Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bringing Words to Life: Instructional vs. Natural Contexts

What? We're on week 7? I feel like the time is flying, which I don't want to happen yet. August is only two days away, and I go back to school at the end of August...I know, some of you are already back and have no pity for me. But remember. I was in school until late June. So there. You can rub it in my face when you're out for Memorial Day.

And if it makes you feel better, I AM working this week. I'm on a committee reviewing our state reading test for 5th grade (which I will talk about more next week), so I actually have been not only getting up before 7 but also dressing professionally and walking out the door by 8.

But enough about me. Hopefully you're also here for the book study, although I'm sure you'll hear more about me later. Or at least my cutie-pie little boy!

Chapter 7: Working with Instructional and Natural Contexts

Let's start with Instructional contexts. These are when the context was intentionally created for the purpose of highlighting the target word and giving strong clues to the meaning. The big thing to add here is that it's important for a definition/explanation of the word to be developed. Teachers should begin by modeling their thinking to shoe how they used the context to determine the word's meaning (think alouds), but they should let go of the reigns and guide students to begin doing this on their own ASAP! Use guiding questions when they need help finding the right clues.

On the flip side, naturally occurring contexts may or may not even provide enough information for students to find the correct meaning of the word, but the authors make an interesting point that I agree with: It's more important to focus on the process of determining the word's meaning than actually finding the meaning. Why? Because then even when there isn't enough information to decipher the word, students may at least have a general idea of what type of word they're looking for. Plus they will be more equipped to use the clues that are provided independently.

Here's the instructional sequence they recommend:

  • Read the context, then record it with an emphasis on the unfamiliar word
  • Establish meaning of the context (What's going on? What are they saying?)
  • Make the first "guess" at what the word means, and support your prediction with evidence from the text
  • If the student can't come up with a response or support with text, go back to step two and flesh out what's happening in the context some more
  • Consider other possibilities (this helps students understand that they may not necessarily have it exactly right, but that's okay. Plus you can point out that there may not even be a way to know for sure from the text what the word means)
  • Summarize the entire process to review the information and let students draw conclusions based on that.

One final thought I will leave you with: it is VERY IMPORTANT for students to understand that not all contexts will contain useful information to figuring out the meaning of a word or even a general idea of the meaning. First, they should refer to a larger portion of the context (too many of my kids just look at the one sentence and are done), but they should be encouraged to refer to an outside source when that doesn't work. And don't make the just look in a dictionary because we've already talked about how that may be completely useless. Let them ask you! Of course, you may want to create a system (sticky notes, faint line under unfamiliar words, etc) to avoid interruptions, but they need to realize that it's okay to ask an adult and admit when they don't know what a word means. If they're scared to ask for help, then it's not benefiting anyone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two for Tuesday: Back to School

Week four, and I know some of you are going back to school very soon (or maybe even there already). The stores have all gone into back-to-school mode, and I'm even beginning to think about it this week while working on a committee for VDOE (which is why I will probably only post this quick one today and my book study tomorrow).

For those who are new to this linky, every Tuesday bloggers choose two items in their store to put up for 50% off regular price FOR THAT DAY ONLY! This is a great chance to score some amazing products, so I would recommend clicking on the picture above to see who else is participating. Of course, that is, after you finish seeing what I have to offer. :-)

Anyway, in honor of back-to-school, I'm featuring a few great choices to help you get you school year started on the right track!

The Case of the Missing Backpack - an activity for drawing

These are some of my most popular products! Great for teaching inferences, this one can be used at the beginning of the year, although it's not necessary. Students have to use the clues provided to solve the case. In this mystery a boy finds someone's backpack, then he searches to find the owner. Only $2 today!

Let's Get Campy Literacy Centers - Comprehension and Word

My other product is not back-to-school themed, which some of you may prefer. My camping literacy centers can be used any time through the year and are geared toward students in grades 3-5. I include more comprehension-based centers (fact & opinion, main idea, cause & effect) along with context clues, guide words, synonyms, antonyms, and suffixes. These are only $3 today!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bringing Words to Life: Assessing and Maintaining New Vocabulary PART TWO

I said I would post the rest today, so here it is! I actually went to the gym this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM to do BodyPump (because I'm a nut and figured I should at least get up early a few days a week since I'll be back at school in a month), and then I came back to post this so you could read it at a reasonable time today. You know. If you're being good and going to bed early over the summer. Or if you're back to school right now preparing for students in the next week or two...

