The read aloud can be a multifaceted instructional tool. It can be used to sparking the joy of reading and it can also be used to model for students what good readers do naturally when they read. In my work as a literacy coach, I have seen teachers use read alouds as ways to discuss challenging topics, as ways to give students a fun brain break, and as ways to teach ideas for comprehension skills. They have also used the read aloud to model fluent reading and to teach ideas like cause and effect and making inferences and yes, they also take the opportunity to tell student the meanings of unfamiliar words. The read aloud as an instructional tool can be a powerful way to reinforce key ideas that you have worked on during your whole group and small group instruction. I want to discuss ways to get the most out of your read aloud time with students. For your read aloud to be beneficial, students must be willing to engage and interact with you while you read it. They will not learn or experience anything if they are not paying attention to you. So, let’s start there. Let's begin by considering the types of books to choose.
Types of Books
One of the first things you should consider is the types of books you choose to read to your students. The books should not only serve your purpose, but they should also be books the students would be interested in hearing you read. It is also important that students see themselves reflected positively in those books. I am reminded of a video I saw about diverse books, see it here: Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. Here are some other tips to think about when choosing a good read aloud:
Keeping Them Engaged
Okay, so you have chosen a book to read, and you are excited! The students are excited too, but remember they are 6, 7, or 8-ish. Understand that child development experts say that a reasonable attention span for a child is 2 to 3 minutes per their age so typically able children 6 to 8 years old may have an attention span of about 16 to 18 minutes. Read more about that in the article Normal Attention Span Expected by Age. Here are some things you can do to get and keep their attention while you read.
Using the read-aloud as an instructional tool is one way to ensure that the incidental, incremental nature of vocabulary acquisition can be more intentional and meaningful.
Thank you for reading,
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a way of advancing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills in the lives of our students. Research shows that in schools and districts where there was a focus on social and emotional learning, the rate of behavioral school suspensions went down, and the rate of school attendance went up. Some of the biggest challenges children face since the days of the pandemic are SEL related. Our students are dealing with more behavioral challenges, anxiety, and depression than ever before. Our children need skills like self-advocacy, active listening, the ability to problem solve, and to know how to remain (or become) resilient. These skills most certainly can and may be worked on at home, but we as educators can also help children develop these skills at school while we are teaching our core curriculum.
One of the easiest ways to teach these skills is by using books and more specifically reading those books aloud to our students. Reading books and generating discussion about how the characters in those books deal with challenging everyday topics is something our students can benefit from. Seeing characters navigate successfully through situations that can and sometimes are happening in real life is a good model for students. It will take a little bit of intentionality and planning, but it can be incorporated into your daily, weekly, or monthly routines. I want to spend some time identifying some books and book lists that I have found helpful, and I want to discuss how to effectively bring focus to the skill you are targeting. let's start with the how... As a literacy coach, I have been working with my teachers to continue to incorporate what they have learned about the science of teacher reading into their daily instructional practice. I push for explicit and systematic instructional practices. This blog will be no different.
We start with a focus on the skill or skills we will target with the book we have chosen. It is important to let the children know the skill we are focusing on as we read. Having your students pay close attention to how the character exhibits the behaviors related to the skill is as important as having students pay attention to how the character changes over time. The children may begin to recognize themselves in the character. Consider making this skill practice a routine by establishing a consistent way of visiting and revisiting the skill (maybe a daily, weekly, or monthly morning meeting). It may be a good idea to choose a skill that is a high need with your group and as your routine grows add other skills to this established structured time.
Next, we begin teaching the skill. We may first describe the skill or model how a student might behave while doing the skill. As a lover of vocabulary, I would also take a moment to define the skill. This part of your lesson may take up to 10 minutes but shouldn't take much more than that. The engaging read aloud will be the focal point of this lesson. If you want students to have notes or want to use a graphic organizer to help students identify key behaviors related to the skill prepare students for that in the beginning of the lesson. If time permits, make children aware of examples and non-examples of the skill and associated behaviors.
It is very important to revisit the skills that have been introduced routinely. To make this easy, establish a designated time to do this (maybe the end of the day as an exit ticket or daily reflection). Remind your students of the skills they have already learned and affirm them when they are displaying the skill. for example, if you notice a student struggling through an assignment you could say something like "I saw you struggling through your math assignment. I know how frustrating that can be. I see your resilience getting stronger." The idea is to reinforce the skills learned and used daily and often. Let's talk about some books that can help use teach the skills.
