What is in a Word?

What is in a word? What is the importance of vocabulary practice for kids? I would love to tell you…oh just squeeze it in here or there. Truthfully though, children must be immersed in it…all day, every day.

I believe most of that begins a home…but for us teachers…that can be a scary thing. Some of our students don’t have parents home at night (I know, remember…I said scary.) That’s okay though…we can give our children meaningful vocabulary practice all day, every day…and they won’t even realize it. (insert evil teacher laugh) 🙂

I believe the first and most important thing to remember is vocabulary knowledge is the foundation for comprehension success. Our ultimate goal is for children to be strong readers, because with strong reading comes so many things…success in school, social success, confidence, and even speaking and listening skills improve. Without reading success…well, in the words of Meredith Grey…the road is “dark and twisty.”

Now, the question you may be asking is…HOW…HOW do we fit this into our already busy…I mean slammed schedule?

Exposure. Yep, that’s it exposure.

Guided Reading is a HUGE way to give the kids exposure to vocabulary. With each guided reading lesson I teach…I have a vocabulary portion in my lesson plans…simply choose some words from the text you are reading…and then do a quick mini-lesson with those words. Look at the brief example in one of my plans.

Have the students look at the words, talk about the words, define the words (or try to define them), then discuss the words with them. Have the students use the words in a sentence, draw an example of the word, just expose the students to the words. Honestly, the words won’t stick the first time…they usually don’t; that is okay though…the students will the be at least familiar with the word each time you talk about it during the story. See, simple…but so important!

Another way to immerse the students in vocabulary is through Word Work. Many people feel Word Work is only for younger grades…no way, we even do it with our fifth graders! During Word Work, the students need to be reading (from a book of their choice or a passage you provided is fine.) The point to Word Work is having the students use context to help them with the word.

We have our students find three words a week from their personal reading…then they must write the definition, a synonym and antonym of the word, and use the word in a sentence. The students love doing this because they are finding meaningful vocabulary from their books (that they want to know more about) and then they are learning new words!

We also have our students complete Word Work pages after a reading passage. The words are chosen from the passage based on what we want to students to learn, then the students complete the activity by providing the definition (also helps improve their dictionary skills) and then using the word in a sentence.


And remember, nothing has to be done alone…group work is our friend…well sometimes. lol.

I might have laughed out loud when I read this though… 🙂
Anyway, moving on…and the last tip I have for exposing the students to daily vocabulary practice is through a Word of the Day.
I do all three of the things I have mentioned but this one is probably my favorite. I love it because I can see exactly what my kids are understanding about the word and I know the word is grade level appropriate for them! These Word of the Day templates glue down great in journals and we do one each day. The 5th grade one is, of course, more extensive than the 2nd grade one would be…but I have shown an example of each below.

With each word (depending on the grade of course) students are getting practice with a new word, part of speech, synonym and antonyms, sentences, examples through illustrations, rhyming words, guide words and analogies.
Now, in a 2nd or 3rd grade room, this might take 5-10 minutes…in a 4th or 5th grade room, probably 15-20 minutes. I know that seems like a lot…but man it is so worth it in the end! I have seen children grow by leaps and bounds through vocabulary!
Truly, take some time and evaluate the care you devote to vocabulary practice in the classroom! I did not spend enough time in this area for a few years, now I can’t imagine why! If you give it a chance and map it out each day…I believe you will see a huge improvement in the confidence of your kids and their understanding of literacy!
Happy Teaching!

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