Six Vocabulary Visits


Pause to reflect…

It’s summer and time to visit friends. Yet, teachers often wander back into their work to improve their strategies for the next year. I know the research on Vocabulary Instruction by Marzano— see a review and many resources here: And in thinking about instruction for next year, I decided to visit six vocabulary friends, and I hope you enjoy the visit.

Play to Learn…

1. Listening Vocabulary

  Every teacher knows how valuable a working vocabulary is to learning and understanding. Many kids are exposed to conversations, books, museums, travel, sports and science camps, and other engaging family activities that enrich their understanding of how the world works today and in the past, with a rich vocabulary that accompanies those activities. A good listening vocabulary, those words you understand in conversation, guide the understanding of written words. In order to read well, then, a good oral listening vocabulary will improve the ability to understand written text.

What if students could listen to stories and hear the words?

Did you know about these free audiobook sites for children?

Lit to Go by Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse


Storynory’s Catch Phrase (explains common phrases in stories)

Sync (13+) What about student research and reading online?


Try: Reading Words Online — turn text to speech (add to your browser) Turn your blog into a podcast

If you have access to a Mac OS X, check out these accessibility features, including text to speech, built in to the system: (text to speech directions) Literacy Learning

For Students with Disabilities:  

Where do you see these fitting in?

I see students link to them from a class webpage, students listening on their own or the school’s iPads/iPods/computers. I see a class or group of students listening and enjoying together (whiteboard or computer). And I see students access these at home, either downloaded on their own devices at school or accessed directly from home. I see students choosing what and where.


2. High Frequency Words

To facilitate reading, students learn the high frequency words used in texts to develop automaticity in reading.

What are these high frequency words?  

Lists can be found here (free)

Sight Words


1200 High Frequency Words  


For Students and Teachers

Spelling City (freemium)



For Students Fun with Learning Say the words before they disappear.  


Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see kids reading flashcards with each other (see visit number three), or on Fun with Learning. I see kids noticing these words as they write. I see kids making up their own words using the meanings of the words they have learned. I see kids using words more precisely (“underneath” instead of “over there”). Merrium-Webster allows users to build an online dictionary. We could add our class favorite words there. I see a class wiki or google site with our own Great Words to Know. I see students choosing how and where they practice their words (in class, self, groups, at home, online) as part of their self-learning/reflection.


3. Academic Vocabulary:12 words

Standardized tests drive instruction today, like it or not. I’ve been reading many blogs who have mentioned Larry Bell’s suggestion that students learn twelve important academic words frequently found on standardized tests.

Here’s one blog with these words: 12 Words (trace, analyze, formulate, explain, describe, summarize, infer, compare, contrast, predict, evaluate, support) This would be a great start to helping students with school-based learning. Learn them. Use them in questions and tests. Students apply them in their work and self-created test questions.

One way to learn words is through flashcards and learner-friendly glossaries. I found two sites that help students and teachers create and use flashcards or glossaries. First, quizlet, a freemium online app allowed me to easily created a set of online flashcards of the twelve words. I also created a set to use to teach with which included examples. Students can sign up to create their own in quizlet. Teachers can create private groups for students. Second, in Wordsmyth, I quickly created a glossary of the words with audio, mostly kid-friendly definitions, part of speech, an example, and related words. I could choose a dictionary (beginner, childrens, advanced) which then suggests kid-friendly definitions accordingly. This is important in learning new words: the definitions need to be in kid-friendly terms and their own words. In this set, I added the word, “evidence” to the list. For the related words, a great strategy is to place those words on a continuum of least-strong to most-strong in its meaning. Reading Rockets provides a wonder lesson and resources about this: Semantic Gradiants

Other Flashcard Apps:

Google’s Widget in Spreadsheet How To

Studyblue — free

Studystack — Sample flashcards about Google Apps

Many of these apps are now available for the iOS platform (iPhones, iPads, iPods). gFlash is available on all devices.  

Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see kids creating their own glossaries and flashcards which will deepen their word understanding. I see kids using words more precisely (“underneath” instead of “over there”). I links to their creations on a class wiki or google site with our own Great Words to Know. I see students choosing how and where they practice their words (in class, self, groups, at home, online) as part of their self-learning/reflection.  