It is easy to find several book lists that target elementary, middle, and high school SEL topics so just know this list is not all encompassing. It is just a way to get you started:
SEL Books for Elementary:
SEL Books for Middle Grades:
SEL Books for High School:
With greater social and emotional competence, increases the possibility of high school graduation, the ability for success with career, post-secondary education, better mental health, and home life are all attainable. We as educators can play a crucial role it the social and emotional development of our students.
Thank you for reading,
The read aloud can be a multifaceted instructional tool. It can be used to sparking the joy of reading and it can also be used to model for students what good readers do naturally when they read. In my work as a literacy coach, I have seen teachers use read alouds as ways to discuss challenging topics, as ways to give students a fun brain break, and as ways to teach ideas for comprehension skills. They have also used the read aloud to model fluent reading and to teach ideas like cause and effect and making inferences and yes, they also take the opportunity to tell student the meanings of unfamiliar words. The read aloud as an instructional tool can be a powerful way to reinforce key ideas that you have worked on during your whole group and small group instruction. I want to discuss ways to get the most out of your read aloud time with students. For your read aloud to be beneficial, students must be willing to engage and interact with you while you read it. They will not learn or experience anything if they are not paying attention to you. So, lets start there. Let's begin by considering the types of books to choose.
Types of Books
One of the first things you should consider is the types of books you choose to read to your students. The books should not only serve your purpose, they should also be books the students would be interested in hearing you read. It is also important that students see themselves reflected positively in those books. I am reminded of a video I saw about diverse books, see it here: Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. Here are some other tips to think about when choosing a good read aloud:
Keeping Them Engaged
Okay, so you have chosen a book to read and you are excited! The students are excited too, but remember they are 6, 7, or 8-ish. Understand that child development experts say that a reasonable attention span for a child is 2 to 3 minutes per their age so typically able children 6 to 8 years old may have an attention span of about 16 to 18 minutes. Read more about that in the article Normal Attention Span Expected by Age. Here are some things you can do to get and keep their attention while you read.
Using the read-aloud as an instructional tool is one way to ensure that the incidental, incremental nature of vocabulary acquisition can be more intentional and meaningful.
Thank you for reading,
When asked: How do you plan instruction for the diverse learners in your classrooms? A reading certified teacher who has taught for more than 10 years and works with students in grades kinder, first, second, and third grades said the following:
“Academic vocabulary is introduced first. Usually, through the lesson objectives for the day (repetition is important). Before the lesson, scan the reading text and underline vocabulary words I think students will struggle with. I will plan my whole group vocabulary instruction and a small group instruction for students who are still struggling with vocabulary words. In the whole group and small group, I model context clues, multiple meaning words, meaning given to the student in the text. Students are given opportunities to read independently with the new vocabulary words acquired.”
About 91% of all respondents in my dissertation study said that they teach academic vocabulary. This was exciting to me because, as an experienced teacher, I did not always know how to teach vocabulary, much less academic vocabulary. I define academic vocabulary as words used in academic conversation and text. I have talked about tiers of word in. previous blog, so I can also define academic vocabulary as those tier 2 and tier 3 words that are used by experienced language users.
In trainings with teachers, I refer to academic vocabulary as “the language of the standards”. I tend to get on my soap box when talking to early grade educators about academic vocabulary because some of them have expressed the idea that some words are too difficult for students to understand. We repeatedly hear and say the phrase “kid-friendly” language when referencing objective statements and teacher classroom talk. It is truly my belief that any words, ideas, or concepts can be “kid-friendly’ if we teach them. I like to call it incidentally intentional. If you expose children to those words early, those words become words that student own.
We can expose children to academic vocabulary, in incidental ways by speaking to our students using academic language. I like to use the example “Okay students make a horizontal fold in your paper, remember, that is like a hot dog bun across the horizon, or long ways…” I would say that while demonstrating the position the paper should be in when making that fold. As another example when stating a lesson objective, I might say: “Today we will be working on manipulating phonemes or changing sounds in words.” I feel it is important for it to be common practice for students to hear words that are new and different as often as possible, but for them to also see how those words are used. We can expose students to academic vocabulary intentionally by letting them see us use academic vocabulary for them in writing just as often as we are saying them. We can do that by using those words in modeled and shared writing opportunities. This allows our students to not only hear new words, but to also see them. That counts as two meaningful exposures to rich new words.
It is important to expose children to academic vocabulary early and often. This is a good way to generate and cultivate word consciousness. When children become word conscious, they are less likely to just skip past a word they are not familiar with. We as early grade teachers can create students who are curious about learning new words. One of the ways we can hook them is through using academic vocabulary.
