Why I changed How I do my Vocabulary Instruction in the Classroom

Why I changed my vocabulary instruction


Well everyone the struggle is real! What struggle, you say the reading struggle.  I have taught every subject in upper elementary and when a student struggles, no matter what subject, it all comes down to reading comprehension. And after working with classes full of struggling readers, yes whole classes, I was able to understand a little bit better on what was some root causes of their struggle.  VOCABULARY!!!  I noticed the biggest obstacles was that in adequate vocabulary hindered my student’s comprehension.  I found that many students could say the words and may even read fluently (shockingly) however, they had no idea what a lot of the words meant.  That is when I realized that my vocabulary instruction was lacking.  So I made a point to change my instruction.


I still did not feel it was adequate and done in the proper order.  In my district they want us to do a balanced literacy structure in our classes which I definitely wanted to start but my students had no background knowledge with word parts or decoding skills.  I began with teaching prefixes, suffixes, and affixes.  Being able to break apart words was so important, when my student started decoding the words by breaking them up they felt so accomplished.  They had those aha moments when reading.  Another major part was that this knowledge helped them with context clues. If you give the students the skills to figure out words as they read, they feel empowered. This also helped when teaching dictionary skills which is quite important because there are so many multiple meaning words in our language that that may have to be another post alone LOL.


So the gist is if you want to improve students reading skills improve their vocabulary skills. Many of these ideas are actually part of our curriculum but they are more of a spiraled instruction versus explicit instruction.  However, my point is there has to be explicit instruction if you want to improve vocabulary.


Well, how do you explicitly teach vocabulary?  Most curriculum’s give you the vocabulary you need to teach with whatever story, text, and/or content you teach, the thing you have to remember is to explicit teach it versus glossing over it as part of your lesson.   Here is a routine for teaching vocabulary:

Vocabulary Instruction


Before Reading Routine:

  1. Have students say the word
    1. Teacher says the word and students repeat it (echo)
    2. Show the word
    3. Teacher says the word and students repeat it (echo)
  2. Provide a definition (kid-friendly)
    1. Teacher provides kid-friendly definition and the students repeat it
    2. Use the word in a sentence
    3. Use a picture (teacher made/found)
  3. Have students discuss what is known about the word
    1. Tell students to think about the word “What do you already know about the word?” Pause
    2. Turn and tell your partner one idea about the word. “Be ready to share with the whole group”
  4. Provide examples and nonexamples of the word. Provide more than one!
    1. Example (thumbs up)
    2. Nonexamples (thumbs down)


After Reading Routine:

  1. Engage in deep processing activities by asking questions, using graphic organizers, or having students act out the word.
  • Semantic map
  • Word Web
  • Etc.
  1. Scaffold students to create powerful sentences with the new word
    1. Have students work in partners to create sentences using posted sentence starters

Strategies for Struggling Readers

strategies for struggling readers


How to help struggling readers in upper elementary?  By the time students get into the upper elementary grades they are expected to be able to read and comprehend at a certain level.  In most states they are even expected to take and pass a state test. So what do you do when they are not where they are supposed to be?  There is not enough time in the year to go back two to three years and reteach what they should have gotten I second or third grade.  In 3rd-5th grades they should be reading to learn not learning to read.  However, I have learned that that is not always the case.  I have always had to close major gaps when teaching in the upper grades. It can be quite frustrating. Luckily the strategies I have used have helped close gaps and I have experienced growth from most of my students.   Now that is a big part of keeping your sanity as a teacher, you have to realize that you may be able to have growth and not focusing on getting them on grade level, depending on where your students are.   The steps to take to help you’re struggling readers is vocabulary instruction, word study and reading fluency. Your students cannot progress if they do not have those basic skills.  Students cannot comprehend if they cannot read the words.  And I am so surprised at how limited our students vocabulary is even for my on grade level readers.

