+ One Teacher’s Vocabulary Tips

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From Kevin Feldman, educator and lecturer who shares his valuable newsletter with anyone who asks:

A 4th Grade Teacher in Billings Montana, Ann Brucker, wrote about the ways she has implemented his strategies in her classroom.

First of all, her process for teaching words follows this sequence:

  1. Pronounce
  2. Explain
  3. Provide examples
  4. Elaborate
  5. Assess (question, complete, yes-no-why, etc.)


Brucker wanted to “beef up” vocabulary learning.  She created several activities that require students to actively review words on a weekly basis.

  • An activity where students sort words by (for example) parts of speech, or number of syllables
  • A think-pair-share activity where groups of students “adopt” and present a word
  • An outline for them to write a news article using as many previous words as they could (and have it still make sense)
  • A bingo game, in which students must identify words meeting various criteria
  • A “chalk talk” activity, in which students silently and collaboratively brainstorm any information they can remember, connect, or share about a given set of words
  • A sentence session where students would write different types of sentences using any Word of the Day in a select location within the sentence

Use the Word!

Students always cheer (one year it was clapping, another year students shouted “Fantastico!”) every time one of the old target words is uttered. 

This causes a stir when visitors to the classroom are spontaneously cheered when they — unknowingly — utter a target word!  The school librarian feels like a celebrity and has begun trying to use words she thinks might hit the mark.  Brucker notices that this has quickly and drastically elevated the level of vocabulary in daily use.

Journal Page Entries

Brucker developed a journal page template with room for information about  four words on each page.  For every word entry there is a slot for the word itself; for the definition; for an explanation; for the origin; and for the part of speech.  There is also a small block for an “image” of each word.


To integrate some type of technology in this vocabulary development project, she decided a blog was much easier than a web site.  She got one set up in about five minutes, she writes.

She and the class decided to call it “Philology Blog.”  It has been a dynamic and engaging way to get students to interact with the words.

After going through the first three steps (pronounce, explain, give examples),  she is now able to pull up the blog where the target word is posted.  In it is found all of the information she wants to use for “elaboration.” 

There are descriptions and links to dictionary, thesaurus and etymology sites relevant to the word; there is some type of video, image or activity providing an example of how the word is used; and there’s a writing prompt where students are asked to use the word in context.  

Brucker also provides the words with their part of speech, so they can be sorted.

She uses a document camera and projector to display this page first thing every morning, so students can complete their paper journal entries and start using the words right away.

Sources For  Words 

Brucker selects the words from the context of the entire daily curriculum and instruction.  This obviously offers a vast array of words to choose from.  But she has also been able to integrate and embed some technology terms which naturally come with the tools she is using.

And the intense focus on vocabulary ties the entire schoolday together: from reading and language skills to math to science and art and music and sports — it all revolves around words.

Students are now not just waiting for her to introduce words for them — they are finding words on their own.

They truly love knowing and using grown-up words.  They are constantly bringing in newspaper and magazine clippings in which their target words appear.  The class has designated a “Wall of Fame” on which to hang their words.  As they watched President Obama’s inauguration address, they listened raptly for “their” words.

Vocabulary Strengthens Writing Skills

And a suprise perk: Bucker’s students’ writing has gained strength as they began responding to her writing prompts and posting their responses as comments.

This took a good bit of front-loading on her part, of course.

If the class is studying compound sentences or apostrophes, she instructed students to use such forms in their written responses.

She has noticed that they are much more eager to get on and write with the blog than they ever were with pencil and paper.  They have really taken ownership of their “site.”

Brucker is proud of her “philologists:” learners and lovers of words.  She is happy to share her experiences with all of us.

Source: Ann Brucker shared her strategies with  Kevin Feldman, whose literacy newsletter you can subscribe to at kfeldman@lists.scoe.org

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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