Engaging Vocabulary Instruction

I have mentioned before that my team uses Words Their Way to teach spelling, but we rarely see the skills transfer. We spent the first nine weeks teaching the program, but now we will spend the rest of the year focusing on vocabulary. We will continue to hit spelling in our guided reading groups, as Jan Richardson suggests in her book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Our staff is reading this book this year for a book study. Lots of great resources from the book are available here. We also continue to use Pat Cunningham’s Phonics program which is another opportunity to focus on spelling.

The vocabulary groups that we do are inspired by Word Nerds. We use engaging topics like hurricanes, the Titanic, and the Olympics to teach tier 2 vocabulary. We choose words that we think students need to know for reading comprehension. We introduce 5 words a week, and units are three weeks long. We only do vocabulary groups three times a week: on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

On Monday, we introduce the five words for the week. We use organizers that Word Nerds suggests. Depending on the level of the group, the organizer may be different. For example, the higher level group completes the organizers with synonyms and antonyms. I also make one of the boxes ask for a sentence using the word, but the organizers look similar to this:


On Wednesday, students practice the words in context. We typically use Brainpop Jr, Flocabulary, Readworks, Scholastic News, Reading A to Z, etc. to find resources on the subject of focus. We also encourage students to find the words in their own reading, and they can earn prizes if they find the words!

On Friday, we do active vocabulary practice. Most of the games we use come from chapter 5 of Word Nerds, and the games must be differentiated for the group’s level. Some of my favorite are the following:

Word Charades – Students act out the definition of a word. Words can be used if the activity is too difficult.

Counting Dude, Bragging Dude – Students work in partners to practice the definition of words. The “Bragging Dude” tries to brag about how much he knows about the word, while the counting dude makes sure he/she can say more than 7 words to explain the definition.

Chain Link – Students have a card with a word on it. One person must start the chain, then other students try to make connections to link their word to a word on the chain.  If the student makes a connection, they link elbows to show a connection was made.

Scramble – Students have cards with paired synonyms and antonyms on index cards. When the teacher yells “scramble,” students who have related cards find each other. Students switch cards and the game repeats. I like to play this game with music and when the music stops students find each other.

Heads up – Students have index cards with vocabulary words written on them. A partner tries to explain the word to their partner while they hold it on their forehead. (Thanks to Ellen for the inspiration for this game!)


4 thoughts on “Engaging Vocabulary Instruction

  1. jackieb38 November 21, 2016 / 9:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing these resources! I do vocabulary words every week for my students to work on during word work in the Daily 5. I get my lists on Flocabulary and they have great resources. I try to supplement the resources with other authentic activities that will make the new words stick in their current speech, and these really are really helpful. Thanks!


    • whitneyallred November 26, 2016 / 1:38 am

      Glad to hear it! Hope you enjoy!


  2. leighahall November 24, 2016 / 12:15 am

    So when you say that you don’t see Words Their Way transfer (which is interesting), do you mean that they learn the words for the end of the week test but don’t use them correctly in their writing?


    • whitneyallred November 26, 2016 / 1:37 am

      We find that students in each group (varying levels) don’t really transfer in writing or reading. I think Words Their Way helps most with students who still need short vowel or consonant practice. I also like these sorts for bilingual students who are just learning English. The visual supports are great at this level. Many of the higher level students can already read the words and don’t apply the new words or patterns in their writing.


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