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Posts tagged ‘vocabulary’

Free Literacy Strategies Resource

Many middle schools have a mandate to incorporate literacy strategies across their curriculum.  Quite often there is no professional development to go along with this mandate, and many middle grades teachers have no background in literacy acquisition.  Hence a huge disconnect occurs between the mandate and reality.

Middle grades teams have an advantage in that they can choose to use some of the their common planning time to work together to figure out how to approach literacy in the content areas.  They recognize that this type of planning is critical to the success of their students because:

  • The middle grades curriculum and now the Common Core Standards require that students read and write more complex material.
  • Many reading/writing skills are common across the curriculum and providing students multiple guided experiences in a variety of contexts will improve their skills.
  • It is impossible for one teacher to provide all-inclusive instruction and practice in the myriad of reading and writing skills that young adolescents need. (Spencer,J. (2010) Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success. Westerville, OH: NMSA.)

An excellent resource for teams to use is a free download from the Internet! The Content Area Literacy Guide is from the CCSSO’s Adolescent Literacy Kit. You can find simply by googling “Content Area Literacy Guide”, and you will be directed to a downloadable PDF file. For a quick look, go to tiny.cc/literacystrategies  — there are over 20 strategies.

The Guide provides a description of each strategy and suggestions for how it might be used in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. These strategies are certainly applicable in other content areas as well.

For example, one strategy is Cue Questions Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Below you see examples of questions on two of the Taxonomy’s levels.

Here are suggestions from the Guide for using these cue questions in the content areas:

Check out this useful resource and work together to incorporate some of these strategies into your instruction.  Be sure to start small–one strategy at a time!

  • Choose one that will work for everyone.
  • Decide who will do the initial introductory instruction.
  • Brainstorm ideas on how to model and use this strategy in your different classes.
  • Plan out when the other teachers will use the strategy and reinforce it in their instructional plans.
  • Reflect as a team on how well the strategy is working:
  1. How has it been used?
  2. What is the students’ reaction? What problems, if any, are they having applying the strategy to their work?
  3. How might the team tweak the strategy to make it more effective?
  4. To what degree is the strategy improving the students’ understanding of their work?

Webcast On Vocab

Three BIG Reasons why everyone needs to play an active role in helping students develop a broad vocabulary:

  • The size of a student’s written vocabulary is a sure-fire indicator of his/her potential academic success
  • Reading comprehension in all content areas is affected by a student’s breadth of vocabulary knowledge
  • People need 25-30 encounters with a new word to truly internalize it.

The questions is how!?!  Here’s what not to do:

  • Assign a list of words for the students to look up in the dictionary.
  • Ask students to use words correctly in a sentence after a brief introduction to the words.

These are two of the least effective ways to help students internalize new words.

If not these traditional practices, then what!?!

Join Barbara Greenstone and Jill Spencer on a MLTI Webinar, Thursday, March 31st at 3:15 (eastern) or 7:15 (eastern) to participate in a conversation about effective vocabulary instruction.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by chrisjohnbeckett @ Maine121.org

March 31 Webinar – Vocabulary: There’s a Word for That!

“Every teacher, at any grade level or in any content area, faces the challenge of teaching vocabulary. The traditional practice of having students look up the word, copy the dictionary definition, use the word in a sentence, and then memorize it for a test has been proven ineffective. How can we help our students truly expand both their receptive and productive vocabularies?

In this webinar we will examine some of the research on best practices for vocabulary instruction as we explore how we can use some applications on the MLTI MacBook as well as some online resources to help our students learn new words, make strong connections, and retain the vocabulary they need for academic success.”

Here are the outcomes for the webinar:

Participants will:
• be aware of what research says about vocabulary instruction;
• know some practical strategies and techniques for vocabulary instruction;
• be aware of MacBook applications as well as online tools and resources that support vocabulary instruction;
• know where to go for more information and help;
• share resources, ideas, and experiences with the group.

If you you have never participated in an MLTI webinar you will find it quite easy.  Everyone is welcome even folks beyond the great State of Maine!

  1. You need both a phone and a computer.  It is best that the phone be on a direct line and not go through an automated voice mail system.
  2. Go to http://maine121.org/webcasts-2/ and scroll down to the calendar to March 31.  Click on the time that you wish to attend: 3:15 (eastern) or 7:15 (eastern).
  3. Follow the directions to join the webinar.
  4. If you cannot attend the live webinar, they are all archived.

See you online!

Review Vocab with Images

In an earlier post (Teach Academic Words as a Team) I mentioned that it may take 15-30 encounters with a new word before any of us really internalizes it. Here’s a strategy to review multiple words at a time that anyone on the team can use. You need chart paper and markers.  Or your students can use a draw program on their computers or mobile devices like I did for the example below.


  • Decide on 4 to 6 words you want to review and list them on the board.
  • Break the class up into groups of 2 or 3.  More than that and it’s too easy for an individual to remain hidden in the group.
  • Give each group a piece of chart paper and markers.
  • Have them fold the paper in fourths or sixths, depending on the number of words you are reviewing.
  • Have one student in each group record a different word in each of the blocks.  Be sure to specify that it shouldn’t take up more than small part of the block.
  • Then ask each group to work together to create images in the block that explain the terms.  Give them a time limit.
  • Share the work at the end of the time.


  • Because the point of this exercise is to help students internalize these words, encourage them to share information.  In fact you might say, “You have two minutes to talk to anyone in the room about these words before your start to draw!” or “You have 2 minutes to check any resource in the room to help you design a really accurate depiction of what this word means!”
  • Give different words to each group. Put your highest performing students together and make sure at least 1 or 2 of their words are new or the most difficult to grasp.  I wouldn’t put the lowest performing students together–they need to hear more articulate students discussing the words.
  • Have students pick their own words and create the images.  If they don’t include the words in the boxes, others can circulate and use sticky notes to indicate what the images are depicting.

Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock in their book Classroom Instruction That Works list non-linguistic representation as one of the nine strategies that has a high probability of increasing achievement. This activity is a simple approach to non-linguistic representation that is easy to implement. It ensures that

  • the students hear words discussed several times
  • the students see multiple visual representations of the words
  • the teacher has an opportunity to coach students in a non-threatening situation (no grades)
  • the teacher can observe who is understanding the new concepts and who isn’t and make suitable adjustment to upcoming instruction.

Imagine if the math teacher taught the students this activity and used it a couple of times so the students knew the process cold.   Her teammates could then use the same strategy in their classes, only they would not have to reteach the process! Time would be saved and learning would proceed.

I don’t have a name for this activity.  Make one up for your team that is catchy and the kids will remember–the Kennebec House 4 Square or the Red Team’s Vocab Pictographs.  A broad vocabulary knowledge is a gift a team can give to their students that will last a lifetime!

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