Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core

As we think about beginning our school year, we start thinking a bout priorities for our instruction. I would urge a focus on vocabulary since it is the foundation of reading and content area success. Marilee Sprenger's Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core: 55 Words that Make or Break Student Understanding identifies words that students need to know. Her list is drawn from the Common Core standards and appendix B of the standards with examples of tasks. These are tier 2 words that are used on the assessments. Often we assume that our children know the meaning of these words, but all too often they either do not at all or they do not fully understand them. Since we are being rated on how our kids perfume on these tests, it is doubly valuable for us to teach these terms.

Ms. Sprenger has divided the words into verbs and nouns and a short group of other. This nicely parallels the advice for unpacking the standard. Verbs are skills and nouns are knowledge. Each word is given a section with a definition and activities for teaching it. While all but one of the terms are introduced at the elementary level, many high school students I have worked with do not know them. It is important that we pretest students and provide the instruction so that they can perform the tasks we ask of them.

Each term is viewed in terms of where it is on Bloom's taxonomy, on Webb's Depth of Knowledge and in the Common Core itself. This anchors the term and provides a base for understanding the complexity of the term as well as how it is required to be used.

It may seem overly simplistic to ask students what main idea is, but students struggle with this skill and instruction in the term is paired with instruction in the how to activity. Although a word of the week is a strategy that is suggested, it may be more useful to weave the instruction in vocabulary with the instruction of the skills/knowledge. What often gets forgotten with this approach is the review of the terms. We spend a day giving instruction on main idea and then expect the kids to know it and never forget it.

One tool that was valuable was instruction in transformations of the term. Develop becomes development and draw becomes drawn and drawing. We forget that students do not have the word attack skills we do and assume they get the transformation, a skill that is especially challenging for English language learners and some special education students.

I liked  the die game that she highlights. A cube is used, either a paper one that is constructed, a wooden block or a purchased one. Each side receives an activity:
  1. define the term,
  2. name an antonym,
  3. name a synonym,
  4. use in a sentence,
  5. act out the term,
  6. apply the term (student may need lots of training in this area or more specific questions may need to be provided).
You can either add the term to each side or have a selection of terms either on cards to pull, a spinner to use or another die to roll. Students practice, repetition helps cement it into memory, the game like format is motivational.

Many multi sensory activities are provided. For teachers who struggle with how to incorporate different learning styles, these ideas are simple and easy to adapt to whichever vocabulary terms that you are covering. Jingles and motions are included for each term. Getting students moving helps keep blood flowing to their brains, novelty opens the brain to learning, games motivate students and provide excellent practice and reinforcement. These activities are key to good teaching. We just need to use them.

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