Anyway, today is all about maintaining new vocabulary. Too often (and I'm definitely guilty of this), we introduce a word and then don't use it, or at least not intentionally, after it's been tested. How can we expect our students to keep these words in their vocabularies, then? I'm going to go through some activities that you can use in and out of the classroom.


  • Keep some kind of record (index cards are the best) of words that you've learned throughout the year. The card should include word meanings and sample uses.
  • Point out words when they appear in other texts being read. Also, point out when the word can be applied to the text (a character is being testy).
  • Use the words to start your day - Morning Messages, questions centered around a vocabulary word, etc.
  • Find funny pictures from the internet, and have students create sentences to describe it using a vocabulary word. You could even have students vote on the best sentence!
  • Keep a list of words, and put tally marks beside them if someone uses the word or finds it used.
  • Word Wizards gain points by bringing in proof of hearing, seeing, or using new vocabulary outside of the classroom. They have to be able to describe the context correctly to get a point. Points can be used for extra credit or whatever the teacher decides!
  • Another form of Word Wizards is where the teacher assigns specific words for students to find or create examples for.
  • In the Media is geared more toward older students (particularly middle and high school), but students look for words in ANY media - video games, websites, TV, books, magazines, etc. Each student is given a deposit slip where they have to records their name, the word, the context in which it was found, and you can even have them include their source (especially if you're curious what they're spending their time reading/watching). I think I may try this with my 5th grade students!

It's important that students are looking for and using these words in AND out of the classroom to help secure these words into their vocabulary.

Thank you for sticking with me for two days! This chapter may have been short, but it was JAM-PACKED with great information. I think it may have been my favorite so far! Come back next Wednesday to learn about working with instructional and natural contexts.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bringing Words to Life: Assessing and Maintaining New Vocabulary PART ONE

Sorry I'm a little LOT late getting this week's post up, but I was helping with some manual labor today. We're painting my in-law's fence as a thank you for all the little extras they do for us all the time (like constantly babysitting our kid and buying things that we could've bought ourselves). Anyway, it was H-O-T today and I almost put it off until tomorrow. Instead, I decided that this chapter has SO much information that I'm actually going to split it into two parts. So you can read about assessment today and come back tomorrow to learn about maintaining new vocabulary!


How many of you cringe simply at the mention of the word? Fortunately we're not talking about any big tests or even a test at all, necessarily. These assessments are meant to be fairly quick and to-the point. I have four things to quickly discuss, then you can go to bed and come back to read more sometime tomorrow when I get the chance to post again! 

It's probably best to use multiple types of assessment.
Why? One assessment may just show that the student guessed correctly, or they may ONLY know the definition. You want to make sure a student truly understands the word and can use it properly. Maybe have a matching (word-to-definition) and then have students use the word in a sentence that's not just "I am frustrated."

Classic assessments such as multiple-choice and true/false are not necessarily bad.
I was a little surprised by that at first, but I guess it makes sense. For multiple-choice, have one question that asks students to choose the correct definition, but then include another that asks for a relation (Pyramid has to do with: farming, noise, movement, or math). This way, you can better understand at what level each student "gets it". True/False can be taken to the next level by including examples rather than definitions and then asking students to explain their answer.

For more in-depth formats, you can also use some of the MANY activities listed in the book. 
I've mentioned a few in previous posts. One big assessment they focus on in this chapter is "context interpretations" where students need to apply the word's meaning to understand the context it is being used in. Here's an example: "When Father heard that Lisa had ripped up the letter from Steve, Father commended her for it. What do you think Father thought of Steve?"

What about the younger learners?
Since they are probably not going to be able to read Tier Two words, assessments need to be given orally. This, of course, ties your hands in what you can actually do. The best option they suggest is having students fill out a response sheet with either YES/NO or smiley/frowny faces. To keep students from just having lucky guesses, ask about each word FOUR different ways. Two questions can relate to context ("If you are a whiz at working puzzles, might someone say that you are clever?") while two more focus on meaning ("Does clever mean trying hard?"). And, of course, mix it up within the other words being assessed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two for Tuesday: Week 3

And the deals continue! For those who are new to this linky, every Tuesday bloggers choose two items in their store to put up for 50% off regular price FOR THAT DAY ONLY! This is a great chance to score some amazing products, so I would recommend clicking on the picture above to see who else is participating. Of course, that is, after you finish seeing what I have to offer. :-)

Happy Happy Happy Literacy Centers - Comprehension and Wor

These Duck Dynasty themed centers were a BIG hit with my students last year, and I love that you can use them any time of the year. Centers are geared toward students in grades 3-5 and include Fact & Opinion, Cause & Effect, Main Idea, Context Clues, Guide Words, Suffixes, Synonyms, and Antonyms. Today you can get the pack for only $3!