Thank you for reading,
I have often shared that as a second-grade teacher, I discovered that I was not teaching vocabulary in a way that students learn and in fact, even my students who were doing well academically (and have proven so on norm-referenced assessment) were not doing well in vocabulary. As a result, I began to try to figure out what I needed to do. I wanted to understand what vocabulary instruction should look like in my classroom and in classrooms that look like mine. I have been a literacy coach and Texas Reading Academy Cohort Leader for the past few years and have observed numerous abouts of classroom instruction paying attention their literacy instruction and how they teach vocabulary. I have also studied reading and literacy both at the masters and doctorate level specifically so that I can answer that question. In brief, here is what I found.
Often early grade teachers’ focus is on teaching children how to read. Teaching reading has proven to be a daunting task, especially if you as an educator are not trained effectively to do so (I will not go into detail about that part here). It is no wonder that vocabulary instruction is not considered nor taught early. Early grade teachers are spending time helping students map speech to print and match print to speech, teaching children the meaning of those words is an added task that we sometimes don’t plan for nor have time to do. It is very important that we change this narrative! Our children come to us with a varied about of words known, used, and heard so some children may come to us behind their peers and if that is not tackled early we send those children to third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade even further behind because the text they are reading then are filled with academic and higher level words they may not know how to read and don’t know how to figure the meaning of. We run the risk of losing those students because children that read and enjoy reading, read more; and consequently, children that don’t enjoy reading, read less, and may display habits that deflect from reading at all. Okay, off my soapbox (for now), what does early grade vocabulary instruction look like? I will tell you now… I must get a little technical, but I will break it down for you.
Word learning theorist say that there is a particular way that children learn to read words, I’m examining pre-reading here. It starts with what they hear. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, children hear conversations (in their native language) some debate before they are born, but certainly after they are born, they hear adults talk and engage in conversations, they see movies and television shows, and they hear stories read and told to them. Eventually they learn that the sounds they hear represent language and can then equate that to print, first environmental print like seeing a store sign and knowing that is where I get my happy meal, but not necessarily that that golden arch is an “m”. Early grade teachers help children match letters and letter combinations with the sounds that they make to read and spell words. Vocabulary instruction can start then!
Oral language is still a very important tool to help children learn. Since children are still learning to master the alphabetic principle (the understanding that words are made up of letters and letter combinations that represent sounds), teachers can and should read aloud books with rich vocabulary that children may not have already been exposed to. Teachers should also be using academic language interchanging the academic term for a synonym children may be more familiar with. In fact, during these early phases children should be exposed to a breath of vocabulary words to fill their mental backpack with. As they are learning to read words, they should also be exposed to lots of words. Children certainly do need to learn word learning strategies, like how to use context and illustrations to understand the meaning of words they do not know. Teachers should model how this is done, when they are reading and rereading aloud those books to children. As children matriculate through school and encounter “increasingly challenging text” teachers can begin to introduce word study and morphology (the study of units of sound that have meaning) and expose them to deeper meanings of the words they are learning, introducing them to how interconnected words and word families.
What does this all mean? In sum, vocabulary instruction in the early grade classroom looks like exposing children to lots of words, by reading to them, talking to them, and letting them talk to each other about what they are learning-in authentic ways, when possible. Teachers are not only exposing children to rich new words, but they are also modeling how to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words and letting children practice that on their own. Think breath of word learning early and depth of work knowledge and they begin to learn more words and sprinkling in word learning strategies as the children are exposed to “increasingly challenging text”. This will ensure children are being set up for success as they begin to practice these skills independently.
Thank you for reading,
How Can We Intentionally Expose Children to Rich Tier 2 Language and Model Vocabulary Acquisition Skills Using Incidental Means?
Young children learn words and language from interactions with parents, family, other children, and other adults. Classic research from studies like those done by Hart and Risley have shown that those interactions can vary depending on things like economic statues and basically put, the number of words a child hears and speaks. It is because of this that the number of words a child knows before coming to school is vast and varied. We as educators can combat this by being intentional when teaching children new words and their meanings.
From my review of literature, I have learned that children do not learn as many words from reading in the early grades because much of what they are reading comes from leveled or decodable text that are designed to help them practice spelling patterns and comprehension strategies to build accuracy with those specific spelling patterns and comprehension strategies. Those decodable text are mostly made up of words that students already know. From my observations of several classroom, I notice that early grade educators spend a good majority of their instructional time helping student learn to decode and recognize words, and rightfully so because this is a big part of children being able to independently read and comprehend text. It is important to mention that Gough and Tunmer's Simple View of Reading (1986) notes that skilled reading is both language comprehension and word recognition. This serves as a reminder that both sides of the equations are important to help students achieve skilled reading. The question is, what can we as educators do to intentionally expose the children we teach to rich tier 2 vocabulary?