4. Academic Vocabulary: Content Words

As students study in textbooks and online to become experts in their area of study, they encounter words particular to each discipline. We want students to recognize and take time to learn these words so they can speak and write as historians, geographers, biologists, authors, etc. We want our classrooms filled with literate conversations.

Where can I find these academic words?

Building Academic Vocabulary

Bringing Words to Life available on Kindle

I discovered a wonderful site from Tennessee filled with resources and lists for helping teachers and students master academic vocabulary. And one from New Zealand which also includes exercises for students who are English language learners.

By choosing the words, and helping students choose the words, that are content-specific, we ensure students have the opportunity to develop better understanding of the content. Using wordsmyth or quizlet or any other site that helps students generate and practice these vocabulary words will aid in their progress.

vocabtriangleA strategy I use in my class is called word triangles. Here’s the strategy sheet. Students choose a word and list it inside a triangle. On two legs of the triangle, students write two details from the text that relate to the word on the lines next to each triangle. On the third line, students write a connection to the word. This helps students focus on the word, the text, and their understanding through a connection. It’s been a powerful addition to our learning.

Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see kids developing a relationship with words, in their own lists, at home, online, and in class. If our daily routines in the classroom focus on the art of the wordsmith, student wordsmiths will emerge. I see teacher and student choices in academic vocabulary with brief daily discussions using the words we choose. I see continuing our Vocabulary Wednesdays for more focused instruction with wordlists, games, sharing.  

5. Improving Vocabulary

Yes, automaticity and academic vocabulary is important, but what is more important is lifelong learning. Becoming a wordsmith is fun. In my classroom, my wall is adorned with Donald Murray’s quote, “Writing is hard fun.” Vocabulary is “hard fun” too. But key to learning new words is putting those words into one’s own frame of reference with one’s own images, words, and connections and using the words correctly in daily use.

Students need kid-friendly definitions: The Oxford dictionary is for language learners, so the definitions are written in easily understood words and so is this learner dictionary, both specially designed for easy understandings of definitions. And, suggestions for activities to practice, learn, and use words can be found at this Learning Tasks site. Students can create their own learning center at

Using the strategies in our first four visits with learner-friendly dictionaries, and interactive activities, and maintaining an online vocabulary center will propel students to become wordsmiths.

Where do you see these in your classroom?

  I see kids challenging each other and recognizing their new word power. I see a hallway of Wordsmith Wonders, where students add their words in a graffiti -like wall that encourages wordplay, poetry, and interactivity. I see blogs with improved vocabulary and word challenges.I see our wiki or Google Site growing in power. I hear the hallway chatter with laughter of a found phrase to share on the Wordsmith Wonder or blog. I see and hear students choosing their own wonderful words.

6. Sharing Vocabulary

Choosing, learning, practicing words need social connections. Our Wordsmith Wonders will begin the interaction of sharing and applying our vocabulary. Working with partners and groups for learning on Vocabulary Wednesdays will offer more sharing time so we learn from each other. A new book of strategies I will try is Inside Words by Janet Allen (available on Kindle).

Merrium-Webster allows users to build an online dictionary; add to it.

Word Whirl

Students bring their best new vocabulary words, ready for Word Whirl. Students think about a poem or speech with their words for two minutes so that in one to two minutes they speak on a topic or recite their poem. They try their ideas out with a partner, seeking questions on content and format, and offering those to their partner. Students rethink their work for two minutes. Now the whirl: students pop up and share their work to the class. Listeners write down the interesting word(s) they hear, and one compliment. Next person pops. At the end all students either turn in their list/compliments or type them into a shared google doc. The document is discussed as a class as it is projected, or a leader shares the compliments and key words. What did you like? What did you notice? What was confusing? What word will you try?

Students add their whirl to the Wordsmith Wonders, their own blog, or a common wiki or site.

And now how about you share: share1 What word did you learn today? Share it so we learn too…. at  

Where do you see these in your classroom?

I see wordsmiths recognizing each other for vocabulary choices. I see impromptu discussions where words carry weight by their succinct addition to the topic. I see restatements of content more clear and concise, a group endeavor to summarize with pizazz. I see a badge of honor anyone can earn for the learning and using of vibrant vocabulary, like our vivid verbs in writing.  

