Taking Your Word Study Lessons Up a Notch


Developmental word study has proven materials for instruction including digital word sorts, games, and word study notebooks. These tools, when combined with effective engagement and student reflection, ensure that students understand the orthographic generalizations that underlie the word sorts. Try out the following engagement and reflection exercises in your distance or hybrid learning classroom today:

Student Reflection Distinguishes Successful Word Study Programs

Categorize. Generalize. Reflect. At the beginning of every lesson plan in Word’s Their Way, we note the generalization that underlies the lesson and we show how the words are categorized. Our goal is that through the categorization, students will then be able to make a generalization about the sort. Students do not need to memorize the generalization verbatim, but rather, we want them to explain the generalization in their own words to answer: “Why did you sort / categorize these words the way you did?”

They should also prepare to think of other examples of words that are similar orthographically. Even when they play a game, students explain why they have categorized words to go together. The sorts and notebook entries are props: 1) to introduce a lesson and 2) for students to practice categorizing orthographic patterns and seeing the generalizations for themselves.

Student reflection distinguishes successful word study programs. This critical thinking is usually a part of small group discussions and is apparent in their written reflections in their vocabulary notebooks.

Fresh Idea For Your Classroom: teach students to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered yes or no. Showing and explaining the generalization to someone else cements learning, so teach students how to ask each other questions to guide reflection. After categorizing the words, ask student partners to develop an open-ended question about why they categorized words the way they did. Have students enter one of their questions on a class chart of open-ended questions. Try a sample lesson.

Vocabulary is a Multilane Highway to New Ideas and Concepts

All students need to master content vocabulary; seeing the vocabulary in one context is insufficient. There needs to be equity in access for students with varying skills and talents. For most students, by middle school, most vocabulary learning comes from reading. To expand students’ vocabulary experiences, find the varying networks of information that present the vocabulary and concepts about the topics they study.

Have students explore various modalities to find vocabulary in its many forms. Try starting with images (Google Images) and videos (YouTube), or word webs; and look at the online course lectures on almost any vocabulary and concept we teach. The vocabulary that students pick up along the highway becomes more technical each year. By the intermediate grades, more than 80% of the new vocabulary comes from Greek or Latin origins. For this reason, in dictionaries and word histories, little etymologies are used to broaden and deepen students’ vocabularies.

Fresh Idea For Your Classroom: to create an ethic of responsibility for learning vocabulary, ask students to find five words that are important and interesting in their assigned reading. Once they have those words, teach them how to explore the words in greater depth using multiple sources. We often teach 10-15 words each week.

For disciplinary vocabulary, ask students to create a section in their notebooks for say, science vocabulary. Then, ask them to find five words that are important but unfamiliar or that have a new meaning. Students share these lists in their digital, class vocabulary notebooks. We also explore general academic words that they will see in most textbooks (consequence, regulate).

Finally, we always enjoy including generative vocabulary that uncovers dozens of related words. For example, 1000+ words have the prefix syn- (together) or a root like agr- field. Generative word study presents anchor words in the study of affixes and roots with plenty of examples of related words as you can see in a sample lesson on these three roots and anchor words: mat (mother) / matriarch, pat (father) / patriarch, frat (brother) / fraternity.

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Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


About the Author

Donald Bear

Literacy Author, Professor at Iowa State University