Saturday, February 15, 2014

Vocabulary study that works (for my class at least!)

I have spent the last three years trying different ways of teaching basic vocabulary with my students, never feeling like I had found a system that really worked. Finally, I have a system I like! I know I'm not the only one who struggles with the "how" of teaching vocabulary, so I wanted to share what's working in my class. Since my students are now so much more motivated to actually learn their words (and not just memorize them for the test), I'm linking up for Spark Student Motivation Saturday.

I do vocabulary in conjunction with Daily 5's Word Work. Last year, I frequently felt rushed with 4 days a week to teach and testing on Fridays, so this year, I switched to a 6 day cycle for reading & Daily 5. This way, we always have 5 days of instruction (regardless of holidays, snow days, etc.) and then an assessment day. I LOVE the freedom it allows and the flexibility to roll with the inevitable schedule changes, especially in the winter.

I am currently using Reading Olympians as my guide for vocabulary. By 5th grade, I feel like they really need to learn word parts and how to use them to decode unknown words rather than just memorizing vocabulary lists that they will likely forget next week. I love that this simplifies the process of choosing roots for each week. I've since found several other products on TPT that are similar, and all look great, but this is the one I chose at the time, and I've been pleased, although we don't follow their lesson plans.
Day 1:
Whole Group - I introduce a set of 10 word parts (roots, prefixes, or suffixes). We go over the word part and its meaning, and students write them in their word work notebook, skipping lines between them.
Center Rotations - During one of the rotations on day 1, everyone MUST list 5 words that use each word part. I tell them that they have to actually be able to tell what the word means to write it down, so they will pay attention to meanings and not just words!


Day 2 Whole Group - I make a quick poster (usually just on the back of some scrap paper) for each word part and students have 5 minutes to write one of the words they listed for each word part on the posters - sorry, I forgot to take pictures last week. The rule is that they can't copy one that's already on the poster. Then we go over the posters, which usually have at least a dozen words on them within the time limit, and decide "as a class" which words will be our vocabulary words for the week. Granted, I sometimes  guide them to choosing the word I want, but you know how that goes!

Days 2-5 Centers - Students have to complete 3 more word work activities over the four days, choosing from the activities in my Word Work for Big Kids pack (in my store on TPT). These activities are done using the vocabulary words we selected as a group, so they really take ownership of what they are learning.
*This has been recently updated with 5 new activities, so if you purchased it, go to TPT to re-download for free!

Days 3-5 Whole Group - We play a short game with the vocabulary words at the beginning of reading. Sometimes it's Sparkle (because they have to spell the words right on their tests). Sometimes I play 5 Clues (from my Word Work for Big Kids packet, but it's basically played like 20 questions, only shorter). Sometimes I make up a game on the fly. I try to mix it up, but they love the game aspect.

Assessment - Rather than fill in the blank tests, that are usually pretty easy when you have a list of mostly unrelated words, I have students write the word, a definition in their own words, and a "Super Sentence" that shows the meaning of the word. I have found this to be a much better way of assessing their true knowledge of the words rather than their guessing ability!

We also do a quick matching test of the roots and on Schoology, which grades the test for me (woohoo!). I allow that test to be retaken later on until they reach mastery (the stickers are for 90% or better), and we keep a chart in the classroom of their progress. As you can see, we have a little work to do on the Athena set!

I'd love to give away a couple of sets of my Word Work for Big Kids, so if you'd like a copy, pin it, and paste the URL into a comment below about how you would use it in your class. I'll use to pick three winners sometime on Tuesday. Make sure that you leave an email if you are a  no-reply blogger!


  1. This looks totally awesome. We do not do enough vocabulary instruction in my district. This looks like a way to help me get started by doing a better job. Thanks for the opportunity.

  2. Word Parts are key for unlocking new vocabulary! Have you read "Word Nerds"? GREAT resource for fun vocabulary activities.

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

    My students struggle with vocabulary and this looks like it will hold their interest. Thank you!

  4. Love your idea of a 6 day Daily 5 rotation so it's not rushed all in a week. I'm going to have to look at my schedule and change mine up as well...just too much going on to squeeze everything in especially when you're dealing with short weeks!!! I pinned your ward activities to my board. I have a word work station in my classroom and feel that I could use your product for my higher learners at that station. I'm always looking for ways to enrich vocabulary with al of my kids! Thanks for the chance!
    Mrs. Bentin's Blackboard

  5. I've also used RO with success. We are vocab with HMH Journeys this year, and it doesn't do as good of a job, in my opinion. Here's my pin -

  6. I feel as though I struggle with vocabulary for my 5th graders. I'm not sure they are getting enough out of it, the way I am doing it. Just looking up the word and memorizing it for Friday's test isn't going to have a lasting impression on them. I may need to try some of your ideas!

    Sara :)
    The Colorful Apple

  7. These look great. I love your system.

    Fit to be Fourth


We LOVE to read your comments, and prefer to reply by email so that you will receive our responses. Make sure you're not a "No Reply Blogger" or leave your email address in your comment.Thanks for stopping by! :)