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?

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