Teach Vocab Like a Champion!

Woooahhhhh it's October. Slow down, school year. Or don't. Actually don't. It's cool when you take things a little fast. 

We are at that time of the year where everyone in the U.S. is deep in instruction. If you live in the Northeast/Midwest and you don't start until after Labor Day, you've had about a full month of school. All of us Southern teachers are at the beginning of month 3 now. Whew. So we're all in this place of taking things beyond the basics of learning how to navigate our classroom/taking centers at a slow pace, etc. We're in the nitty-gritty of getting our babies to GROW. That takes a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of intentional instruction. 

Have y'all seen the research surrounding vocabulary instruction? It's essentially one of the biggest indicators in a student's reading success beyond 1st Grade. If our kiddos don't have a strong vocabulary base, and they don't know what to do when they come across new words, then things are just further and further from their grasp each year as the texts on standardized tests get more "rigorous" (that's test-speak for a whole grade level harder). Not to mention, the emphasis on informational texts in testing keeps ramping up. We're cutting back on science/social studies instruction like crazy in this country....how are our kids going to graduate knowing about checks and balances? How will they understand run-off and know what is/isn't safe to dump in their grass? HOW WILL THEY FUNCTION AS ADULTS IN THE WORLD??? We've gotta get them reading about it. The biggest answer given to us as educators is to have them reading texts centered around our science and social studies standards, and teaching them these lesson in our literacy blocks. Well. that's great, but with those texts comes a lot specific vocabulary. 

I love vocabulary instruction. (I feel like I said that about fluency and classroom management, too? I guess I just love everything.) I have had some really solid vocabulary lessons modeled for me in my day, and I want to share 2 read alouds and TpT resource with you today that you can take back to your classroom pronto! 

Read Aloud #1:

The first vocabulary lesson that I like to do each year is with Jon Scieszka's awesome book:

Baloney, Henry P. 

Henry is an alien who has trouble bringing his homework to school, and getting there on time. His teacher is fed up with his lame excuses, but this time he has a really over-the-top story to explain his mistakes. Jon pulled words from multiple languages like Swahili, French, Spanish, etc., as well as some made up words (there's some pig latin in there!). School is schola, pencil is zimulus...the kids go wild with all of the silly words. Having all of this unfamiliar language forces the students to rely on picture clues to make sense of the story. 

I like to take this book to the next level. I show the kids the front cover, and I tell them the basic premise of the story...but I don't show them the pictures as I read. This takes away the picture-clue strategy, but it fine-tunes the context clues skills! There are a million different ways to have conversations about the hints that you can pull from a story to figure out a word you don't know! This book is instructional gold. 

Read Aloud #2

My other favorite vocabulary read aloud is an old-school picture book that you may not have ever heard of:

Mirette on the High Wire

by Emily Arnold McCully.

This story takes place in turn-of-the-century France. A little girl name Mirette lives in a boarding house that her mother runs. A mysterious man, who turns out to be a retired high wire walker, moves into the boarding house. Mirette is fascinated and starts taking lessons with him where she learns that she has the same natural talents that he saw in himself as a kid.

It's a sweet, fascinating story that really hooks the kids. I think part of it is the content of the story contains so many unfamiliar ideas: boarding houses, traveling performers, limited electricity...

The book also is chalk full of elaborate vocabulary. I mean, it does take place in


so it's gotta be fancy.

When I teach this book, I read the story like normal, and we create an anchor list of all of the words we don't know. I don't pause to explain words as I go, which usually really bugs the kids. Vagabond, boarder, monsieur...I make photo copies of the paragraphs before the lesson that contain interesting words I think the students will point out.

After I've read the book once, I put the students in pairs, assign them a word, and give them the page the word is on and let them go to work dissecting the text to try to make meaning of it. They highlight, take notes on context clues, notice word parts, etc. 

Then, we add the supposed definitions to our chart with our list, and I reread the story with our new understanding of the vocabulary.

It's always an ah-hah moment for the kids when they see how much more they like the story after they have taken the time to figure out what everything means.

They liked it before, but now that they've learned something from the book, they reallllyyyyy like it. 

So, there you have it, friends! Two books and lessons you can take back to your classroom tomorrow!

Also, in honor of October, I have some Halloween-themed vocabulary activities up in my TpT store for ya! It's geared towards grades 3-5, but if you've got those 2nd graders who need to be pushed, this would be great for them, too!

Happy Fall, and happy teaching!

Stephanie Sutherland