Word Spokes

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

by C. Ramos

One of the many things we learned in our Literacy Development and Language Study course this summer is the way to incorporate word study strategies to improve vocabulary acquisition. We read Timothy V. Rasinski and Nancy D. Padak’s book titled From Phonics to Fluency. They explained how helping students gain knowledge of affixes and root word meanings allow them to be more successful in understanding unknown words, in particular academic vocabulary.

As a teacher, when it came time to introduce prefixes and suffixes to my students I would begin with the definitions of what they are. I would follow this definition by supplying a list of common prefixes and suffixes that my students will come across when they read. Along with each prefix and suffix, I would provide the meaning of each and give my students examples of words with prefixes and the words’ meaning. I realize now that this method does not give my students opportunities to interact with new words involving affixes, nor take ownership of learning how to make meaning of these words.

One activity I came across in From Phonics to Fluency really caught my attention because it made me think about the way I teach and reinforce affixes and root words. This activity is titled Word Spokes. Through Word Spokes, the students create a visual display of affixes and root words to understand their meanings. To begin the students are placed in groups (can be done individually) and given a prefix or root word. Then they are handed a chart paper with a drawing of a spoke (think of a wagon wheel). In their groups, the students brainstorm words that they have come across that has that specific prefix. Next, each student will write down the words they thought of at the end of their designated spoke section. The teacher will then guide the students into discussing the meanings of the words they wrote and write them down. From there the students will create a sentence using their word. Once they have completed this, the students will draw the meaning of the word in the sentence. Each Word Spoke chart can be placed around the classroom to allow students to refer to them to help them understand unknown words, and teachers can encourage students to add onto each Word Spoke.

Although the photo example given below is a poster by Smekens Education Solutions, Inc., Word Spokes can easily be created using markers and chart paper.

word spoke pic

Word Meaning Strategies for Emerging Bilinguals

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Rebekah Munoz

Reading for an emerging bilingual can be quite frustrating while encountering many unfamiliar words. Most of the time these students will simply skip over unknown words and keep reading which negatively affects their comprehension. Other times they will ask a friend or teacher for the meaning of the word. I am guilty of quickly offering a word meaning to continue with instruction. The last resort is usually the dictionary. Although sometimes beneficial, most students do not understand how to look up words and run into more challenges trying to understand the definitions. I have had many students who find the reading task too difficult with few experiences of success so they quickly become turned off to reading all together. During this summer course while reading From Phonics to Fluency and other online articles, I have found many effective strategies and activities that will help struggling emerging bilinguals during the reading process. My focus now is to encourage students to become problem-solvers so they can become independent thinkers and discover word meanings effectively.

One strategy I have used before was teaching my students word parts such as the suffix and prefix. I had a list of these affixes posted on the wall and every now and then would draw attention to them whenever I remembered. This method was not effective and did not support word meaning. One change I will start implementing this year will be for my students to become active participants in word meaning activities so they can internalize the information. Instead of just having a predetermined list on the wall, I want them to create their own affix word chart.

Teachers can give a list of words starting with the same prefix for students to decode. This will allow them to see how words can be broken into smaller units of meaning. This activity can be extended by having them create a word web to come up with additional words with the same prefix. This allows them to think of other similar word parts on their own. Once completed, the word web can be posted on the wall for future reference. This activity is meaningful because students become investigators of the word meaning process.

Another strategy I find particularly effective is the use of cognates. Cognates are words that can share similar either spelling or sound in two different languages. Such as rosa is Spanish and rose in English. I have just recently discovered the use and benefits of cognates; in fact, as a beginning teacher I was instructed to permit English only in the classroom. I now see how ridiculous it is to disregard my students’ first language especially when it supports the learning of a second language. An easy activity would be to have small groups of students skim through a book to look for words which are similar in Spanish. They can create a word wall to list all the cognates in Spanish and English. Once again this word wall can be posted for future reference and would be continuously added to throughout the year. Using cognates increases their vocabulary and supports the learning process to read and speak in English. Most importantly, it also allows them to use their background knowledge and strengths as a Spanish speaker.

These strategies are easy to use and prove effective to help emerging bilinguals become proficient second language readers. Once students learn new strategies to attack word meanings they will discover that they can figure out unknown words independently.

Using Word Walls

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By B. Leal

Like many teachers in my district, I use word walls.  Every year, at the beginning of the year, the required word wall goes up. It usually contains the words required by the school, plus the vocabulary for the lesson to be taught, and perhaps some concepts we are to cover for the six weeks.  They sit in a corner of the room looking pretty and colorful, and students are supposed to look at them and somehow use them in their learning.  The problem with my word walls up to this point is that no one had ever told me how to use them.   I was told I needed to have words up on the wall, so words went up on the wall and sat there all year as just another decoration.

From Phonics to Fluency has made me think about and question my beliefs about word walls and their usefulness.  I used to see them as something static and teacher made to fulfill requirements.  Now, I am beginning to see them as something dynamic created with students’ help as a tool for learning.  Although a great deal of the activities in the book are geared towards elementary children, they served as a springboard for new ideas on how I want to implement word walls at the middle school level in the coming years.

Word walls should be something that students can utilize.  Perhaps it should continue to include the mandated words of the week from the school curriculum, but used as a way for students to learn new vocabulary.  Students will not learn the words by staring at them pasted on the wall.  Instead, they can play games with the words on the wall as they learn them.  They can use the words of the week to create a story or ask a question.  They can design categories for the walls and move them around as more words are added.  I would definitely not put up all one hundred words at the beginning of the year, but introduce them a little at a time to ensure students acquire them as new vocabulary.

