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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Does Your Middle School Classroom Have A Word Wall?

        Anyone who knows me knows that I can talk for hours about vocabulary and the need for both explicit and implicit instruction in  all middle and high school classrooms.  A colleague of mine recently attended a conference by Doug Fischer and Nancy Frey who reminded the educators in the room that ALL students are English Language Learners.  In other words, building our word knowledge is essential if students are to understand complex text and communicate effectively.  Often we as teachers think that only struggling readers need vocabulary instruction and that vocabulary instruction is the job of the English teacher only  The leading research, however, in reading would argue that as texts become more complex in all subject areas, students require explicit vocabulary instruction in order to successfully navigate the texts. In fact, the one of the six instructional shifts of the Common Core speaks for the need for more explicit vocabulary instruction.   So what can you do TODAY to help your students become more successful with the texts they encounter in your classroom?  Here are five research-based practices  that will help students begin to learn new words and ultimately comprehend what they are reading on a deeper level in all classes....

  1. Use Pre-Assessment Data To Select The Words You Will 
    Explicitly Teach:  Since students can learn only about 5-10 words at a time, it is essential that you choose the words carefully that you will spend time explicitly teaching.  Why not give a pre-assessment to ensure that the words  to which you are devoting instructional time are truly the words students do not know?  I have often been surprised by the words that confuse my students.  A quick three-minute pre-assessment can help you to group students effectively and spend precious instructional time on the words that students truly need to know.
  2. Create a word wall:   When you introduce new words, add the words to a bulletin board or blank wall in your classroom.  All content area classes in middle schools and high schools should have word walls, yet we as educators often only associate these items with early elementary grades.  In my classroom, our word wall is comprised of two notecards: the first contains the word and the card behind it contains a simple definition.  A great activity could require students to add visual pictures of each word as they are learned.
  3. Engage students in Word Conversations (as created by Beck and McGeown).   Introduce academic words to your class by discussing the word and how it is used. Use the words in sentences for your students.  Ask students questions using the words and encourage them to respond using the words.  Find ways to use the words authentically in class discussions whenever possible.  
  4. Provide students opportunities to be repeatedly exposed to the same words multiple times.  Research shows that students must interact with the same words at least five times before they will truly own the word.  These exposures should encourage students to connect the new word to their existing background knowledge.    
  5. Make Word Learning Fun:  Play games!   Most students despise vocabulary instruction because it involves looking words up in dictionaries.  Not only is this an ineffective way to learn new words, but it is pretty boring.  Students usually do not understand the definitions or the context in which they should use the new word. No wonder why we get students writing sentences like "Pass the Obscure, I want to change the channel" when the definition is listed as remote. Students need more.  Instead of dusting off those old dictionaries,  spice things up a bit.  After introducing new words, consider using  Marzano's book Vocabulary Games for the Classroom.  This book  is an excellent resource to use to encourage repeated exposure of new words in an engaging way.