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55 Words That Make or Break Student Understanding

The academic vocabulary all students need and how to teach it so they remember it.

Kelli Westling Instructional Leader Tech and Apollo High Schools

Based on the book by Marilee Sprenger

One of the key indicators of students success in school, on standardized tests, and indeed, in life, is their vocabulary. The reason for this is simply that the knowledge anyone has about a topic is based on the vocabulary of that information (Marzano and Pickering, 2005).

Learning Goal:
O Explain the purpose of having a set of skills to

learn and commit to memory, vocabulary words.

O Locate and use best practice strategies for

teaching critical vocabulary words.

O Demonstrate your knowledge and

understanding of critical vocabulary words.

Why focus on Vocabulary?

O 85% of a students test score is based on how well


students know the vocabulary of their standards The introduction of the Common Core Standards, College and Career Readiness skills, and amounts of standardized testing Improved reading comprehension when vocabulary words are explicitly taught Stored vocab words provide students with avenues to comprehending information from texts, lectures and discussion Vocabulary is a strong indicator of academic success

Webbs Depth of Knowledge

Why focus on Vocabulary?

O Teachers do teach vocabulary, but not enough

time is spent explicitly teaching words O Without explicit time spent teaching vocabulary, these words do not enter the long-term memory of students O Vocabulary teaching needs to be planned, deliberate, explicit, and active O Vocabulary programs can show up to a .67 effect size (Hattie, 2009)

Types of Vocabulary Words

O Tier One Words:
O Basic Words O These words do not usually have more

than one meaning O They do not require explicit teaching O These are usually sight words, nouns, verbs, adjectives and early reading words

Types of Vocabulary Words

O Tier Two Words:
O High Frequency Words O These words occur across a variety of domains O Because these words are not typically redundant,

they are harder for students to learn, but have a large impact in our language and comprehension O These words usually have multiple meanings, used in many subject areas, necessary for comprehension, are descriptive and add detail O These are the academic vocabulary words students see on tests and in complex text

Types of Vocabulary Words

O Tier Three Words:
O Practical use words O Low frequency of use O Domain specific O Used for a short amount of time and

specific to a particular content O These words are central to building knowledge and understanding concepts O Integral to the instruction of that content

By Age 3:
O Students who come from professional homes

have been exposed to up to 30 million words O Students who come from working class homes; 20 million O Students who come from families of welfare; 10 million words

O All of our students have school files in their

brains-their files are unique to their experiences with schools, teachers, their cultures, their parents view of education and their personal success in school O Their background knowledge is a reflection of who they are-this is the lens through which they see O Many students, depending on the home from which they come, hear fewer words than others and lack cognitive efficiency to learn new words

BUT, all students can learn vocabulary words; their brains can be changed
O Words need to be rehearsed
O Words need to be automatically recognized O Words need to be repeated O Words need to be used in varied experiences and

cemented into brains O Many of our students need extra resources to help them acquire more vocabulary words

Academic Vocabulary
Tier 2 Words

Why the importance of academic (tier 2) vocabulary?

O Academic Vocabulary is needed for:
O Complex Text

O Close Reading
O Adds to a students vocabulary O Improves speaking and listening skills O Helps students to become well rounded

learners and members of society

In an ideal world
O Students would come to use mastering many of

these words O Starting in Kindergarten-8th Grade, 99% of the 55 critical words would be mastered by 11th grade.
O Mastery looks like: student would automatically

know and comprehend without skipping a beat. Reading a question and understanding what is asked would not be a problem.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Students need a set of learning strategies to

construct meaning from text O Successful acquisition of vocabulary involves learning the strategies and processes O The most effective methods have definitional and contextual information-they give more than 1 or 2 exposures of the words

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

O Teacher demonstrates and/or models

O Teacher defines the word

O Teacher models how to use the word, when its used

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Teacher guides with student help/interaction
O Look up the definition together as a class O Class discussion of the word

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Minimal teacher support, student has most

of the responsibility
O Students work in pairs to come up with their own definition

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Student independence
O Student draws their own graphic representation
O Use the word in context, use it in a complete


Research Proven Methods

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O A story or explanation of the term. Model

how you would use the word in real life or how the word can be used in any situation.
O Hear the word being used.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Students put the definition into their own

terms or words. This is a necessary step to ensure that students understand the word, its vital in the memory process.
O This can be done in pairs too for students

who really struggle to put things into their own words.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Draw a picture or graphic representation.

