Friday, April 21, 2017

Vocabulary Every Day

As part of my doctoral work, I have been taking a class on reading instruction. I have learned lots – why didn’t anybody tell me this a decade ago! – and I have made some changes to my instructional strategies and sequence based on what I’ve learned.

Today I’m going to write about vocabulary instruction. This is something that I never really did before. You can rap my knuckles now; I was bad. I assumed that by reading lots of high quality children’s literature my students would be exposed to plenty of vocabulary and that was enough. Of course, it wasn’t. But who has time to teach vocabulary every day. Do you know how much I have to fit in?

I’ll tell you now, I can and do fit in vocabulary instruction every day. It’s less than 5 minutes but my students have shown fabulous comprehension and retention. For older students, it may be longer because you would choose more words per week. Keep it simple and the time will fly.

I use Marzano’s Six Steps of vocabulary instruction. You can read about them in depth in this flip book put out by my state education department:
The good news is you can complete the steps in any order, so my instructional sequence is a little different. And that’s ok.

Before Instruction:
I choose two vocabulary words from one of our texts for the week. I usually read between 8-10 books during shared reading, writing, and read aloud. So I choose words from one of those books and schedule it for Friday. Then I prep my slides. I use SMART Notebook but Powerpoint or Prezi or anything similar would work just as well.

Monday: I introduce the first word and give a kindergarten friendly definition. For example, my word one week was gracefully. Gracefully means moving in a beautiful way. My slide for the day has a set of four pictures that show the meaning of the word. In this case, they were pictures of dancers, a fish, and a deer. As a class we decide on a movement to represent the word gracefully. We chose raising our arms to one side in a dance-type move. I ask students to share with a partner an example of something that moves gracefully. The four pictures are still up on the board so they can look there if they need an idea of what to say. Some students use the exact pictures on the board, some students use something that is similar, some students use their own unique idea. We review the word, movement, and definition one time quickly. That’s it, about 3 minutes total.

Tuesday: I ask students to tell me the word, movement, and definition. They repeat those three things with their partner. My slide for the day is a sorting activity: four pictures that show gracefully (the same four from the day before) and four that do not. Students sort the pictures on a two-column chart. Then they draw a picture of the word on their vocabulary notebook – it’s an extra page stuck at the back of their monthly writer’s notebook, nothing fancy – and I dictate the spelling of the word for them to write under their picture. I set a timer for 1 minute while they draw their pictures to help keep us on schedule. I’m not asking for Rembrandts, just a sketch. This one is slightly longer, about 5 minutes.

Wednesday: A repeat of Monday with the second word.

Thursday: A repeat of Tuesday with the second word.

Friday: This is game day. I have saved pictures from previous vocabulary work, and I add in three each of this week’s words. They are in random order. I show the picture and everybody does the movement and then tells me the word. I call it Vocabulary Charades, but it’s not charades at all. I’ll take suggestions for a better name in the comments. We’ve accumulated enough vocabulary words now that I have two different sets of pictures so that it doesn’t get too long. I alternate weekly. As I accumulate more and more words I will need to choose to fade some of them out or split into even more sets. It hasn’t happened yet, so I’m not sure what I’ll do yet. Friday takes 3-5 minutes depending on the length of the set.

Variations: On short weeks, or when there’s an assembly or something that throws our schedule off, I will combine Monday and Tuesday into one day. It is not at all difficult and still takes less than 10 minutes.

For first grade, I would do exactly the same setup but combine the two days and add a word on game day. That way you could get five words a week in less than 10 minutes most days, 15 minutes on game day.

For second grade, I would do the same as first except have them write a sentence instead of draw a picture in their notebooks.

I don’t feel qualified to give variations for third grade and higher. Feel free to leave your recommendations and suggestions in the comments.

How do I know it works? I have two stories to tell you. We started vocabulary instruction in February of this year. The very first week, one of our words was leafy. Last week (three months after instruction), I was reading a text with the word leafy. I honestly didn’t even think about it, I was just reading. In the middle of the text, several students start waving their hands around. I stop to look, what are they doing? They were doing the movement we had made for the word leafy. They heard it in the story and immediately connected to our work from three months earlier! Story two makes me giggle. Not the first week of instruction, but early on, we learned the word quarrelsome. A month or so ago, two of my girls got into an argument. One girl turned to the other, said “You are so quarrelsome!” stuck her tongue out at her, and walked away. Choosing to use the word correctly in context shows a solid understanding of vocabulary, although in this case a lack of problem solving skills.

Do you teach vocabulary? How long does it take you a day? What are your top tips and tricks?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Reading Strategies Book- Goal 1

 I had a conversation with a parent at Kindergarten orientation several years ago. It was the week before school would start. I was meeting the parents for the first time and introducing myself to the kids. We talked about buses and lunches and homework and all of the typical concerns parents have. I also like to show parents an example of a book kids will be reading independently by the end of the year and a sample of writing from that May. I want parents to know where we are going and why we do all the fun, crazy, interesting, exhausting things that we do every day in Kindergarten. And then I talk about ways parents can support literacy at home- reading and talking about books together, writing cards and grocery lists, telling stories. I pass out the first book club flyers as a way for parents (primarily from a low-income bracket) to acquire inexpensive books for home. And one dad tosses the flyer aside and says "I'll buy him books when he can read books."

That sentence says a lot about why this chapter is important. "I'll buy him books when he can read books." How will he learn to read books if he doesn't have access to them? How will he learn to tell stories? Relay facts? Explore places and times far away and long ago? "Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers" is crucial, because that's how kids learn to read and learn to love reading.

There are 20 strategies in this chapter and all of them are fantastic. Even teachers of older readers may find some of these useful for students who are below level or reluctant readers. I am going to focus on three that I have used in my classroom.

Strategy 1.3 Linger Finger

This is the precursor to one-to-one correspondence. The idea is teaching children to use their finger to linger on the page, pointing at words they know and details in the pictures. Children learn to read pictures and tell the story before they learn to read the words. The linger finger helps them slow down and incorporate details and nuances, instead of flipping rapidly through the text. As readers develop to decoding text, the linger finger helps them focus on each word and track the text as opposed to sliding.

Strategy 1.5 Word Treasure Hunt

I love this strategy for students who are ready to start decoding in emergent level texts. I've had many students (and my own 5-year-old!) who were perfectly comfortable reading words in isolation but absolutely refused to read books because it's too hard or intimidating. Like most classrooms, we have 1-3 sight words a week. I put these sight words on cards in a basket in the library. Students put on their reading glasses (dollar store sunglasses with the lenses popped out), choose a card, and choose a book. Their task is to find that word as many times as they can in the text. Children are amazed at how many words they find! And as they learn more words they start reading and pointing out other sight words that they know. Invariably, they are so proud of knowing that they can read words in books! Dr. Seuss books are fantastic for this because they are "real books" that intentionally incorporate a heavy number of sight words although you can use any text of any level.

Strategy 1.6 Characters Do, Characters Say

This strategy is for literary texts. The idea is to use pictures to describe what characters are doing and what they are saying. My students loved this strategy and got really involved. This was also my opportunity to introduce the speech bubble. I put a paper speech bubble on a stick and let students hold it as they spoke for the character. What a hit! That speech bubble stick made it into our partner reading center where students took turns speaking for characters as they read together. This would also be a good introduction to reader's theater for older readers.

I hope you've enjoyed this peek into my classroom to see some strategies for supporting pre-emergent and emergent readers.  There are 17 more in chapter one that I encourage you to check out and try for yourself. Leave a comment about what has worked for you! Follow along with the rest of the book study for Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book at .