Context-Rich Vocabulary Instruction

I just finished reading the ASCD’s article “The Words Students Need” by Joshua F Lawrence, Claire White, and Catherine E. Snow. As a person whose background is reading instruction and is currently in a position of working with teachers to improve curriculum, assessment, and instruction I was struck by several ideas from this article.  These are not new ideas, but ones that continue to be valid when looking at vocabulary instruction and improving comprehension for students.

  • Establishing ‘whole school vocabulary instruction‘ that includes all content teachers is extremely important. The English teachers aren’t the only ones that should be exposing students to strategies on how to clarify unknown words, nor should they be the only ones focusing on reading comprehension. Reading and writing skills transcend all content and students need reading strategies embedded within all subjects. The article suggests exposing students to ‘general academic words’ like the Academic Word List which has a great list of words that cross many curriculum areas. They also have a list of most frequent words, with their variations which is a nice way to focus students on rootwords, prefixes and suffixes (a great strategy for them to gather word clues that can help them figure out unknown words). You can also see these words in a different format here: “Selecting vocabulary: Academic Word List” (with links to definitions for easy reference).
  • Planning for repeated rich exposure of vocabulary. The days of giving students 20 new vocabulary words a week and a dictionary to write their definitions are hopefully over. If all you do is have students write out definitions, that won’t provide the rich exposure to words that they need. My blog post referenced below covered some ways that vocabulary instruction can be done digitally, including creating mindmaps, podcasts, and visual representations to name a few. There are many other ways to give students exposure to words, wordsifthaving them categorize, analyze, sort, manipulate and visualize. Wordsift is a great site that doesn’t just provide a wordcloud tool (much like Wordle or Tagul), but also allows you to select words within the cloud and to then see its Visual Thesaurus graphic, google images, as well as sample sentences using the word.

Check out these other digital resources for exposing your students to words:

snappywordsSnappy Words (free visual online dictionary) Great way to have students see connections between words.

wordisWordis: Share your vision (need to register, but a great way for students to express their ideas about words)

For more tools and information on using digital tools to improve vocabulary instruction see my post “Increase Vocabulary- digitally”.

Other vocabulary resources:

Vocabulary 2.0 (Great post on vocabulary tips, tools, and resources by Shelly Terrell)

The First Hundred Commonly Used English Words (has all grade levels- click on yours at the bottom of the list)

About WordSift has vocabulary lesson plans and game links.

How the Internet can help build students vocabulary– great post from Edutopia

PD Focus 2009-2010 School Year

I’ve mentioned that I have been doing a lot of reflection these past several weeks as the school year comes to an end.  Today I wrote an overview for our Professional Development Newsletter to wrap up the ‘year in workshops’.  Included in this article I took all the workshop descriptions for the year and put them into Wordle to see what percolated up to the top.

Wordcloud of Professional Development Workshop Descriptions:


 Looking at this word cloud it confirms what I have believed all along.  We come to school every day for the students, that is our top priority and should be always.  I believe that we are working toward the right goal, but by seeing the words that appear the most throughout our workshop descriptions I am confirmed of that.  Our focus:

 Student learning in classrooms where teachers focus on a continuum of assessments that inform their instruction so that all STUDENTS can learn.

You can also view the PD wordcloud by going directly to
Wordle: 09-10 Workshop Descriptions