If students cant draw it, they dont know it. O Yes, students resist this step greatly, but this is an important step in committing the word to memory and instant recognition. O Mnemonic devices produce great gains

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Write the term.
O Writing is good for the memory. Use the

word in some sort of writing platform.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Provide informal rehearsals. Engage

students in casual conversation. Use the terms with pairs to discuss their definitions.
O Provide several engagement opportunities

with the term. Discussions, reading, etc

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O Play games with the words. Allow

students to actively process the words in multiple ways.

O Dont worry, I will let you play games at

the end to get a feel for them! =)

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O The Arts: Acting, drawing, etc are great

ways to interact with vocabulary words

O Physical Activity O Computer Instruction O Music/Song

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O 1. Encourage Students to Read Diverse

Texts O Reading and then thinking and talking about different genres is a robust sequence for learning academic language.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O 2. Introduce Summary Frames
O Summarizing is a simple and fail-safe

approach to academic language activities. Students read a section of text to themselves before verbally summarizing the passage to a partner. O Alternatively, learners can complete sentence frames -- guides for summarization.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?

O 3. Help Students Translate from

Academic to Social Language (and back). Model how to say something in a more academic way or how to paraphrase academic texts into more conversational language. Provide students with a difficult expository passage, have partners or groups reinterpret the text using every day language.

O Pretest
O Always a good idea to see where the

students are at
O Learning Difficulty Vocabulary Words O Paint Chips

Vocabulary Word Maps
O Easy graphic

organizer O A way to put info into a picture that is easy to remember

Write the word: Write the definition: Write a synonym: Write an antonym: Write the word here, in color: Use the word in a sentence that shows its meaning: Draw a picture showing the meaning of the word:

Frayer Model

O Play on words
O Some words easily lend themselves to

becoming a play on words which in turn helps students to remember a definition Because Anna lies, we have to analyze what she says to find out what is true.

O Mind Mapping
Sum up 1+1=2


Nonexamples: enlarge, stretch

Topic Sentence

O Concept







Point out


O Foldables

Define the word

Provide a synonym for the word

Use the word in a sentence

Act out the word

Word Dice

Provide an example using the word. For instance: How do you distinguish between two points of view?

Vocabulary Word Gloves

Could do on paper Could use gloves and sharpies, hang in the class


Check My Vocab Words

A sample card may look like:

Involves the outside classroom staff O When a student feels they have mastered a word, they can take the opportunity to go out and ask another adult to quiz them O They will hand their card to that person to be quizzed

Tell me the jingle for Analyze. Use Analyze in a sentence that shows me you know what it means. Tell me a synonym for analyze.

O Jingles
Analyze: An-a-lyze, break it down, down, down, Then explain what you found, found, found. Distinguish: Distinguish from the very start. Decide, discriminate, and tell apart. Metaphor: A metaphor makes two things the same By giving one the others name!

Variation: Students make their own jingles or cheers for the words. Movements would add to the memory too!

O Students create posters for the words
O Assign students a word O Create a poster to hang in the room or

school, etc O Utilize the strategies taught to learn the word O Make sure there is a graphic representation available

O Movement Activities
O Definition Dash: Students form a tight circle with their



chairs. Teacher starts in the middle, students in chairs. Teacher starts with a statement such as I know the definition of _________. Students who get up and move to a vacant seat. The teacher moves to a vacant seat, one student is left in the middle. The student left in the middle, must give the correct answer. Applaud. If incorrect, make sure to correct so no wrong answers are committed to memory.

O Play Headbands! O Put the words on cards O Students have to ask questions to determine what word they have on their head!
O Slap it
O Words up on the wall or screen O Students slap the word or definition

O Group/competition game
O Gets crazy though!

O Game show
O $10,000 pyramid or password O Pair up, one faces the board or screen O The other is the clue giver O Give clues for the words for the partner to

O Play a game of Memory in small groups
O Match up the word with its definition

O Analogies
O Signal words O Venn Diagrams O T-charts O Other graphic organizers O Exit cards O One of these dont belong O Bingo

O Internet Sites
O O O Check the offerings of your textbooks; many of us

are in the process of getting new textbooks that include many online ideas, activities and games for vocab acquisition O Many of the new textbooks are also aligning quite nicely with the CC and College/Career readiness standards.

What are the best practices for teaching vocabulary?


O Transitions O Sprenger

O Explain the purpose of having a set of

skills to learn and commit to memory, vocabulary words.

O Locate and use best practice strategies

for teaching critical vocabulary words.