Vocabulary instruction is so important to building and improving your students comprehension.  When tutoring and small group instruction I find my students either guessing or just skipping words, which is hindering their comprehension.  Prefix, suffix, and affix knowledge can open them up to thousands of new words so ensure they become proficient with this concept, as well as teaching multiple meaning words.

Word study is the students practicing these skills.  I wrote a post on effective reading instruction where I stress practice, practice, practice.  Vocabulary words, spelling activities, writing using new words, etc. can all help enhance their word knowledge.

And lastly, reading fluency is very important especially for us that have state test.  Students need to be able to read quickly and fluently in order to be effective on these test.  In our state the test are timed and this can cause anxiety, not possible finishing and most importantly loss of confidence when the students see other finishing before them.  I recommend 6 minute fluency daily or at least 3 times a week, this is where students practice fluency daily for six minutes with a partner.  They time each other do a word count and check for understanding during and after the reading.  You can have questions that students can use to guide them.  Of course, this has to be explicitly taught and practiced often until it is a routine.


Below is a list of sites I always go to for help with my reading instruction:









Nine classroom management tips to start your year off right

classroom mgmt

Classroom management is the key to being a great teacher and having a great school year.  If you don’t have great classroom management your year will be horrible.  And you will wonder why you chose this job and why the kids don’t like you…lol, but you have to remember how to start your school year off right. And that is by establishing your classroom management standards from day 1!


  1. Set class rules and procedures, the first couple weeks of school you should practice these procedures and helping the students to remember the rules. You need to ensure kids know these rules have them recite them back to you, you can give a test.  There so many activities that you can do to ensure that the kids know the rules and procedures.  Remember this must happen at the beginning of the school year.
  2. You should have no more than four to five rules. You will have a lot more procedures i.e. on how you want your class to run but keep the rule list short. This way you can ensure students can remember.
  3. Establish entry and exit routines. For example, how to enter your room do they get materials and start a warm-up, or enter get your materials and wait for instructions you have to have some type of routine so that the kids know what to do when they come into your room.  As well as exit, do they have to complete an exit ticket, do they just leave when the bell ring, there must be some type of routine or there will be chaos.
  4. Be consistent! We all know that sometimes there are some things that happened that you can’t foresee like fire drills, assemblies, or teachers being absent but always try to at least be as consistent as possible to keep you and your student’s sanity.
  5. Decide what it is a No in your class. There are some rules you will have that are nonnegotiable.   Kids want to negotiate  and there may be a things that can be negotiated based on their behavior but there are some things that you should just not do or allow and they should be aware of what that is, for me it is no name calling.  I never want any student to feel uncomfortable in my class that is nonnegotiable for me. My students know that they will either lose recess or have to call their parents “I consider it bullying”
  6. Build relationships with students talk to them and be open to letting them talk to you. Get to know your students, when you have these relationships they are more apt to follow your rules and procedures.  Most times your students will ensure that your class is running smoothly because they like you and want to please you.  Plus they know what your expectations are.
  7. Let students know consequences of rule breaking don’t let it be a surprise. Always ensure they are aware of the consequences of their actions.  That is not to say you cannot make adjustments to what the consequences are but you always want to stay consistent with students
  8. Reward positive behavior sometimes as teachers we tend to overlook our students who are really trying to follow the rules and who are trying to be good students and citizens. They are often overlooked especially when you have a lot of behavior problems. But we cannot forget the all the positives.  Many times when our students that struggle with behavior, see that a student is getting rewards for being good, a lot of times that helps to change their behavior I like Class Dojo to help me keep track and if they are good I even let my trustworthy students be my dojo monitor. Be careful they have to be trustworthy or all of their friends will have a lot of points
  9. Practice your rules and procedures if you want your students to learn the rules basically practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect, don’t assume just because you’re in the third six weeks that your students will know or remember the rules unfortunately they are kids and we have to keep reminding them of the rules, don’t get upset (I mean all the every time) because they will forget and it is just a part of teaching. They will  have it by the end of the year I promise…lol!


