Thursday, June 13, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 1

 I am super, super excited to be linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for a book study on Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. I picked this book up awhile back based solely on the title! I love words and I'm a self-professed Language Arts nerd so I knew it was fate. Then I discovered that the fabulous Sabra was going to be hosting a book study on this title and my dreams came true! 

Officially I am hosting Chapter 2, however, I will be blogging about each chapter as we go along and Sabra will be including a linky each week on her blog as well so you can share ideas, tips and questions you may have after each chapter. Super fun! I'm so excited to be a part of this book study!

Don't have a copy of the book? Remember you can read the whole book for FREE at Stenhouse! I also found a super awesome study guide to go with the book if you are wanting extra discussion questions and/or a better synopsis of each chapter. You can find that here.
I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me.

Chapter One: What's the Big Deal About Vocabulary Instruction?

This chapter really sets the stage for what is to come. Why do we need vocabulary instruction? Really, what is the big deal? The big deal is that we all need to know how to learn new vocabulary whether we are 5, 15 or 50. Some people pick up vocabulary relatively quickly -- this is especially true for those who are raised in households that have robust vocabularies. Students in inner city and urban environments need explicit vocabulary instruction in order to really ensure that they are getting the most of each and every lesson and not becoming bogged down with vocabulary they don't know or understand. 
The authors point out that we must engage in "School Talk" with our students if we want them to truly use rich vocabularies. This means using words like hypothesis instead of guess and onomatopoeia instead of words that sound like sounds so that our students will know and use these words as well. I will never forget when I first started teaching and sitting through a PD session where they talked about the word selection (as in a reading passage). Teachers in that session were baffled that students would continually ask what selection was when they saw it in the directions. It made perfect sense to me that this was a word that needed to be added to our daily vocabulary--kids needed to know what selection meant so that when they saw it on standardized tests, they weren't wondering what in the world that word meant. Kids got tripped up in the directions because they didn't know that selection was the passage they were about to start reading!
Connections to the Common Core Standards are emphasized throughout this chapter, including specific areas where you can find where vocabulary is mentioned within the standards. If you are in a Common Core state, this information will be very useful.
Vocabulary Instruction: What Not to Do vs. The Right Approach
Brenda offers insight into her first approach at vocabulary instruction. The kids got a list of words, looked the words up in the dictionary, wrote the definition and maybe a sentence. Sound familiar?  The old standby of word lists, definitions and sentences doesn't allow children to transfer the word meanings to real life use. Brenda, of course, realized that many teachers have no idea how to really teach vocabulary.

The authors identify 10 key components to effective vocabulary instruction:
  1. Some words are more important than others
  2. Students have to learn words at more than one level
  3. Students learn words when they experience them multiple times
  4. Asking students to look up words in the dictionary and write the definition does not help them learn words
  5. When students learn words, they build patterns and networks of meaning called "word schemas"
  6. Students can learn some words through the use of wide reading
  7. Students can learn some words through rich conversations with adults and peers
  8. Students can learn some words through word play
  9. Students can learn some words by direct instruction
  10. Most students need word-learning strategies to become independent readers
The first key mentions the book Bringing Words to Life (Beck, Mckeown and Kucan, 2002) and the use of word levels Tier One, Tier Two and Tier Three. (I will admit reading this chapter prompted me to go dig out my copy of Bringing Words to Life!) We have to remember to use a majority of our words in Tier Two with a sprinkling of words in Tier Three as they relate to content specific vocabulary. 

I especially love key 5--I am constantly telling my students to engage their schema and this is yet another one to use a powerful word they will hear over and over again. Our word study will build itself into schemas about various words, either by their parts, their sounds or what we know about the word (such as if it is in a content area). We have to embrace these keys in order to help us be effective instructors of vocabulary so our students can be effective users of vocabulary. 

Explicit and systematic vocabulary instruction has been cited countless times as a way to address the achievement gap yet most teachers probably were never taught how to teach vocabulary. Additionally, many teachers don't spend much time teaching vocabulary directly. Several sources are cited as providing a pathway toward providing vocabulary instruction that is meaningful for students. 

Michael Graves provides a four-part process to teaching vocabulary: provide rich and varied language experiences; teach individual words; teach word-learning strategies and promote word consciousness. Additionally, the authors provide guidelines that teaching vocabulary should be intentional, transparent, useable, personal and a priority (pg 17).  Teachers have the job to provide students who have limited experience with "school talk" with the opportunity to build up their word confidence so they will begin to use the vocabulary we are teaching and find ways to substitute robust vocabulary words into their everyday language.

I have to say that reading this first chapter has me more than fired up for reading the rest of this book. Haven't we all had a moment (or a year or two??) where we did that classic vocabulary trick of having them look the words up, provide a definition and use a sentence? Cringe-worthy, right? Alas, we know it doesn't work and thus, we are seeking an alternative. We are looking for ways to truly engage our kids with vocabulary and give them the word confidence they so desperately need. I feel very connected to the authors after reading this chapter because they are serving the exact population I serve: urban, inner city students who are immersed in a cycle of poverty. My entire career I have had people ask me why I "bother" to teach these "unteachable" kids. Sure they come in behind their suburban counterparts (with exceptions of course) but that doesn't mean we just give up or continue to do what our teachers did for us 10-20-30 years ago. The time for change is now and just reading this first chapter I am more than fired up to make real change in my own vocabulary instruction.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two next Thursday!
The Caffeinated Teacher


  1. I'm also really excited about reading the next Chapters! I really feel like you can get a lot of "bang for your buck" with this book since the strategies really apply to ANY subject - Math, Social Studies, Writing, etc....
    I can't wait to get into the specifics. :-)

    From Mrs. Allen’s Teaching Files

  2. Love your post! I teach the same population that you do (not so much inner city, but children living in poverty) and my students need much more practice with vocabulary on a much more frequent basis. This book is a fabulous resource.

    Thanks for sharing!!!
    Koonce’s Korner

  3. Agreed!!! My population is very similar and I am equally fired up! I can't wait to see what the rest of the book says and I just know their ideas are going to be amazing! Wonderful post! Thanks for linking up :o)

    Teaching with a Touch of Twang