Another great idea I picked up from From Phonics to Fluency is the creation of writing walls as an addition to word walls.  Students can pick sentences from their writing, or sentences they read in other’s writing, and post them on the writing wall.   This way, authentic writing they can use and imitate as they write surrounds students.  It validates their work, and perhaps helps them look carefully at what they write leading them to become better writers.

Word walls should not be up in a classroom, forgotten because no one knows what to do with them, but there because administration says they need to be there. We need to end word wall decorations and start using them as tools to help students learn new vocabulary, understand concepts, and help in their writing.

Vocabulary in High School

This semester in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study, students were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By Ann V.

Since becoming a high school English teacher close to twenty years ago, I have participated in many conversations centered around how to teach vocabulary in a way so that students will be able to use the words correctly in speaking, writing and reading throughout their lives. Unfortunately, this is a difficulty that doesn’t seem to go away. Despite many different attempts, quality vocabulary instruction is still something that is lacking in many high school classrooms.

Since becoming the English Instructional Coach for my school, I have been put in charge of helping teachers implement several different strategies in their classrooms. One of these instructional strategies that I know I will have to focus on for this coming year is vocabulary instruction and the use of word walls.  We are already expected to use word walls, but there is not a teacher I know that uses it effectively. With the help of the book From Phonics to Fluency, the internet, and adjusting ideas that I have seen done in different classrooms, I have come to understand several important factors involved with teaching vocabulary and also, how word walls can help teachers and students with that vocabulary.

First, with so many words that students must know, how do teachers chose the vocabulary to focus on?  From my understanding, vocabulary must be useful to the students, usable by the students and frequently used in the particular subject area. Also, teachers don’t want to have so many new words that it is overwhelming for the students. Many teachers have the students chose the words that are going to be studied, so they can pick the words that they need help with the most. After deciding what words to focus one, making sure that the students have the opportunity to use these words in meaningful ways is the next step in effective vocabulary instruction.

Word walls can be a very easy, yet meaningful strategy that any subject area teacher can implement into their curriculum. Among many other things, words walls can improve vocabulary which will improve reading, comprehension and writing skills. They also reinforce understanding of vocabulary found in specific subject areas so that the students can internalize these key concepts. Awareness of spelling patterns and therefore, spelling improvement is also a benefit that word walls provide the students. One of the biggest advantages that word walls can contribute to the classroom is students becoming more independent when reading and writing, which is what every teacher strives for.

To make the word walls meaningful is what is important. There are many ways that teachers can make these walls helpful to students. The use of word walls for vocabulary instruction can be used for whole group, small group, or individual activities. In order for the students to use the wall as much as necessary, it is a good idea for the vocabulary on the wall to be in large font so that it is visible from anywhere in the classroom. Also, many teacher organize their words in alphabetical order and color code them so that students can find whatever word they are looking for as quickly as possible. Lastly, making the wall interactive so they students can move the words around makes the students take ownership of the vocabulary.

There are many ways that secondary teachers can teach vocabulary, and using word walls is just one of many ideas that can be used in the classroom in order for students to not only know, but also understand and correctly use new vocabulary.

Vocabulary in a Bag

This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By: A. Castillo

My fifth grade students and I were reading an expository article, from Time for Kids magazine, about magnets to support (or add) to their knowledge they had previously acquired during their Science block.  I was shocked to discover that many of my students could not tell me the meaning of disconnect.  I thought this would be a word they could easily explain; however, they were genuinely stumped by the word.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was in awe!  Afterwards, I remember thinking how my students have truly struggled with vocabulary all school year – with words that I took for granted they would understand.  So, the wheels started turning.  I had to figure out an activity interesting enough to keep their attention and, yet, meaningful of an experience that they would value the purpose of it.  I immediately thought of an activity my oldest daughter had done in her middle school math class.  All I had to do was tweak it so it could be utilized for a reading class.  As a result, vocabulary in a bag was created.

In her book, Yellow Brick Roads (2000), Janet Allen quotes research from Baker, Simmons, and Kameenui that confirms “reading is probably the most important mechanism for vocabulary growth throughout a student’s school-age years and beyond” (p. 184).  During reading, students kept record of unknown words in their journal.  These words were from a read aloud, class novel, or their personal reading.  At the end of the class period, we would collaborate to discuss the words as a whole group, small group, or with partners.  After numerous discussions, I instructed the students to narrow their lists to a couple of words.  We would then use these words to illustrate vocabulary in a bag.

 Their chosen vocabulary term(s) was written creatively on the top center of the white bag.  Next, they would re-read the word in the context it was used and write a definition of the word.  Then, they would select a picture from magazines that coordinated with the word.  The purpose of the picture was to help my English language learners (ELLs) match the word to a visual.  On the left side of the bag, students would create synonyms of the word. This helps students broaden their vocabulary by becoming familiar with other words that have the same meaning.  On the right side of the bag, students would create antonyms of the word. This assists students to differentiate between examples and non-examples.  The motive behind creating synonyms and antonyms was because I noticed they had a limited vocabulary of basic words.  For example, they knew what the word cry means and how to use it in a sentence, but they had never heard of whimper, bawl, or wail.  I wanted to expose them to new language.

blog post 2As I mounted the vocabulary bags onto the wall to showcase our personal class word wall, I noticed that the activity resembled Janet Allen’s Language Choices, from Yellow Brick Roads (2000), in which she had recorded overused words in books her and her students were reading together (p.189).  My students had created their personal language collection.  I happen to agree with Allen with “using language collection with my students as a way to help them become more aware of language and find words they could appropriate for their own use” (p. 184).  This activity has had a positive impact on my students’ speaking and writing skills.  For example, I can recall a student tell me “Ma’am, this assignment was easy.  No, I mean effortless”.  I also noticed how they would use their creation as a resource while they wrote. 

It is moments like these that signal to me this activity was interesting and meaningful to them as I had hoped for.