefly defining the words with pictures and words:

We accumulate these charts on our wall, and the students get a kick out of hearing a lot of the words in subsequent read alouds and making connections between words that mean the same thing.

At the end of the year, we cut the words into squares and I give each kid a stack of words to take home. It sounds lame, but I think it's like the kid version of Oprah's Favorite Things. They seriously shriek about it! Ha!

Hope you're having a great weekend!!!


  1. Love this! I am going to try this with my class.

  2. I love these ideas! Do you have a blank copy of your assessment page that you would be willing to share?

  3. Fabulous idea! Thank you so much for sharing. Vocabulary is something I've struggled with in the past. Now I have a great way to teach it, thanks to you!