Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Organizing Vocabulary Instruction

Organizing Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary lessons – where do you even start?  If you’re a new teacher, you’re probably already thinking of a long list of skills that you’ll need lessons and materials for.  If you’re an experienced teacher, maybe you have a big collection of resources, but the task of organizing them for a new year can still seem huge!   I think that’s because vocabulary covers so much ground, and so many details.  I know that I have arranged, and rearranged, my vocabulary lessons numerous times over the years!

Just a few of the things you’re sure to be touching on at some time during the year –
·         The Basics – prefixes, suffixes, Greek and Latin roots.  This could be a full year of vocabulary lessons in itself!
·         Word Meanings – understanding specific meanings of words in their reading, and choosing vocabulary for their own writing – synonyms and antonyms, denotations and connotations, using context clues, understanding multiple meaning words, symbolism, and figurative language.  Another tall order!
·         Content Vocabulary – poetry terms, literary terms, and even terms related to vocabulary itself!
·         Story Vocabulary – interesting words from the stories and articles your class reads.

Some people have a strict order they follow to keep it all organized.  Others prefer to introduce vocabulary topics as they come across good stories to use as mentor texts.  I usually started with a few specific topics at first, probably prefixes and synonyms/antonyms.  Then things tended to get more flexible after that!

Wherever you decide to start, having students keep an organized vocabulary notebook can be a great help.  Students can set it up with sections for the various topics you want to cover, and then add to each section bit by bit as you add information and new words throughout the year.  In fact, I used this idea when revising my prefix, suffix, and root PowerPoints over the summer.  At the end of each presentation, I added a basic note sheet for students to complete as they viewed the slides, along with a completed sheet for students who need that.  Students can complete the note sheet for just the prefixes, suffixes, or roots that you are working on at the moment and glue it in their notebook to add to later.  Here is a picture of the note sheets and a few of the slides from my Suffixes 3 PowerPoint. 

Suffixes PowerPoint with Student Notebook Page

Of course, mentor texts are great for introducing something new, and the great thing about vocabulary is that you can find examples for many of the topics – especially prefixes, suffixes, and roots – just about anywhere!  For more complex vocabulary topics, like connotations and denotations, there are still plenty of examples; it just takes a little more advance prep to find a good piece of text with several examples that you want to use.

Do you also keep a list of websites with good vocabulary activities for each topic?  Or maybe a Pinterest board for each?  If you do, be sure to include ReadWriteThink, a site where teachers contribute lessons and other resources.  You can search for a specific topic and narrow your search to either lesson plans or student interactives.  I searched for prefix lessons for 6th grade and found 3 complete lessons plus one student interactive.  My favorite was the game called Make-a-Word, which is played like the old fashioned card game, rummy.

What about some other vocabulary organizers?  Word lists?  A word wall?  Vocabulary cards?  Anchor charts?  Any or all of these will help keep things organized as you add more vocabulary rules, words, and examples during the year!

Why so much organization for this one topic of vocabulary?  Well, as strange as it may sound, I think it is so that you actually can remain pretty flexible throughout the year.  With basic organization in place, it frees you up a little bit to incorporate a new idea or a few new words whenever you come across them.  After discussing them in class, just add them in to one of your existing structures.

So, to me, these are the basics to have in place:
  • ·         Attractive anchor charts (or plans to create them with the class)
  • ·         Student notebooks, and a plan for how they should be organized
  • ·         Mini-lessons to introduce each new vocabulary topic
  • ·         Short practice activities to review individual skills as needed

But what do you think?  How flexible or how structured do you think vocabulary instruction should be for middle grade kids?  I would love to hear what works best in your classroom!

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Organizing Vocabulary Lessons

Blog post by Sharon from the Classroom in the Middle blog, where you’ll find more articles about teaching vocabulary and links to more vocabulary resources in my store, also called Classroom in the Middle.

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