What are some of the rules that you use in your class or do you have any classroom management tips that you feel helps your class run smoothly, please send a comment and share out, I would love to hear what everybody else does.

Four Features of Effective Reading Instruction

Four Features of Effective Reading Instruction!

Recently, I attended a workshop called “Reading to Learn for Fifth Grade” where I learned about the features of effective instruction that I wanted to share out with others who are teaching reading.  Now, this effective instruction may be for any content area, however I am putting this towards reading because that’s what I teach.  And I think that this is the groundwork for any teacher in other content areas as well.  First I’m going to list the features and then talk about each one of them individually.


  • Explicit instruction with modeling
  • Systematic instruction with scaffolding
  • Multiple opportunities to practice and respond
  • Immediate and corrective feedback


First, explicit instruction with modeling is the deliberate demonstrating and explaining of concepts.  It could be you modeling for the students or peer modeling with other students.  When you have kids sitting in groups or partners this can be an effective way to get students interacting.  When you have explicit instruction you are explaining the concepts and skills in ways that are concrete visible you have to include clear language and use many examples.  You want to ensure that you get your point across so that kids can master whatever skill that you are trying to teach, you want have routines to ensure mastery, and you definitely need to be prepared.   Explicit instruction consists of instructional procedures that are predictable, clear, and consistent. It has known expectations for the students so they know what to expect and what you are expecting.  Lastly explicit instruction has familiar routines.  Remember with explicit instruction you want to ensure you are constantly modeling, you want to demonstrate the task aloud by following a step-by-step procedure, you want to speak clearly and use language specific to the demonstration of the skill.  And you always ALWAYS want to continuously check for understanding while you’re modeling. Don’t just keep speaking and not check to see if the concept is understood.


The second feature is systematic instruction with scaffolding.  That means planning your lesson from start to finish.  Make sure that the task is appropriate for the outcome you want. You want to carefully sequence instruction so that you can optimize learning.  To select appropriate task and goals you want to move from easier to more difficult skills, you want to begin with higher-utility skills and begin with what your students already know.  Scaffolding should be based on each child and scaffolding should also be temporary. First, think about your most challenging student; then order the concepts and skills; next choose one concept or skill to scaffold; and finally provide three scaffolds for your chosen concept or skill.


The third feature is multiple opportunities to practice and respond.  You want to maximize your student engagement and participation. You want to always provide opportunities to practice this new skills in a variety of ways.  You want choose an activity that is related to the concept and skills you want the students to master.  You want the practice to relate the skill to student’s prior knowledge.  Kids that are actively engaged learn better.  You also want to make sure you increase the students opportunity to respond and you want to hear what they’re saying about the skill to make sure they understand.  Activities you can do are think pair share, choral responses, whole group, or small group. You want to ensure that you are practicing after each step of instruction, so stop and explicitly teach each step of instruction and then give them an opportunity to practice to ensure that they mastered the skill before moving onto the next step using multiple practice formats. Other ways to get in constant practice is through guided practice, whole group instruction, small group work (peer tutoring), independent practice, workstations, or work centers.


Lastly the fourth feature, immediate and corrective feedback.  When giving feedback to student you have to ensure that you are giving feedback in various forms.  For example, verbal, nonverbal, and written.  Feedback can be given in whole group, small group, partners, and/or individual.  When you give feedback make sure it is descriptive, telling students if they are right or wrong and explain why their answer is wrong and have them (students) correct themselves. When you explain why answers are correct or incorrect you are telling the students what they have and have not achieved and giving them an opportunity to develop ways to improve their learning. That means you need to have an environment where you can’t give that feedback so that students will still want to participate and not hinder them for being engaged because they are too scared to give the wrong answer.  You want to make the feedback immediate you don’t want to wait a day or two before you can give feedback. You want to ensure they are not learning how to do something wrong that makes it more difficult to reteach. So always make sure your feedback is immediate and corrective. Remember these features are given so that your instruction is effective and that your kids are learning, engaged, and that you are seeing results.