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April 9, 2018

5 Strategies to Weave Vocabulary Into Your Curriculum

By Mary Blow
Grades 6–8

    One of my biggest struggles in teaching English Language Arts is vocabulary deficit. It impedes my students’ comprehension, slows down reading fluency, and impacts their success on standardized tests. Even with rich vocabulary in our texts, we struggle to bridge the gap. Over time, I have developed strategies for supercharging my curriculum with vocabulary without allowing vocabulary instruction to steal the stage.

    Prefixes and Suffixes

    At the beginning of the year, we spend one class period exploring prefixes and how they change the meaning of words. My sixth graders are given a copy of “Most Common Prefixes” (Scholastic). These 20 prefixes are keys to unlocking the meaning of many new words. Four prefixes on this list make up 97 percent of prefixed words in printed school English. If we encounter new affixes in our travels, we add them to the student dictionary.

    Students are responsible for memorizing the meaning of the prefixes. They are quizzed on them. If you don’t have a free Quizlet account, get one and save a copy of my Quizlet study set: 20 Most Common Prefixes. Students have the option of using digital flashcards, playing digital games, or taking computer-generated quizzes. Teachers have the option of launching a classroom game: Quizlet.Live. The game randomly sorts students into teams who then compete against each other to match the words to their definitions — in this case, prefixes. The teams track who is in the lead on my SMART Board.

    Greek and Latin Roots

    While not an expert in Greek and Latin, I do understand their significance to my students’ success, which is why I ventured into uncharted territory. Whenever I introduce a new text, I preview the key vocabulary and identify those that contain root words. Students record the root words in their student dictionaries, and then we build upon that word by adding new words that share the same root.  

    If are just starting out with root words or lack planning time, Fab Vocab: Greek and Latin Roots by Sheila Wheaton is a great reference for teaching 25 key roots. The engaging timesaving activities and review games promote vocabulary growth that transfers to other subject areas, especially science. There are 25 Greek and Latin words targeted in this book. There is a storehouse of vocabulary words that students will know after mastering the meaning of these 25 roots.

    Word of the Week (Power Words)

    A few years ago I bought a Word of the Week pocket chart that had rich vocabulary, but for many terms unrelated to my content. So, I designed a Word-of-the-Week template to create my own posters to slide in the pocket chart. These words enrich classroom discussions and written assignments: a lugubrious tone, a perilous setting. I do not pressure myself to add a word each week. It all depends on the length of the text. I don’t let the words steal the stage, treating them more as power words.

    I introduce a power word like conundrum during a class discussion. Eyebrows furrow. Bam! I grabbed their attention. We spend a few minutes reviewing the word, connecting it to their personal experiences, and recording it in a Power Word Dictionary  before jumping back to the lesson. It is that easy. Now, my biggest problem is that words like lugubrious are a little overused (okay, they are a lot overused), but I can live with that.

    My sixth graders are encouraged to use the power words at home. Beware — it can cause an epidemic! For example, a few weeks ago, I introduced acquiescent to describe a character’s agreeable behavior in The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Hands were waving, as students provided examples of acquiescing at home and school. The next day, a student announced, “My dad said there is no such word as acquiesce. I had to prove it to him.” I smiled. Job well done.

    Synonyms

    The power of synonyms is that students can link new words to those they already know, thereby increasing retention. We struggle with discussing literature because we have limited vocabulary to accurately describe characters, tone, or mood. My middle schoolers use words like: mad, happy, and brave. It is time to get out the dictionary and thesaurus to look for words that better convey what we want to say.

    In this photo, students sorted synonyms to replace character traits: sly, mean, selfish, kind, trusting, and brave.

    Customize word walls that coincide with your classroom theme using Scholastic’s Word Workshop, a free online tool for teachers.

    Super Word Lists

    Sometimes, I super infuse vocabulary. My students are given a list of 10–15 words and their definitions that extend beyond the text. They are required to use these words when completing classroom tasks: annotating, discussing, and writing. One class period is dedicated to introducing the words using videos, images, matching games, etc.

    In our studies of The False Prince by Nielsen, students reuse the rich vocabulary when annotating, discussing, and writing about the novel. Fellow teacher Renee Krusper and I created a handout to analyze tone and includes a tone vocabulary. My heart sings when I see them using them accurately in their writing, demonstrating that they own them.

