Forming Links with Vocabulary


I am presenting a workshop at the KDP International Honor Society in Education’s Convocation this week.  The title of the session is Vocabulary Building Strategies and the Common Core.  Multiple Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy focus on vocabulary building, specifically:

Reading:  Craft and Structure
CCSS Anchor Standard 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Language:  Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
CCSS Anchor Standard 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
CCSS Anchor Standard 5: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Marzano discusses six steps to teaching vocabulary:
•Step One:  Provide a description, explanation, or example of new term.
•Step Two:  Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
•Step Three:  Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term.
•Step Four:  Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their notebooks.
•Step Five:  Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
•Step Six:  Involve students periodically in games or activities that allow them to play with the terms.
One of the activities that I will share in the workshop focuses primarily on steps four-six. Students, in groups of 4,  are asked to choose one word from a list of words given to them.  After choosing the word of their choice, students go to the  visuwords website,, and enter the word.  visuwords-screenshot
Students spend some time in their groups discussing the diagram they have created.  Next, students recreate the diagram, or a portion of the diagram, and physically illustrate the diagram for the class. This could be through actions, with posters, or any other means they choose to present the information to the class. The key is they are up, physically active, and engaged in the discussion of the selected word.

WEC and Close Reading


I am finalizing my presentation for the Washington Educators’ Conference.  This year I will be presenting during the fourth concurrent session:  Literacy-Rich Vocabulary.  I think there was a bit of a mistake with the title as I will be presenting about close reading and the Common Core.  I think they used last year’s title, or something similar, but I am looking forward to presenting.

I will be previewing various aspects of close reading and strategies to use in the classroom.  I thought I would share one of the activities I will be talking about below.  I title the activity:  Piecing the Close Read Puzzle Together

A shorter text, no larger than a paragraph or two, is needed for this activity.  The text is enlarged so each individual sentence can be cut creating puzzle strips.  For longer sentences, sentences can be split into two.  Students receive an envelope of paper strips and told to put the text in order.  Once the text has been put in order, students read the text in their table groups.  Students identify a sentence that highlights the overall tone or mood of the text or provides a strong inference.  Each group brings the highlighted sentence and places it on a larger piece of paper at the front of the room.  Groups could also cut a single word or phrase from the sentence and bring it to the front of the room.  Students participate in a whole-class discussion focusing on similarities and why groups chose the highlighted pieces of text as important slices of the overall text.

One of the points of the activity is to provide students with the sense of discovery along with a focus on the author’s language.  Students are actively involved and activities like this one break up the monotony of the basic close read activity being performed over and over again.

Counterclockwise Close Reading with Colors

A young man looking through a magnifying glass

There has been quite a buzz recently around the practice of close reading.  Teachers and educational gurus have mixed thoughts about the how close reading should be taught when implementing the Common Core State Standards.  Some teachers are really excited about the practice and the possibility of moving students toward a deeper discussion and analysis of the text.  Others are afraid of ruining a true and organic reading experience for students.  I can see the pros and cons of both arguments and I have not taken a position either way.  I do know, as an English teacher, that I instruct my students about close reading, its role within the Common Core State Standards, and the effectiveness it can have on analysis.

I have developed an activity that can be used to teach components of close reading.  I use color-specific highlighters when teaching reading strategies.  One of the colors I use is blue to represent what I call the blueprint of reading a text.  My students know this as the purpose behind reading a selected text.  For this example, let’s assume the purpose of reading the text of this activity is to identify words the author uses to create a sense of suspense.  In this activity, students sit in groups of four, so in an average class, a total of eight table groups would exist.  Each group receives a section of text.  The text would need to be  enlarged so that each person could easily read the text when it is placed in the center of the table group.  One student reads the text aloud to his or her group (depending on the length of the text, more than one student could share this role).  Once the text has been read, students talk about words, or phrases, in the text that indicate the author’s use of suspense.  Student decide on one word or phrase within the text where the strongest of use of suspense occurs, and they highlight the word or phrase with blue.  After a determined amount of time, students rotate counterclockwise to the next table group, read the new section of the text, and decide on the best use of suspense.  If the word or phrase they want to highlight is already highlighted, they mark the word or phrase  with a number one and highlight a second choice and mark it with a number two.  Students rotate from group to group until they have read all eight sections of the text.

After reading all sections of the text, students discuss in their groups common words, phrases, and stylistic choices the author uses to create a sense of suspense.  Students then discuss and choose the most powerful example to share with the entire class.   This can turn into a larger Socratic Seminar, a written analysis, or the activity can end with a Close Reading Tableau (see earlier Vocabulary Tableau post) of the most powerful words or phrases identified.

The text used in this activity needs to be short and a text worthy of a close read.  This activity allows students to move, creates interest, and engages students in higher-level discussion.