Walking to the Tune of Vocabulary


Vocabulary instruction is a rewarding and difficult task for teachers at all levels. There are several ways to teach vocabulary. Since students all learn at different rate and levels, multiple strategies are needed to appeal to students. It is important not to rule out strategies because what works for an ELL student may be beneficial for an honors student. The words both sets of students are studying may be different, but the mental process may be very similar.

I often have students make mind-body connections while studying vocabulary. I even encourage students to do the same outside of school when they encounter words they don’t know. As we are in the final preparations for our state testing cycle, we are reinforcing academic vocabulary with our students and having them form body pictures with the word in mind. The idea is that the pose they create will help them remember the word when they encounter it in the future in a text or on the test.

Another strategy I love to use during the warmer seasons is the vocabulary walk. I’m sure I have blogged about this in the past, but it is a fun strategy that helps to break the doldrums of the classroom setting. Recently, I practiced this strategy in my classroom. I had students split into groups of three. Each group was given an envelope. The envelope contained several words, some vocabulary and some adjectives and verbs. As a class, we exited the building and headed outdoors. Each group spread out and one person was selected to take a single word out of the envelope. Each member of the group had 30 seconds to come up with a sentence for the word as the entire group walked together. I gave a signal (this could be a whistle) for groups to stop and a different person in the group was charged with pulling out another word from the envelope. Each member in the group had about 30 seconds to come up with a sentence using both words. This activity continued until all words were used. As more words were pulled from the envelope more time was needed to construct the sentences.

Once we headed back into the classroom, each group was given the chance to share what it thought was the group’s best sentence. This activity uses repetition and movement as a way to reinforce vocabulary concepts.

Photo: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2014-04-25-Walking_JR_604.jpg


Finding the Words


Taking notes can be a bore.  Students will often groan when mentioning part of the class period will be used to take notes, but taking notes can be exhilarating.  It is hard to imagine using the words notes and exhilarating in the same sentence.  Another word that can create a buzz…in a negative way… is vocabulary.  Taking notes on academic vocabulary can be energizing! In fact, some students in my classroom actually get excited when I mention we are going to take notes on academic vocabulary.

One activity that I like to use is called the Hot and Cold Vocabulary. In this activity,  I begin by hiding the first vocabulary word around the room before students enter. Usually, I attach it to a student desk or chair.  I tell students to begin the activity by trying to locate the first word.  Students search their close proximity to find the word.  This begins to excite them.  After the word is found, we add it the note section of their vocabulary section.

For the second phase, I ask a student to leave the classroom with a watcher (who watches the student).  Working together, the rest of the class hides the next term in the room.  When the student returns, the class performs an action.  For example, we might start clapping.  As the student moves closer to the object, we clap faster/louder.  As the student moves away, we slow the clapping down or stop clapping altogether.  Once the student finds the word, we add it to the vocabulary section.

Depending on time, this process might be repeated multiple times. Following this activity, we explain the words in more depth, or we begin reading a text.  Since the students are engaged mentally due to the physical movement, they following activity is usually quiet and met with deep concentration.

How to Improve Reading With Cross-Lateral Activities

There are several studies that have surfaced making connections between reading comprehension or reading fluency and movement.  In addition, there is research that makes connections between cross-lateral movement and academic achievement.  In the attached link, several cross-lateral movements are included.  Cross-lateral movements are easy to do and take little time to complete, so for those who are concerned about time in the classroom and fear that movement activities might detract, these exercises may be appealing.


Testing and Moving


The testing moment is upon us…..

Or perhaps the testing beast….

Or testing nightmare….

Testing delight???

OK.  That might be pushing the envelope a bit much.  In a little over a month, students in Washington will be taking the much anticipated state test in reading, writing, math, and science.  It is at this moment that anxiety starts to set in for teachers and students.  As an English teacher for 7th and 8th grade students, my brain starts to overload as I think about three tests (two in writing and one in reading).  This is the testing season where I attempt to review, reteach, review, reteach, review,……. Some would argue that this is teaching to the test, which is probable accurate to some degree.  I also think it is emphasize skills students need to have in reading and writing.  I just wish the demands and repercussions of the test were not so high or stressful.

I believe, during this testing season, it is critical  to get students up and moving.  It helps to calm the anxiety of both teachers and students. It can help break up monotony as well as re-energize students as they make mind-body connections to the content being studied.

