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Tools for Vocabulary Instruction: A Teacher Resource Pack

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Greetings, felicitations, and welcome!

We’re back with a bundle of vocabulary resources to help you advance the lexicons of your burgeoning wordophiles!  Although some of these pieces were designed to be used in connection with our Jargon Journal program, they can easily be adapted for other vocabulary activities.

Self Assessments

To quickly assess your students’ depth of vocabulary knowledge about a set of words, we’ve added our take on the Fist-to-Five activity.  Students rate their knowledge of words on a scale from “I’ve never heard this word before” to “I can tell you everything about this word.”  The students relay their rating by showing a certain number of fingers.  If a child is unfamiliar with the vocabulary word, he would display a fist (0 fingers) to match “I’ve never heard the word before.”  If a child is very comfortable with this word and used it in a story last week, she would show all 5 fingers.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

If you see a bunch of 1,2,3 fingers, you know this is a word unfamiliar to your students.  If you see mostly 4 and 5 fingers, this is one most students know.  I use these posters each week with our Jargon Journals.  I hang the posters on the board and display one of our vocab words.  After the kids rate the word, I share a kid friendly definition (or have one of the kids who showed 5 fingers share what they think).  We discuss examples and usage.  Then I show the book and we predict how that word will be used in the story.  These steps are repeated for the remaining 3 words.

Self-assessment is an important piece in our vocabulary work, not just because I’m curious about my students’ word knowledge, but because it gets the kids thinking about their connection to each word.  Even if the word is entirely new to them, they’re getting the validation of seeing that other kids may not know the word either.  I’m also fueling a curiosity to learn more.  Because some kids may not be comfortable publishing their lack of knowledge to their peers, I encourage everyone to keep their Fist-to-Five rating right in front of their chests as opposed to waved in the air.  In our Tools for Vocabulary Instruction pack we also provide some paper self-assessments.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Using these forms not only preserves privacy, but gives you a written record of student thinking.  These may be useful in place of the Fist-to-Five activity or you may use them as a vocabulary pretest before starting a science unit or to see which Jargon Journal words are remembered from November.  They’re versatile forms to have on hand.

Interactive Notebook Flap

Another component of our weekly Jargon Journal routine is completing our Vocabulary Flap.  The paper is folded vertically into a gatefold and a bottom strip is cut off (so the page will fit in the notebook).  Four little lines are snipped on each fold, which is why my students refer to these as “Vocabulary Flaps”.  There is one flap for each word and another flap next to it for the definition.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

If you’re having students make these, have them cut off the bottom strip.  Then stress FOLDING BEFORE CUTTING.  It will save you a lot of headaches if the word flaps are all folded first.  Also, point out the little octagon on each line.  That’s the STOP CUTTING! mark.

As a class, we generate a very simple, kid friendly (2-3 word) definition of each word.  I write these on the board and the kids write it on the right side of their vocabulary flap.

On the inside is a place to mark the part of speech (noun, verb, adjective or adverb).

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

They also include a personal connection, “What meaning does this word have in your life?”  They may use the word in this connection, but I don’t mandate it.  And I don’t require that they use the word in a sentence.  That’s because these activities are just an introduction.  It takes a lot of experiences before children know these words well enough to use them in context.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Think about the word thaw.  If a student understands the meaning to be, “something frozen melting”  They may write this sentence:  My ice cream is thawing.  It’s technically right, but it lacks an understanding of nuance—an understanding that only comes with time and repeated exposure to the word.  A more mature learner would understand that thaw often connotes something returning to its normal state after being very cold; therefore, melt would be a more appropriate word to use in the context of ice cream becoming soup.  (This is the same reason why, in the Morning Work, I provide a sentence stem before asking children to use the word in context.)

Anyway, continuing on with the Vocab Flaps…

On the right is a place to draw a picture of the word or connection.  Visual representations provide vital support for helping kids internalize words.  Of course, at the beginning we go through all of this together.  We brainstorm ideas for an appropriate picture and talk about why a simple sketch—just to help your brain remember—is more important than a detailed drawing that will take 45 minutes to finish!

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Resource Organization Tools

Vocabulary Flaps are a great tool to help students organize a lot of information about words.  If you’re needing to organize a lot of word information we have some tools to help.  If you’re a binder fan, we have a cover and monthly divider pages to help you contain your vocabulary materials.  These may be your monthly Jargon Journal lessons or anything else you do for vocabulary.  Remember, in order for it to be effective it has to be routine, and in order for it to be routine the teacher has to have a plan.  Keeping materials organized is an important part of any teacher’s instruction plan.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

While I’m typically a binder organizer, I found the files worked best for my Jargon Journals.  I had a hanging folder for each month and then 4 manila folders inside for each week’s lesson.  The nice thing about folders is that I could plop the books right in with the lessons.  No more scrambling to find things on Monday morning!  A few of the books were hard cover and were too cumbersome in the folder.  I found they fit nicely (and didn’t tip) when I set them right behind their month’s hanging file. We’ve included labels for each book we’ve done so far and we will update the file when we’re done with the year to include all the books. We also have blank labels. Also included is small monthly labels you can put on the hanging file folders if you wish.

