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Classroom Instruction

Vocabulary Instruction

Students learn vocabulary words informally when they are immersed in a word rich environment. Anchor charts with rich words and lists of synonyms can be used to create a word rich environment. Students learn new words through rich conversations, personal reading and daily experiences with read aloud texts.

"Children learn new words from being read storybooks with rich words and from interactive dialogue about the words after reading." Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2003; McKeown, 1985, 1993; McKeown, Beck, Omanson & Pople, 1985

Some students come to us with a large number of words in their speaking and listening vocabulary. Others come to us with much less. In fact, research has shown that some of these students may come to us with five times less words than their peers. We must narrow this gap through explicit vocabulary instruction.

District 186 teachers provide explicit vocabulary instruction by teaching students to use context clues and through the use of the Five Day Vocabulary Plan.

Context Clues

First, students need to be taught to acknowledge when they do not understand the meaning of a word. Some teachers ask students to keep a record of unfamiliar words they encounter as they read. These words can be discussed later in a whole group discussion, during guided reading, or during a one-on-one conference with the student.

Students must be taught to look before, at and after the unfamiliar word to locate clues. Students can create lists of helpful clues to use when using context. In their book, Teaching Vocabulary in All Classrooms, Blachowicz and Fisher provide a sample list of helpful clues that one classroom of students created.

*Synonyms The farrier, the man who makes shoes for the horses, had to carry his heavy tools in a wheelbarrow.
*What a word is or is not like. Unlike the peacock, the mudhen is not colorful.
*Something about location or settings. The shaman entered the Hopi roundhouse and sat facing the mountains.
*Something about what a word is used for. He used the spade to dig up the garden.
*What kind of thing or action it is. Swiveling his hips, waggling the club, and aiming for the pin, he drove his first four golf balls in to the water.
*How something is done. He expectorated the gob of tobacco juice neatly into the spittoon.
*A general topic or ideas related to the words. The dancing bears, the musicians, the cooks carrying huge plates of food all came to the church for the fiesta.

Chapter 2 of this book is a wonderful resource for learning how to teach students to use context clues.

Cloze Procedure

Another way to teach students to use context clues is by using the Cloze Procedure. This site gives a clear explanation of this procedure.

U.S. Dept. of Education

This site provides a wealth of resources for vocabulary instruction. Scroll down to find the links for context clues.

Reading Rockets

This site offers a lesson on using context clues and includes explicit language to use with students.

The Five Day Vocabulary Plan


One classroom collects the words they have studied on a vocabulary quilt.

A very important note...

It is absolutely critical to continually review the words and definitions throughout the year. Asking students to be aware of when they see or hear these words will help with retention.

Most of all, vocabulary instruction should be fun for you and your students. A little preparation goes a long way in helping our students become word-wise.

Prior to Day One

Prior to Day One:

* Look at the identified vocabulary words highlighted throughout the Houghton Mifflin selection. Note that some of these words will be Tier 2 words and some will be Tier 1 or Tier 3 words.

* Choose 3-5 Tier 2 words for instruction throughout the week. These words should be interesting words that are not too difficult to explain to children. (In kindergarten, you may need to start with just 2 or 3 words; in older grades, you may decide to use as many as 8 words.) At times, you may need to consider other possible sources for Tier 2 words, such as read alouds and Social Studies or Science texts.

* Write each selected word on an index card large enough for the whole group to be able to see.

* Consider how you would define each of the words for the children. Be sure to use language they can understand. When explaining the meaning of these words, you should be able to use words the children in the group will already understand. (Example: In first grade, you would not use the word terrified to define the word frightened. Instead, you would use a more familiar word like afraid.) Here are a few rules of thumb for student-friendly definitions (Illinois Reading First Vocabulary Module):

* Start with a strong, focused concept of what the word means.
* Don't draw attention to multiple meanings of words initially.
* Ask yourself, "When do I use this word?" or "In what particular situations or circumstances do I use this word?" and "Why do we have such a word?"
* Use everyday language so that your students can easily understand the concept; enhance with illustrations, gestures, and demonstrations whenever possible.

* Write the student-friendly definition on the back of each index card.

* Create lesson plans using these words in robust ways. (See attached Vocabulary Lesson Plan above.)

Day One

Introduce Words with Student-Friendly Definitions

(Approximately 15 minutes)

Introduce the selected vocabulary words with the student-friendly definitions during the word knowledge block. Later, when reading the text containing the words, pause and remind students of the meaning of each word as you come to them. If students are going to read part of the text on their own, introduce any remaining words with the student-friendly definitions before sending them off.

After finishing the selection, and checking for final comprehension, direct students' attention to the new vocabulary words written on the index cards. One card at a time, say the word; ask the students to repeat the word; then give the student-friendly definition. Explain to the students that these are the words you want them to learn this week. Then, post the cards.

Examples of student-friendly definitions

Day Two

Reviewing the definitions and giving examples in other contexts

(5-10 minutes)

You may or may not reread the text on Day 2. Review the vocabulary words by asking the students to read them aloud. Call on volunteers to recall the definitions (with support as needed).

Engage more students by using the "Think-Pair-Share" strategy for responding. Give individuals a minute to think about the meaning of the word. Ask them to talk with the person next to them about the meaning of the word and then ask someone to share the meaning with the whole class.

After reviewing the definitions, provide the students with examples of the words in other contexts. These will be different from how the words were used in the original text.

Examples of words in other contexts

Day Three

Engaging Activities

(5-10 minutes)
Briefly review the words and definitions. Then involve students in some engaging activities. Just like with word wall games, these should be brief and enjoyable.

Day Four


(5-10 minutes)

On day four, wrap up the instruction with another one of the engaging activities.

Day Five


(5-10 minutes)

Assess the students' knowledge of these new vocabulary words orally or in writing.

One way to assess the children orally is to sit in a circle and call on several children one at a time to tell what a word means, use it in a sentence, or act it out. Check several students each day until all children are assessed.

If assessing the children with a written quiz, keep it simple. You might use a multiple choice quiz. Since this is not a reading quiz, it would make sense to read the questions and choices to the students as they follow along.

Example of a Vocabulary Quiz

How do I know which words to teach my students?
There are many different types of words which students need in their vocabularies. They need many high frequency words, such as those found on our K-2 word walls. They also need content words, such as those specific to math, science, etc. In literacy, we primarily focus on words students will encounter often in a variety of settings. Beck, McKewon and Kucan, in their book Bringing Words to Life, refer to these words as Tier 2 words.

Students must learn about a wide variety of words and their uses and must have many opportunities to use these words in a variety of ways. Teachers begin to do this by explaining the meaning of words explicitly and then provide engaging follow-up activities.