Research shows that word meanings are learned both incidentally through exposure and intentionally through word teaching. It makes sense that early grade teachers would do both. Further, since this is true, it is also true that intentionally creating incidental opportunities for children to learn words also makes sense. Below 👇🏾 I have a list of resources to help teachers teach vocabulary with incidental and intentional exposure in their classrooms.
Incidental Exposures (Read Alouds)
I have an interest in the impact of early grade teachers teaching academic vocabulary — or the words that are typically used in academic dialogue and text -- as a part of their classroom instruction across subject area. I believe that an intentional focus on academic vocabulary when teaching across the content areas in the early grades will help close the achievement gap as well as help students comprehend grade level text independently as they matriculate through school and encounter increasingly challenging text. I believe that teaching academic vocabulary will help build children's content knowledge across subject areas.
As a part of my research, I surveyed 58 early grade teachers who work with children in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade. About 90% of them said that they teach academic vocabulary to their students. Those teachers who said they did not teach academic vocabulary taught third grade, though that group only amounted to about 6 teachers in this study, it still was interesting to think about. The survey question gave respondents the opportunity to answer "yes" or "no". It is true that this survey had a very small sample size and as such, it is possible that those teachers who said that they teach academic vocabulary knew that answering in the affirmative was "the right thing to do", but the responses did peek my interest. And so, this post is the beginnings of the research on the impact of early grade teachers teaching with a focus on academic vocabulary across subject area.
There is a case for the fact that children come to school with varying levels of word knowledge, whether because of economic status, home language, or a general lack of exposure to words spoken around them before beginning school. It is also important to note that along with these varying levels of word knowledge, there is also a variability in the rate that words are acquired for similar reasons. It is safe to say that these differences have been known to increase over time which can widen the gap between student groups which Keith Stanovich called the Matthew Effect in 1986 although it is debatable if the Matthew Effect applies to vocabulary knowledge.
From the work of Isabel Beck and her colleagues, academic vocabulary refers to the words that occur often across your curriculum in spoken or written school discourse. These words are important for comprehension of text read and heard in school and are often not known by some of our students who come to school with less exposure to english in the home. Beck and her colleagues suggested a system that can help educators priorities vocabulary for instruction in 2002. They tiered vocabulary for maximum impact. I will point out here that the idea of tiered vocabulary instruction may not be the only idea of how to prioritize which words to focus intentional vocabulary instruction on. It is the idea that I choose to use and may be the most familiar to educators. Both tier 2 (high utility words) and tier 3 (content [situation] specific words) are considered academic vocabulary and are the words I believe educators should center their vocabulary instruction around though there may be some instances and situations where tier 1 (basic words) may need to be directly taught if students do not get those word by incidental means.
Our basal reading programs have a vocabulary component that teachers can follow and according to my survey results, lots of early grade teachers use the words that our basal programs suggest to teach vocabulary. As I observe teachers and examine their lesson plans, I have noticed that some of the words that our basal programs suggest are not high utility tier 2 words or content specific tier 3 words (more research can be done here). Those words, though strategically placed, may be added to our basal texts to help with other skills necessary to reading comprehension, so we may need to begin to supplement words to teach to help students gain more word knowledge. Educators can supplement their vocabulary instruction with read aloud and shared reading opportunities to supplement basal reading programs in order to bring into our classroom instruction more depth and exposed children to rich different words that they may not otherwise be exposed to.
It is also important to expose children to what I like to say is the "language of the TEKS". I mean, words that are in our state standards or any state standards like, demonstrate, examine, manipulate, or identify. I have often heard the phase "Kid-friendly language" being used when conducting or planning instruction. I do agree that when stating the lesson objective, children should understand what teachers want them to do. What I am suggesting is that the language of the TEKS should be intentionally, explicitly taught so that those words can be considered kid-friendly. It is also important to intentional focus on content specific vocabulary, even in the early grades. Words that identify content across subject area like food chain, predator, water cycle, compose and decompose should also be intentionally, explicitly taught.
Once we have intentionally chosen words to teach, there are several strategies that have been used with students in grades 3-8 that can be added to vocabulary instruction by reading events like the read aloud and shared reading as a scaffold to help students begin to use those words in there reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Howard Goldstein and his colleagues wrote an article in 2017. In the article they suggest we consider the following when teaching vocabulary.
Do note when conducting vocabulary instruction it is important to know that new vocabulary knowledge builds on existing knowledge so when working with content specific vocabulary students will benefit from work helping them connect vocabulary words together by concept. Also remember that students who know fewer words may need additional support.