It may sound silly, but little moments of physical activity can create a surge in success for students.  One of the teachers in my building created a thesis statement dance, so we have decided to create an entire essay dance.  Students roll their eyes during it, but they have fun and they are constantly reviewing it physically and mentally as we prepare them for the essays they have to write.  Will this actually help them on the test?  We won’t know for sure.  We only wait several months before the testing results are relinquished from the realms of the state.  Until then, I believe that during this testing season, it is possible to experience positive stress, have fun, teach with high expectations and standards, and be human!

Stickies and Close Reading


I have read, had, listened to, and led various discussions regarding the process of close reading.  In fact, I’m going to lead a session tomorrow morning on the topic.  To some, close reading can be tedious to teach and have students experience; however, I find it fascinating to watch students go through the process.  When a short text of a paragraph or two, limited to one page, is selected, the effort students put forth to analyze the text can really illustrate the power of words.  With that said, I sometimes get a groan from my students when I announce, quite excitedly, that we are going to engage in a close reading of a text.  So, with my practice of adding movement to my classroom, I have developed several ways to “jazz up” the close read experience by having students get up out of their seats during the process of close reading.  I am including one of the activities I will be highlighting during my training tomorrow. It is a fairly simple activity that students love because they get to analyze the text in more than one way visually in groups and as a whole class.  Plus, the process allows me to listen to the discussions students have to get a better understanding of how various students are understanding more complex texts.

 Close Read Sort and Stick

Each student receives a short stack of sticky notes.  Individually, students read the  selected close read text.  While students are reading, they write key words or  phrases from the text on the sticky notes provided.  When each student has  finished the reading task, students share their answers in groups of four.  Poster papers with four categories are placed around the room:  tone, inferences, figurative language, and theme (relationship to characters, setting, and plot).  Groups discuss the sticky notes written by each member and determine the category for each word.  The sticky notes are then placed on the large posters.  After each group sorts the words, the class discusses the placement of the words and reposition words if needed.

Motivating Readers by Reading Through Movement


Middle school readers are challenging to motivate.  Those that love to read enjoy reading books in class and diving into rich classroom discussions enthusiastically.  Those that struggle, or claim not to enjoy reading, sit in a fog of denial, selflessness, and bleak daydreams.  This might be a bit extreme, but there seems to be two types of students in the Language Arts classroom:  readers and nonreaders.  Bridging the gap between these two by the time students reach middle school is a demanding process, but it is also a worthwhile process.  When I glance at the students in my classes, I see the dread in the eyes of the reluctant readers when I divulge we are going to be reading a new text.  Perhaps the wall students build to fortify their stance against reading is due to the fear of having to sit for long periods of time; the social embarrassment they face if they fail to understand concepts, words, or plot; or the belief that if they haven’t enjoyed reading by middle school, they will never enjoy it.

Doom.  Do we, as educators, accept that reluctant and struggling readers  will remain in this temperament? I believe we have to do whatever is in our power to help inspire and prepare our students to read.  There are several ways to address these types of readers, but I would like to suggest that breaking up the monotony of “seated” reading can help motivate students due to an active versus a passive environment.

As I have been preparing for the Association for Middle Level Educators Conference in Minneapolis this week, I have selected several activities to help energize and motivate reading activities within the classroom.  I will be presenting a workshop titled, Reading Through Movement.  One of the activities I will showcase is a simple activity involving predetermined partners students need to find at various points in the reading process.  The process was originally presented in a workshop I attended led by Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute:


This activity can be used as a Before, During or After Reading Strategy.  It can be used as a Before Reading Strategy to activate prior knowledge, as a During Reading Strategy to check for understanding, and it can be used as After Reading Strategy to summarize a text.

One way to use this is to have students find 12, 3, 6, and 9 partners and write them down on the clock template. At various points, the teacher can tell students to find a specific partner to discuss a question or recall various pieces of the plot of the story.  For example, a teacher may instruct that each student needs to find his or her “12” partner to answer a question regarding the conflict presented in the exposition of a short story. This strategy can be used for multiple questions during the reading of a text allowing students to move several times to find one of their partners (question #1 might be answered with the “12” partner, question #2 with the “6” partner, etc).  Students can keep these same partners throughout the duration of the unit or they can change at the introduction of a new lesson.


There are several moments during the reading process that teachers either ask students questions, or they have students discuss in partners or small groups.  This activity allows student to not only answer questions or discuss with their peers, but also to get up and move!

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, http://www.visuwords.com/, 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.