7. Listening Vocabulary

Vocabulary is required learning. While the teacher must direct the learning of specific vocabulary for their content area in each lesson, students should also consciously construct their own improved vocabulary. How students learn new vocabulary should not just be teacher directed, but also interest driven (new buzz word: passion). These activities provide opportunities to listen to our words in conversation and discussions and in written work for class or on blogs. Which brings us right back to listening: Wordsmiths listen to the way words work wonder in our minds. So if you find your classroom filled with wordsmiths, grab this badge to share with them. wordsmithbadge

Where do you see these in your classroom?

The friendly vocabulary visiting is done, except will you please share your favorite vocabulary friends here? I know I would love to meet a few more before school starts! And after you have shared, grab the badge for yourself.

Inspiration for this blog comes from Elizabeth at Apache Junction.

My Growing Vocabulary Diigo

Cross-posted at What Else

Photo Credit:

Wordsmith Badges by Sheri Edwards CC3.0



Pause and reflect…


Who are heroes?

I read somewhere that heroes are ordinary people who do extradinary things. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”

My son is a hero to me: he could give up after his tragic motorcyle accident, but he doesn’t. He continues to live his life — his style is shorter (from a wheelchair), but everything he strives to do now, he accomplishes.

My husband is a hero. On his way out of town he noticed smoke, and stopped to grab a neighbor and hoses to help contain the fire until firefighters arrived, saving two homes.

All over the world ordinary people have stepped up to help in floods, storms, and earthquakes. 

When the need arises ordinary people do extraordinary things. We carry the possibilities to bring our communities together when nature pulls them apart.

In our lives we have many communities: family, friends, church, work, play. And in each of these communities, we pull together, and in small ways are heroes to each other when the need arises. For stories of heroes from communities around the world, see the Giraffe Heroes Project.

In the US, all of us have a community in our classrooms and schools. In each classroom are heroes, including the teachers who are not just instructing, but often are mentors, counselors, referees, coaches, nurses, mediators, cheerleaders, tutors, etc. to those children in their care who come to us not as objects to be filled but as whole persons with ideas, dreams, issues, problems, hopes, needs. Despite the requirement to teach the curriculum, it is the child that is to be taught, to be understood, to be encouraged, and to be engaged. Without this consideration of the whole child, the child will probably not engage willingly with learning. Imagine guiding a classroom full of students, each of whom you are to inspire. Look at their faces in your mind. To do this, is to be a hero; it often takes extraordinary skill to guide each child in one’s care.

Yes, guide. Look at the root of educate ( 



1580–90;  < Latin ??duc??tus  brought up, taught (past participle of ??duc??re ), equivalent to ??- e-  + -duc-  lead + -??tus -ate

So, to educate is to lead.  Teachers lead students towards each one’s learning, and help bridge the gap from individual to community.



Play to Learn…

If we want our hereos to jump in for our many communities, then our common community, our schools, must be allowed to lead to learning that which is most important: forming and supporting a learning community. That takes time, conversation, and more than the basics. It’s why project-based learning is so powerful: solving a problem to complete a project together is engaging, inspiring, and energizing. How else could we guide students to see their possibilities? 

What Does Successful Project-Based Learning Look Like? By Bob Lenz explains that project-based learning includes, among others, these:

  • Lasting learning of a deeper learning skill, idea, or way of thinking that is relevant to students’ lives, their futures, and transforms who they are as human beings.
  • Mirrors real-world work of professionals in craft, process, or skill (e.g. historians, writers, mathematicians, artists).
  • Moves beyond classroom in purpose, audience, or contribution to community.

I’d like to thank the heroes of reform today who keep voicing the need to develop schools for learning rather than for testing — no test can assess the kind of learning we need to lead students to learning within a community, so the students too will be heroes in their communities.

So even though I teach in a test-prep school, I will also conduct that preparation within the confines of both district requirements and engaging projects– and to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.” Our democracy depends on this, don’t you think?


What about you? Who are your heroes? What are your communities? How will you best lead students to a sense of community and learning? How is it that educators lead us to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people?”



Photo Credits:

Missour River and Jake by Sheri Edwards