Information for this blog was taken from the following source:
Goldstein, H., Ziolkowski, R., Bojczyk, K., Marty, A., Schneider, N., Harpring, J. and Haring, C., 2017. Academic Vocabulary Learning in First Through Third Grade in Low-Income Schools: Effects of Automated Supplemental Instruction. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(11), pp.3237-3258.
Thank you for reading,
I have often told the story about myself as a second grade teacher. As awesome as I thought I was as an educator, data speaks when gauging and understanding student academic achievement. Even if you dispute this thought, the fact that numbers don't lie still proves that data is important to understand and consider. My data was showing that the students I taught, both low achieving and normally achieving where not scoring well when it came to vocabulary. One of my core values both professional and personal is to make a difference so, to see that my students were not doing well did not leave me feeling effective. That thought is a seed that was planted and has grown into my research focus today. By the way, that research topic is still ever-evolving and growing as I both learn new ideas and experience new issues to explore. It became my mission to understand what I could do to change what the numbers revealed. I first needed to understand what it really meant to change those numbers.
My first thoughts were; "How do you even test for knowledge of words?" Vocabulary knowledge is an unconstrained skill (a skill that is learned gradually over time as your are exposed to "increasingly challenge words.). It is not like learning the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that go with them (even though English is a complex language, we can still learn all about them in a fixed amount of time). I will admit, my first thoughts were to find the words that were being tested and just teach those, but would that really "teach" children all the words they would need to be able to comprehend the text they word be exposed to when they left me and went to those tested grades later in their school careers? No it would not! I needed to teach them some words and also teach them how to figure out the meaning of other words. So, yes I started by teaching my students specific words (like the ones they would see on a standardized test, but I also began paying attention to what students were supposed to know about vocabulary before they got to me (second grade) and what they needed to learn while they were with me, but I am rambling on and getting off track. Here is why I feel teaching vocabulary in the early grades is important.
Vocabulary, whether you consider it the knowledge of words or the knowledge of word meanings is important to comprehending the text we read and hear. If we don't know the words we are reading or hearing, the text being read or heard may as well be a foreign language. The extent of knowledge I have about a topic depends on the vocabulary I use and understand about it. A researcher said; we think in words, so to change our thinking we learn more words. It is very true that students who know words, (and by know words I mean understand and use) learn more words and a greater rate than students who don't know many words. It is also very true that students who don't know many words when they begin school, will struggle to understand the text they hear or read. We cannot really control the amount of words (word meanings) children know when they get to us, but we can control their exposure to words while they are with us. The Matthew effect says "the rich get richer" this is one of the reasons that teaching vocabulary in the early grades is important.
We can begin to level the playing field for our students by teaching them more words, both intentionally by explicitly teaching words, word meanings, parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms, and morphology and by exposing them to more words through reading aloud to them and exposing them to classroom discussions and talk. It is important to do this while students are also learning the alphabetic principle and using that knowledge to learn to read words. When students begin to encounter those "increasingly challenging"(language from the TEKS) text we spoke about earlier, students are learning to use the skills they learned in the early grades both more strategically and with more automatically. Students learn about using context clues, using dictionaries, understanding the word parts carry meaning, and that words can relate to other words in the early grades through teachers reading aloud texts and modeling the skills they need to understand text and share learning experiences with other texts, but as children matriculate through each grade level, the amount of shared responsibility and understanding shifts to them as students carrying more of the load. It is at this point where we begin to see more of an issue if students don't have a strong foundation from the earlier grades. Those teachers who teach third, fourth, and fifth grade begin to see evidence of what is called the fourth grade slump. Students tend to struggle to comprehend text at the fourth grade level because of the increasingly challenging nature of text at that level and because of the student not being prepared well enough to tackle challenge of that text independently.
It is our responsibility as early grade educators to prepare our students to be able to handle the task of reading and comprehending text as it becomes increasingly challenging when they move from one grade to the next. We are teaching students to read and comprehend text so that when they get to the upper elementary grades they can use those skills to comprehend and gain knowledge from text independently at their current grade level or above.
Thank you for reading...
Pearl Garden, Ed.D has completed her dissertation research involving understanding the vocabulary instruction practices of early grade teachers. She has a passion for the new and novice educator, and it is her goal to help educators tackle the achievement gap with her research findings. She will use this blog to share what she has learned in “pearls of literacy”. The ideas come from her dissertation titled “A Content Analysis of the Vocabulary Instruction Habits by Early Grade Teachers”.