Thursday, June 13, 2013

What's the Big Deal About Vocabulary Instruction? {Word Nerds Book Study}

I'm excited to share some summer reading with you all!  First up is a Book Study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary hosted by Sabra at Teaching With a Touch of Twang
 See other posts here: Ch 1, Ch 2, Ch 3, Ch 4, Ch 5, Ch 6, Ch 7


Literary specialist Brenda Overturf, along with teachers Leslie Montgomery and Margot Smith, share the 5 part plan they've developed to help students learn "word confidence" and get excited about discovering new words. (Their recommendations are geared mainly toward K-6 teachers.)

Why Teach Vocabulary?

In Chapter 1 (What's the Big Deal About Vocabulary Instruction?) the authors outline the case for explicit vocabulary instruction. Some of their main points:
    • Knowing the "right words" helps students understand and show knowledge of a subject with confidence
    • Improved vocabulary is strongly correlated with increased reading comprehension
    • The Common Core Standards focus on word knowledge from Grades K-5 and beyond, asking students to "Ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text" and "Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary..." 
    • There's a "30-million word gap" between children from low-income families and those with a more affluent background (WOW!)

    10 Key Components

    Overturf, Montgomery, & Smith glean from their research on vocabulary instruction the following ten "essential ingredients" for word study.
    1. Some words are more important to teach than others. (Focus mostly on general high-frequency terms that will be used in school, and then content-specific terms.)
    2. Students have to learn words at more than one level. (Range of knowledge should extend beyond identifying the definition to using the word correctly in all it's forms and meanings.)
    3. Students learn words when they experience them multiple times. (It could take 6-12 exposures.)
    4. Asking students to look up words in the dictionary and write the definitions does not help them learn words. (Definitions in plain language is the way to go!)
    5. When students learn words, they build patterns and networks of meaning called "word schemas." (Help build the framework by making connections to their lives and including work with synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, and root words.)
    6. Students can learn some words through the use of wide reading. (Guiding students through a variety of texts and different genres can build their word knowledge.)
    7. Students can learn some words through rich conversations with adults and peers. (Academic discussions and interactive read-alouds help students make connections and learn words for new concepts.)
    8. Students can learn some words through word play. (Encouraging children to be risk-takers with language and sparking their curiosity about words will help them develop word confidence. Multisensory vocabulary instruction - visual/auditory/kinesthetic/tactile combinations - helps students connect to language more deeply.)
    9. Students can learn some words by direct instruction. (Marzano and other researchers agree that teaching words can effectively improve achievement.)
    10. Most students need word-learning strategies to become independent readers. (Help students to unlock context clues in the sentence and passage to determine meanings. Again, teaching roots, prefixes, and suffixes will help children decipher unfamiliar words.
      Although I do love teaching my students the secrets of the dictionary, I also know that reference books don't always provide the right kind of information to help children figure out unknown words. Or, most importantly, use them correctly. Being a bit of a word magpie myself, I get excited about learning and using new words and phrases so I'm eager to start Chapter 2 and get into the meat and potatoes of their word study program. Also - I'm hoping to gather some ideas to get the most out of "Word Work" time during Daily 5.

      1. How do I select words to teach and how many per week are recommended?
      2. Should spelling words be the same as the vocabulary words or is it better to keep those separate?

      Are you really happy with your students' word knowledge and the vocabulary instruction in your class?  If yes, please share what works for you!  If not, grab your copy of the book right here:

      and jump into the conversation this summer! Just click on the image below to join us!
      Hope to see you there!


      1. Great post! I'm reading several other books, taking a class, hanging out with my boys, etc. long story short, I didn't have time to read this chapter but you did a fabulous job summarizing it. :). I'm interested in the answers to your questions too, so I'll be back.
        Creating Lifelong Learners

      2. Thanks, Brandee! So far it's a great book and I feel like I'm getting a lot of bang for my buck since the strategies can be applied to ANY subject - Math, Science, Writing, etc... But I totally get being busy. Maybe you can add it to you WishList for later. :-)

        What class are you taking?

        From Mrs. Allen’s Teaching Files

      3. I'm a "word-nerd" too! I love vocabulary! I use my vocab from our current reading as spelling words. I have never understood the need to learn random unconnected words (ie the spelling book)...just my thoughts :) I'm interested in what others think!

        5th Grade Tomfoolery


        1. HI Teri! I know...seems like it would be more efficient and powerful to combine vocab and spelling.Thanks for stopping by!

          From Mrs. Allen's Teaching Files

      4. Great questions! I've always done them separately but occasionally those spelling words could be vocab words. We have a new reading series we have to use next year so I'm interested to see what they do. Fabulous post! Thanks for linking up!

        Teaching with a Touch of Twang

        1. Hi Sabra! Thanks for hosting the book study - I love it so far and am glad to see that some resources I already use (like the Frayer Model) are recommended. Nice to know you don't have to change everything. :-)

          From Mrs. Allen's Teaching Files

      5. I think some of your questions will be answered in Chapter Two which I've read already (I'm on chapter 4--I can't stop reading it, it's so good!). The farther I go in the book, the more I can see how and where you might be able to get even more bang for the buck by using word patterns from your spelling list along with your vocabulary words.

        1. Hi Raye! I'm already on Chapter 3 myself, so some things are becoming clearer. Isn't it amazing that we're getting so excited about a Vocabulary book - lol!

          From Mrs. Allen's Teaching Files

      6. Oh man, this book looks terrific! Teaching more vocabulary is one of my personal goals for next year and I think I just might need this book. I don't know when I will have time to read it, but I'm adding to to my Amazon list today!

        The Teaching Thief

        1. Hi Amanda! It really is good - and not too long either which is nice for summer. :-)

          From Mrs. Allen's Teaching Files

      7. Hi! I've been following the book study through all of your blogs. I have finished reading the book but am still confused about how to choose the words to do each week. Am I the only one? :)
        By the way, we do not have a reading program that we use here.
        Alyssa MacIsaac
        Rothesay, New Brunswick

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