Synonym and Antonym Centers All Year Long

This Synonyms and Antonyms pack actually has TWENTY-FOUR different stations (12 centers for each), making it my largest pack so far! Today you can purchase it all for $5!

As always, happy shopping! And don't forget to come back tomorrow for week 6 of my book study on Bringing Words to Life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Made-It: Citronella Candles

Three weeks in a row with something to share for my Monday Made-It! I'm so proud of myself! And this week, I actually have something crafty that I made. Shocker. I know.

Wednesday evening was my very first Pinterest party, and we made Citronella candles! I wanted to do something that would be useful for the summer but was still pretty and fun. I found this pin here that had SIMPLE and easy to follow instructions. Sold!

Mosquitoes are out again! Make some  homemade citronella candles. The natural way. Very Easy ! Via Freepeople. com

Then I gathered my supplies. A.C. Moore has great coupons every week in the Sunday paper, so I gathered them to get my wax (I bought the 4 lb brick after learning that a lot of people weren't able to come. That was enough to fill 5, maybe 6, mason jars) and candle wicks. I recommend getting the big ones! We already had mason jars and a hot glue gun. Then I cheated and bought citronella fuel instead of the oil because it's (a) cheaper and (b) easier to find. We were sweating it whether that was actually a good idea or not. So far, no explosions!

The funniest part was trying to break apart the stupid block of wax! We tried with a knife first and finally found success after pulling out Steven's tools. We ended up using a flathead screwdriver and a hammer. That worked just fine! If you don't want that extra frustration, I would recommend buying the wax flakes. They only came in 1 lb bags at the store, though. After that, you just melt the wax, take it OFF the stove before adding a very small amount of citronella, then pour it in your containers (where you've already glued the wick in place) and let it cool!

We also added little burlap koozies because I had extra burlap from a made-it I did back in May and still need to share about (maybe next week). My only negative about these candles is that they sunk in a lot in the middle. I'm not sure how to prevent that. It may be because we used fuel instead of oil, and that changed the consistency. I don't know.

And finally, proof that I have in fact tried out the candle and seen with my own eyes that it won't explode. We also didn't get eaten alive, and I felt like we didn't have as many bugs (just flies). That may be just because of the time of day (jury is still out on weather it does prevent them or not), but we at least had a pretty candle!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Five for Friday - July 18


This has been a busy week, but we've had a lot of fun!

Divider 1

I've been wanting S'mores all summer, but we had to get rid of our firepit after it rusted. So when we got together with some friends last weekend, we brought all the supplies to do it at their house. Someone else is a fan, too!

Divider 2

We spend a lot of time with Steven's family, but this week we had a surprise visit from his brother and kids who live in TN! They called Monday saying that they would be here the next day. Keagan LOVED having all of his cousins around to hang out. I thought this picture of the boys was too cute not to catch.

I had to pry him away last night, and I know he's going to be bored with just us today. Hopefully we'll have a chance to go visit them before school starts back!

Divider 3

Wednesday was the big VA Blogger meet-up, and I had SO much fun! There were more bloggers than I expected, and I was only able to introduce myself to some of them. I also was terrible about taking pictures, so almost all of these are stolen from Mrs. Stamp (Thanks, Karen!) who, by the way, is SUPER sweet! Everyone I talked to was, and I could have spent a good week getting to know them better. Some of the girls I learned lived pretty close, so we may be getting together again soon. Plus we decided another VA Blogger meet-up was in order much sooner than last time!

Since 4 of the Adventures in Literacy Land ladies are VA bloggers, we had to get our token picture together (Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars, Jessica from Hanging out in First, and Carla from Comprehension Connection). We also did a gift exchange, and I scored this awesome basket from Rachel at Mrs. O "Knows" - such a sweetie! We're hoping to get together very soon since she lives pretty close!

Divider 4

I felt bad because I was basically gone all day Wednesday between the meet-up and a Pinterest party that I'll share more about later. But my sweet little boy greeted me with this picture and said, "I colored mommy!" That morning before I left, he told me I looked like a princess. Boys are too sweet!

Divider 5

Yesterday we spent the day at the pool! My little fish wore his daddy out. He stayed in the pool for hours, and he's even starting to doggie paddle on his own!

