Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bringing Words to Life: Differentiating Vocabulary Instruction

Did you notice something at the top of my blog? I created a new page that grouped all of my posts in this book study together! If you joined halfway through or just want to refer back to them, now you can go straight to the page and find them a lot faster. I will also be adding activities that I do in my class to show real-life examples once the school year starts. We have 3 more weeks before kids come...eek! I'm so not ready. I haven't even been to my classroom yet (although I really just have to pull paper off of my bookshelves and throw up a few posters. No biggie.)!

But back to the reason you're here (I hope): Chapter 9 of Bringing Words to Life, which is all about differentiation. One of those other buzz words. I know.

The chapter focuses on two specific groups: struggling readers and LEP (or ELL) students. I guess there isn't as much need for focus on your advanced students because this type of robust instruction will hopefully be challenging for them as well as your average students.

The authors give a great little format for helping these students close the gap between them and their peers.
  1. Whole group instruction on the target words the way it has been discussed in previous chapters (please go back and check them out if you haven't already)
  2. Identify students who did not show mastery over these words in the end-of-the-unit assessment, and provide additional instruction in smaller groups. The book recommends 15-minute sessions for three more days.
  3. Any students who still have not mastered the understanding of these words will receive 3 more days of instruction. Be sure to use different instructional activities so they have more chances of understanding.

During these additional sessions described in steps 2 and 3, students should be given opportunities to talk about word meanings in different contexts and also to use the words appropriately in discussion. As you continue with this format, fewer and fewer students should need the additional instruction.

Another way to help these struggling readers (and LEP students) is to provide more explicit questioning and scaffolding in the initial instruction for the word. These students will need more guidance and explanations as they learn new words, so we need to be ready to provide it until they are ready for us to cut back.

One quote that really stood out to me from the book was this one about how we should teach:

The two main concerns with English learners are which words should be taught and what kinds of activities are most effective.

Which Words to Teach:
Just like with traditional students, we want to focus on those Tier Two words that appear frequently in literature but are not as common in oral language. The key is to begin this instruction AS SOON AS the student can manage everyday conversation. Don't wait until they know all of the basics. They will pick it up naturally!
The big thing to consider here is that ALL students need to be able to understand the concept of the words being introduced.

What Instructional Activities are Best:
Once again, remember that different is not necessary. What works fir LEP students will also work for the rest if the class. All students need frequent interaction with the target words. There are some adaptations that will make things a lot easier, though.

  • Provide text previews in student's first language, if possible, before reading text in English
  • Use high-interest texts for your students
  • Provide visuals or multimedia texts for extra support
Another major strategy to consider is to use cognates (words such as dictionary and diccionario which have the same meaning AND are very similar). Focus in on the roots of these words, which are often Latin or Greek and have to be taught in the upper grades anyway (at least in Virginia), then students will be able to recognize the relationships between those words and also identify other words.

Can you believe that there's only one more chapter to cover? I feel like I've learned SO much, and I hope this has been helpful to you, as well! Next week is about energizing the verbal environment!

Oh, and before I go, I wanted to mention a fantastic giveaway for you to check out. My friend and fellow VA Blogger, Rachel from Mrs. O Knows is celebrating her 2nd blogiversarry this week with a different giveaway every day. Today's winner can score one of my mystery packs along with some other great stuff!


  1. Sounds like a great book! I always like when the authors highlight strategies for different groups of students. That is a powerful quote. Thanks for sharing this information!

    Eclectic Educating

  2. I just started reading the book. Thanks for all the information you've shared. I'm looking forward to your future posts!
    Laughter and Consistency