    Below are a few vocabulary resources to use as quick bell ringer activities or for taking advantage of those few extra minutes at the end of a class:

    One of my biggest struggles in teaching English Language Arts is vocabulary deficit. It impedes my students’ comprehension, slows down reading fluency, and impacts their success on standardized tests. Even with rich vocabulary in our texts, we struggle to bridge the gap. Over time, I have developed strategies for supercharging my curriculum with vocabulary without allowing vocabulary instruction to steal the stage.

    Prefixes and Suffixes

    At the beginning of the year, we spend one class period exploring prefixes and how they change the meaning of words. My sixth graders are given a copy of “Most Common Prefixes” (Scholastic). These 20 prefixes are keys to unlocking the meaning of many new words. Four prefixes on this list make up 97 percent of prefixed words in printed school English. If we encounter new affixes in our travels, we add them to the student dictionary.

    Students are responsible for memorizing the meaning of the prefixes. They are quizzed on them. If you don’t have a free Quizlet account, get one and save a copy of my Quizlet study set: 20 Most Common Prefixes. Students have the option of using digital flashcards, playing digital games, or taking computer-generated quizzes. Teachers have the option of launching a classroom game: Quizlet.Live. The game randomly sorts students into teams who then compete against each other to match the words to their definitions — in this case, prefixes. The teams track who is in the lead on my SMART Board.

    Greek and Latin Roots

    While not an expert in Greek and Latin, I do understand their significance to my students’ success, which is why I ventured into uncharted territory. Whenever I introduce a new text, I preview the key vocabulary and identify those that contain root words. Students record the root words in their student dictionaries, and then we build upon that word by adding new words that share the same root.  

    If are just starting out with root words or lack planning time, Fab Vocab: Greek and Latin Roots by Sheila Wheaton is a great reference for teaching 25 key roots. The engaging timesaving activities and review games promote vocabulary growth that transfers to other subject areas, especially science. There are 25 Greek and Latin words targeted in this book. There is a storehouse of vocabulary words that students will know after mastering the meaning of these 25 roots.

    Word of the Week (Power Words)

    A few years ago I bought a Word of the Week pocket chart that had rich vocabulary, but for many terms unrelated to my content. So, I designed a Word-of-the-Week template to create my own posters to slide in the pocket chart. These words enrich classroom discussions and written assignments: a lugubrious tone, a perilous setting. I do not pressure myself to add a word each week. It all depends on the length of the text. I don’t let the words steal the stage, treating them more as power words.

    I introduce a power word like conundrum during a class discussion. Eyebrows furrow. Bam! I grabbed their attention. We spend a few minutes reviewing the word, connecting it to their personal experiences, and recording it in a Power Word Dictionary  before jumping back to the lesson. It is that easy. Now, my biggest problem is that words like lugubrious are a little overused (okay, they are a lot overused), but I can live with that.

    My sixth graders are encouraged to use the power words at home. Beware — it can cause an epidemic! For example, a few weeks ago, I introduced acquiescent to describe a character’s agreeable behavior in The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Hands were waving, as students provided examples of acquiescing at home and school. The next day, a student announced, “My dad said there is no such word as acquiesce. I had to prove it to him.” I smiled. Job well done.

    Synonyms

    The power of synonyms is that students can link new words to those they already know, thereby increasing retention. We struggle with discussing literature because we have limited vocabulary to accurately describe characters, tone, or mood. My middle schoolers use words like: mad, happy, and brave. It is time to get out the dictionary and thesaurus to look for words that better convey what we want to say.

    In this photo, students sorted synonyms to replace character traits: sly, mean, selfish, kind, trusting, and brave.

    Customize word walls that coincide with your classroom theme using Scholastic’s Word Workshop, a free online tool for teachers.

    Super Word Lists

    Sometimes, I super infuse vocabulary. My students are given a list of 10–15 words and their definitions that extend beyond the text. They are required to use these words when completing classroom tasks: annotating, discussing, and writing. One class period is dedicated to introducing the words using videos, images, matching games, etc.

    In our studies of The False Prince by Nielsen, students reuse the rich vocabulary when annotating, discussing, and writing about the novel. Fellow teacher Renee Krusper and I created a handout to analyze tone and includes a tone vocabulary. My heart sings when I see them using them accurately in their writing, demonstrating that they own them.

    Below are a few vocabulary resources to use as quick bell ringer activities or for taking advantage of those few extra minutes at the end of a class:

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