I did get in this time and actually swim, but I spent more time outside of the pool with this little guy! He's 1 month old now, and he's just too cute!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bringing Words to Life: Instructional Sequences for Later Grades

While you're reading this, I'm at my first big blogger meet-up!! Vegas may have been too much for this year, but I am so excited to be meeting a bunch of amazing VA bloggers today! Nikki from Teaching in Progress put it all together, and I've been anxious for today's arrival for quite some time now. I'll be sure to post pictures later, of course!

Today also marks the halfway point of this book study (and my summer...wah!) as we review Chapter 5 and instruction for the upper grades. This is also where I have to start reading again because this is as far as I got before deciding I MUST do a book study. Good news is that I can write my posts as I read and everything is fresh on my mind!

First thing is that students need to encounter and use the word frequently before they really know it. They recommend introducing about 10 words per week, and there should be AT LEAST 10 different meaningful interactions with each word by the end of the week. It's also important to make sure that you mix it up. Don't introduce the words in the same order or with the same activity each time. Variety is the spice of life, right?

Within these meaningful interactions, students need to be able to use the word, explore facets of word meaning (expand their understanding of the word so they can apply it to various contexts), and consider relationships among words. One great way to explore facets of word meaning is by providing examples and non-examples for students to label for target words. When introducing relationships between words, show how two target words that seem unrelated can work together. Use them in sentences together and formulate questions for students to ponder and discuss. The more connections we can make, the better our students will understand the word!

Finally, it's important to alter your definition slightly throughout the week. Why? If we give the exact same definition each time, students run the risk of only memorizing the definition and not truly grasping the concept of the word. And remember, our goal is for students to be able to USE these new words, not just define them. We're creating literate individuals, not dictionaries!

Before I go, I wanted to share probably the most common schedule to teaching vocabulary. I also included some examples of activities for each section. The book actually breaks it down and shares examples of specific wording for student-friendly definitions at each level (upper elementary, middle, high school), so if you're unsure, I would recommend checking that out for more clarification.

Next week's chapter is all about assessing and maintaining vocabulary, so be sure to come back and read all about it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Two for Tuesday

I don't know if Two for Tuesday will be back this week or not (last week was supposed to be the end), but I am so bummed to have missed the first 5 weeks that I decided to go ahead and do it even if I'm all alone!

»»»»UPDATE: It's still on!!!!

So, for TODAY ONLY you can purchase these two products for 50% off the regular price! Tomorrow, they will be back at full price, so hurry and tell your friends!

Back to School Literacy Centers - Comprehension and Word K

This is one of my newest sets of literacy centers which includes 4 comprehension centers and 4 word knowledge centers specifically created for students in the upper elementary grades. These regularly sell for $6, but today you can score it for $3!

Fact and Opinion Centers All Year Long

And since my brand new packs for Main Idea and Cause & Effect did so well last week, I decided to offer my new Face & Opinion pack this week! It includes TWELVE themed centers to take you through the entire school year. This pack is usually in my store for $9, so you will have some major savings if you purchase today!

Happy shopping!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Made It: July 14

I'm still not doing any huge, crafty things over my summer break because we've been busy making friends and memories by spending time with lots of people from our new church. This has been a huge blessing to all three of us! I have a small "made it" for this week, but I will have something a little more in depth to share next week because I'm hosting (and attending) my very first PINTEREST PARTY!! One of my friends told me about these a while back, and I've been wanting to go to one for a while. So I mentioned it to the girls in our community group, and we're finally making it happen! I'm very excited, but you'll hear all about it next week.

This week's made-it has to do with a certain restaurant that is very near and dear to my heart:

No, I never worked there or anything. I just really love their chicken...and those cows! So every year, they have a Cow Appreciation Day where you can dress up and get a free meal. Seriously, you can't beat that!

Keagan and I have participated for 3 years now, although we're still pretty basic on the costumes so far. Next year I'm determined to actually have something a little better. I'm thinking of getting a pillowcase and sewing some felt spots on. Here's Keagan's costume for this year though!

I was going to use white trash bags and paint the spots on, but Steven has students that work at our Chick-fil-a, and he didn't want to look too tacky. So I just cut out a few quick spots and pinned them to Keagan's shirt. He wasn't a huge fan of that and kept asking me to take them off, but he held out longer than I expected. It helps that he understood it meant he got yummy chicken nuggets!

I also had to look back and dig up the pictures from our previous two years. I can't believe how much he's grown! Last year, he had just started saying "Moo!" when he recognized a cow. This year, he can tell you exactly what the cow is doing and more!


What have you been making?