Vocabulary Instruction: A Glimpse into the Planning of a Mini Lesson
Vocabulary instruction is teaching children word meaning and usage of words for reading, writing, listening, thinking and speaking. Effective teaching of vocabulary has children being exposed to new, rich, and robust vocabulary words, understanding how to find the meaning of those words, and using those new words in their reading, writing, and speaking. Research says there is not one specific way to teach vocabulary, there are various ways to do so. Teaching vocabulary should have ways for students to have multiple meaningful exposures with unfamiliar words by being intentional with teaching new words, helping students gain word consciousness by having them understand words parts, the contexts words are used in, and having them read deeply and widely in texts that expose they to these words. Understanding the meaning of new words in context helps with comprehension. Choosing the ideal words to focus on when teaching is very important and can have a very big impact on how well new words are retained and used later. It is ideal that students acquire new words in their reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Planning a Lesson
When planning a mini lesson using a mentor text, consider the vocabulary, ideas, and skills you want to teach. As I am planning my mini lesson I pre-read the book, I and consider the teaching points I can make to decide the direction I will go when highlighting and choosing words for students to practice understanding word meanings with. A good narrative text would have several “rich and robust” (Bringing words to life) words for students to be exposed to and will have a well-developed story structure. Because of research I have read, I suggest choosing no more than 3 to 5 words to highlight. I would possibly consider as many as 7 words if the students are older and the mentor text that I use has some words in it that students would need to know in order to comprehend and follow the literary structure of the story. I would consider highlighting words that would help with understanding the theme, story structure, and/or any words that would help me understand and explain a characters feelings, actions, or behaviors as well as those tier 2 (high frequency, multiple meaning words) and tier 3 (low frequency, content specific) words students can benefit from learning. In my planning, I would also consider whether I would take time to focus on the words as I am introducing the book or whether I would discuss the words as I come to them in the text. Here is a peek into the planning of a vocabulary lesson with the mentor text “The Name Jar”.
I am preparing a mini lesson with a focus on vocabulary using the mentor text “The Name Jar” written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi. The story is about a girl named Unhei who has moved from Korea to America and is attending an American school for the first time. Unhei, is unsure about telling her American classmates her name because children on the bus ride to school are having trouble pronouncing it. The theme of the story centers on your name being your identity. I will prepare for several reads of the book because there are various teaching points that can be taken from it. On the first day of the read, I choose to highlight the words fingered, pronounced, souvenir, and blush. As I pre-read, I notice words that are from the Korean culture and other tier 2 words like complained that I choose not to highlight for students before reading the book aloud because they don’t necessarily help with the comprehension of the text or with understanding the theme and not understanding them will not get in the way of students enjoyment of the reading. I chose intentionally not to highlight the Korean words because the author knew that these words might be words that students would not understand and chose to give context clues, whether by defining it or by restating it. I will however, explain that they are examples of using context clues as I think aloud when reading aloud to the students by giving the meaning of other tier 2 words on the fly, by giving a quick synonym of the word and moving on with the story because they help with understanding the theme but may be known by most of the students.
Discussing the Standards and Delivery
I will focus on ELAR TEKS 3.3B and 3.3C states: use context within and beyond the sentence to determine the relevant meaning of an unknown word and determine the meaning of and use affixes to determine the meaning of unknown words. I will use Marzano’s 6 Steps to help students understand the meaning of these words because as I have stated previously, I understand that it takes multiple meaningful exposures to new words for them to stick. This will be done over several days. Here are Marzano’s 6 steps:
On day one of my reading, I will introduce the words fingered, pronounced, souvenir, and blush before reading and give students a kid friendly definition of each word. I want to spark interest in the story so, once I tell students what each word means, I will ask them to think about what they think the story will be about based on those words and the title of the story and share that with their elbow partner. This story is a powerful one about the importance of a name so I will also mention to the children that names sometimes have meaning. Once I began reading I will stop at salient parts of the story to either think aloud or to ask questions about what is happening. I will also use the illustrations to help with comprehension. When I come to the words that I have introduced students to, I will have them restate the meaning of those words. Steps 3-6 of Marzano’s will be completed after the completion of the reading. Because I am focusing on vocabulary, I will alter my voice when coming to words and phrases that help with meaning of the words I am working on, and think aloud how context clues work. Here is an example:
“As she ran her fingers along the grooves and ridges of the Korean characters, she pictured her grandmother’s smile.” This sentences helps visualize what the word fingered means. “But her face still felt red” to help students get a picture of what blush means.
I mentioned that I will discuss context clues and what they mean when I come to them. One example of this is the word kimchi the text tells students that it is a Korean-style spicy pickled cabbage. I will explain to the students that this is an example of how an author would use a definition to tell the meaning of some words.
After the first read, students will both draw and write. I want them to use the response skills strand to tell me something about the story using the words so, students will draw a picture of what the word means and then they will create a sentence with the word. The sentence has to tell something from the story.
Before the second read of the book, I will write the words fingered and pronounced on the whiteboard or chart paper and have them focus on the inflectional ending –ed. We will then talk about how the ending changes the meaning of those words and at the end of that read students will complete a graphic organizer that has them working with the words at a deeper level. They will have to list a synonym, an antonym, an example and a non-example for each word.
Before the third read I will allow students to discuss what they know about each word. This is the last time we will focus on vocabulary for this book. My focus will tune to the theme. The fun of step six will involve several words students have learned over the semester with games like charades.
Vocabulary instruction, when intentional, explicit, and well planned is a good way to build students word knowledge. Knowing the meaning of words helps with comprehension. The evidence of vocabulary acquisition is having students use new words in reading, writing and speaking. As educators, we can help children learn new words if we plan opportunities for them to be exposed to new words. I have discussed one way that can be done. There are lots of other ways for vocabulary instruction to happen. We need to remember that research says that students need multiple, meaningful exposures to the words you want them to learn. We can affect this through conversations, read-alouds, or videos. The idea is that we do it and often.
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”.