Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Building Vocabulary, Phonics, and Word Roots in Sixth Grade

I'm always working on introducing vocabulary words in new and interesting ways. To me, looking at words with readers is so important for building reading success. We talk about the words; we talk about how the words are used in the text; we talk about how the words relate to the overall meaning of the text; we talk about how we might use these same words, both in talking about the text and in creating our own ideas.

Sometimes I use speed drills to introduce new words. When I have some more time, however, I like to create a matching activity. This activity does take some preparation, but it pays off huge dividends in getting readers to focus on and talk about new words and how they fit into a bigger text.

1. Choose 8-10 interesting words from your next reading selection

I like to choose words based on several criteria. First, I look for high-utility academic words--some sources call these "Tier 2" words--that are likely to be found across multiple texts. Several years ago I took the original word list from Averil Coxhead's research and put it into a spreadsheet, with information about word roots and phonograms. You can access the sortable list here.

In the case of the example to the right, I used words from our basal curriculum.

2. Create syllable cards for each word.

Early in the school year, I use the QRI word reading test and noticed that my students had trouble decoding difficult multi-syllabic words. Showing students how to break words into syllables--divide and conquer, if you will!--helps them to approach new words with confidence.

I used Microsoft Word to create syllable cards for each word. To make the cards more manageable, I formatted them to overlap a bit to form the word, as you can see with "inscription" to the right. For struggling readers, you may want to paperclip the syllable cards together for each word; other readers may enjoy the challenge of sorting out 50 or so syllables.

3. Create definition cards for each word.

I used fairly simple definitions for the words, and formatted the table cells to make the cards all the same height.

4.  Take the sentences from the text that use each word and type them into your cards, leaving a line for each target word.

This step ensures that students work with putting the meaning of the words back into the text, an important step.

It's matching time!

I love report card envelopes for storing my reading manipulatives. When I did this particular activity with students, I arranged students in mixed ability groups with the plan that all students would be engaged in strong conversations. They were! I emphasized reading the definitions, words, and sentences aloud to each other. As I circulated to peek in at groups, I asked them questions like, "What do you think you're going to read about in this text?" and "How do ____ and _____ relate to each other?"

This isn't just a pre-reading activity, either. Students used the cards after reading the text as well to build automaticity and fluency. In this case, they could use the text to reinforce the meanings of the words, for example pointing to pictures of inscriptions in the text.

Differentiation with Etymology

A fourth set of cards including the word roots and etymology expands this activity. I introduced these to groups that needed some extra enrichment.

Although it is time-consuming to prepare, this activity yields big benefits in helping students to decode and use high-frequency academic words!

More with Academic Vocabulary

If you're looking for a structured approach to academic vocabulary, you might enjoy this reading intervention set!

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