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Do you know Joe?

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Have you ever been at odds with “Joe” over his vocabulary homework assignments?  Does he simply refuse to look up the words in the dictionary and then use them in a sentence even though on most days he’s engaged in the instruction in your classroom?

If we take a poll in the other content classes what we’ll find, in any given week, is a student with as many as 75 words on his list…too many to successfully learn!  The ideal number is eight to ten a week for deep teaching (Scott, Jamieson-Noel, & Asselin, 2003).  Selecting which words to teach is an important part of the Common Core Standards for ELA and for the Literacy Standards for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.  However, it’s not easy! 

In my last post, I introduced you to Lori Wilfong’s book, Vocabulary Strategies That Work Do This – Not That!  You may remember that I highlighted the use of word walls.  This time I’ll share a couple (there are several in her book) of Lori’s updated strategies that illustrate her Do This – Not That principle #1: DO thoughtfully choose words to teach students; DON’T assign long lists predetermined by a textbook or publisher.  And Joe will thank you for easing his vocabulary load!

Updated Strategy #1: Tiering Words

A great beginning strategy that most teachers use is Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2002) “tiers.”  Check out their book, Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction.  Tier 2 words are tagged for direct instruction because they’re frequently occurring words central to comprehension.  Examples of tier two words are: masterpiece, fortunate, industrious, measure, and benevolent.  Encourage students to brainstorm meanings for those words in other contexts, too.


Updated Strategy #2: Answering Questions

Having difficulty deciding if a certain word is truly worthwhile to teach?  Lori outlines Fisher and Frey’s (2001) list of questions to help guide our decision.

#1:  Is it critical to understanding?  Is it truly important for understanding the text?

#2: Will it be used again?  How many of the words occur again in subsequent content classes?

#3:  Is it needed for discussions or writing?  Select the words that students will need to prove their comprehension of the unit.

#4:  Can students use context to figure out the word?  Check your social studies and science texts.  Remind students that the important words often have the definitions in the sentence, set off by commas!

#5:  Can they use structure?  Check the Greek and Latin words list and you’ll find a few words that students can find the meaning of using structure.

#6:  Have I exceeded the number they can learn?  If you move through a unit at a fast pace you may discover the number of words exceeds the cognitive load of your students. 


It’s easy to rely on the textbook to select the words to teach, but this decision is too important for teachers to not work collaboratively with their colleagues to make this instructional decision.  No doubt these strategies can guide you.    



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