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How do I teach vocabulary?

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I love the word “update.”  I’m always considering how to update my hairstyle, wardrobe, my home decor; even a password must be changed occasionally.  Updating suggests a fairly easy fix – a quick transition, however, it also suggests staying on the practical side.

As a reading specialist I value Gough & Tunmer’s Simple View of Reading: Word Recognition x Language Comprehension = Reading.  (I’ve updated my learning on the Simple View.  Originally I understood it to be a “sum,” but a few years ago I learned it’s a “product.”  An easy fix - a quick transition.)  It’s clear from the Simple View that a student’s knowledge of word meaning is critical to their reading success.  No surprise then that the frequent question I receive from teachers is

How do I teach vocabulary?

I consider that an opportunity for them to discover how to UPDATE their traditional vocabulary practices in light of the vocabulary standards in the Common Core.  Lori Wilfong, in her book Vocabulary Strategies That Work Do This – Not That!, did a delightful job of  identifying several strategies that, if updated, can take word study from dreary and boring to fun and engaging. 

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several groups of teachers that chose to begin with the use of a word wall.  It made perfect sense to consider Lori’s basics for getting started and make the use of a word wall an integral part of word study in elementary as well as middle and high school classrooms.

  • Keep your word wall as interactive as possible.  Begin the year (or start now) by introducing the word wall concept to your class.  Take a class period to encourage your students to choose the actual classroom space and then choose and illustrate words for the unit of study.

  • Place the word wall where it can be seen and referred to easily.  Consider that it may be on a side wall rather than at the back of the room.

  • Create a routine.  Be intentional to include word wall activities into your lesson plans.  On a subject-specific word wall, encourage students to look closely at their reading and find interesting words.  In short, students have to “own” the words – their opportunities to see their selections on the wall will highlight the importance of continued word study.

  • Don’t forget to add, add, and add more words to the word wall.  It’s easy to let the practice go after a few weeks. 

  • When the unit is over, prepare to build a new wall and move the old words to a pre-determined place to live.  Don’t forget places like under the white board, below windows, or beside the door.  Old word wall words can even be placed on the ceiling.  Imagine a student’s surprise that makes the decision to daydream and finds some old “friends” on the ceiling above him!!

The next step is yours.  It’s called Taking Action.  Make the conscious decision to update your word wall or get started now and by the beginning of a new school year, it will have become a friend to you and your students.  I’m anxious to get back with my group of teachers and see their amazing updates!

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