We don’t have a photo of the file organization yet but here’s how we organize our morning messages, which is the same idea. Monthly hanging file folder, then manila folders inside for each unit you do each month.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Review Activity

Because we want students to retain and use the words we’re teaching, it’s important to include review activities in your vocabulary study.  In our Tools for Vocabulary Instruction pack is a review game called PAW.  It stands for Pick-a-Word.  For this activity you need a list of vocabulary words and a set of questions.  Students take turns choosing a question and the teacher leads a brief discussion of words that could be an answer.  There are open-ended questions like: pick a word you might use on a good day.  There are also questions with multiple possible answers, but with a narrower focus.  For example, “Pick a word that is an adverb.”

There are a couple different formats for this game.  One is a set of question cards.  Just decide if you want black and white or color.  The print, cut, and play.  If you want a little more work, the questions are also formatted to fit on craft sticks.  A little more labor intensive, but don’t they look nice!

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Regardless of the format you choose, each set contains the 30 discussion-starting questions.  The more kids think and talk about words the better they remember them!

Interactive Notebook Resources

Hopefully you make vocabulary notebooks an important part of your classroom routine.  In Vocabulary Their Way, the authors have this to say:

Vocabulary notebooks are a critical tool in student learning, providing a single place for students to record…vocabulary activities…Because students are collecting all of their vocabulary work in one place, vocabulary notebooks can serve as a portfolio of work–similar to an artist’s portfolio–that can be used to document and assess their vocabulary growth over time.

The notebook can have sections for whatever is most useful in your class, but there should be at least three parts:

  1. Teacher chosen words.  This is (probably) the largest section and where students glue their weekly Vocab Flaps and Jargon Journal cards, if you use our program.  This can also include practice with any other words that would be beneficial for your class.
  2. Word Bank.  This is a place for students to collect words that interest or inspire them.  These words may be collected from books or conversations.  We have some glue-in pages to organize the words that students find.  To keep interest high with this activity, make sure to discuss students’ word banks from time to time or provide a space (like a poster) for students to share favorite found words with the class.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

3. Word Roots. Students need strategies for learning how to determine word meanings independently.  Working with roots is one of, if not the absolute, best ways to do this.  Whether it’s second graders practicing the un- prefix or fifth graders working on the base word aqua, roots are an important vocabulary focus.  This section of the notebook gives students a place to store and study words according to their roots (a word part that carries meaning, i.e. prefix, suffix, base). We’ve included word a basic version and an advanced version for practicing prefixes and suffixes.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

A vocabulary notebook is the perfect place to collect all a student’s vocabulary activities.  If you’re doing a word web, have students glue the page into their notebook.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

Anytime you have students practice a word, have them include it in their notebooks.  In the Tools for Vocabulary Instruction pack there are two printables to help students study (and hopefully retain!) a word.  This Word Portrait graphic organizer guides students to analyze a word and connect it to their prior knowledge.

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

There are 2 versions of this form.  Although both look similar, they have different questions to allow you to differentiate the activity for different ability levels.

Word List

If all this talk of word study has left you thinking, “Okay, great, but where do I get these words the kids are supposed to study?” We’ve got you covered.  Words from books, either ones you read aloud to the students or ones they read to themselves, are the best source for collecting vocabulary words.  In the Tools for Vocabulary Instruction pack, we also have a list of 300 Tier 2 words that would be appropriate for study at almost any grade level.

We’re confident that these are tools that will help vocabulary become a hot topic in your classroom!

Here is a list of everything included in the pack:

  • 300 tier 2 words list
  • A guide for assessing word knowledge
  • 6 assessment forms
  • 13 pages for making a binder to organize your vocabulary resources
  • 6 fist-to-five posters, full color
  • 6 graphic organizers, perfect for interactive notebooks
  • Blank name labels for student notebooks
  • Labels for hanging file folders to organize your vocabulary resources
  • Labels for manila file folders to organize your vocabulary resources
  • Pick-A-Word review game (formatted as cards or as labels)
  • Prefixes and Suffixes word bank (1 page each for beginner and advanced, 4 total pages)
  • Word Bank (6 pages)

That’s over 50 pages of resources included in this pack!

Tools for Vocabulary Instruction

See all our Jargon Journal units and resources here.

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After a combined 14 years in 2nd grade, sisters Heidi & Emily are passionate about helping simplify life for other teachers!

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