Chapter 5 - Vocabulary

from "Creating Strategic Readers" by Valerie Ellery


Research has shown that a strong vocabulary is critical to comprehension and fluency. Because vocabulary is cumulative it requires frequent exposure from in a variety of ways. Chapter 5 identifies 8 basic strategies for daily vocabulary instruction and offers examples of lessons that utilize each approach. Below is a brief description of each one...


This reading strategy refers to the ability to create relationships between words and the ability to relate words to non-linguistic forms like visual and sensory images. It allows readers to attach a new concept or meaning to one they already have, thereby building new understandings onto existing knowledge.

I like the "Reflection to Connection" activity because it relates to a specific text and challenges students to make predictions. In it students are divided into two teams. Each team is given a set of words or phrases from a given text, each one of which relates to one in the other team's set. Prior to reading the passage from which the words are selected, students compare cards and record their predictions as to which cards might match up. After reading the passage they compare their predictions to how the words were used in the text.


When students can recognize the meaning of an unknown word from the context in which they find it they become empowered to create their own meaning and feel like they have more control over their own learning. Context clues can be explicit, implied or deduced from opposite meanings in the text.

The "Cloze Passages with Semantic Gradients" exercise challenges students to predict an omitted word from the surrounding context. Students are shown a sentence or passage with a blank in place of a target word. They are invited to predict words that might be appropriate in the blank space. I like this activity because it allows students to use their Associative skills. While their predictions may not be "correct," they will have identified a meaning to apply to the new word once it is revealed.


Students can create meaning by recognizing what some words have in common with others. Using visual tools like graphic organizers and Venn diagrams, students can start to sort words into categories which encourages them to think more deeply about the nuances of each word. The act of sorting is a powerful use of higher order thinking.

In the "Interactive Word Walls" activity students are encouraged to place selected words written on sticky notes or cards into various categories posted on walls or boards throughout the room. As there may be one or more categories into which a word can fit, the activity has the potential to spark some productive conversation and debate. Because it is "open ended" without a concrete "correct" answer students have the opportunity to express their own understandings and learn from each other in ways that the teacher herself may not have predicted.

Visual Imaging

This technique draws on students' non-linguistic thinking skills. It encourages learners to value and recognize what happens in their own minds when they hear certain words, thereby strengthening their meta-cognition and encouraging them to draw from a wide range of mental processes. Particularly with the development of their appreciation for reading and writing poetry, this strategy is valuable for the opportunity it gives learners who naturally think "visually" to develop new vocabulary skills.

In "Museum Walk" students are given clay that they are asked to mold into a shape that expresses their understanding of a particular word. Students then walk around the room and review each others work. Students are then given the opportunity to explain their thought process to their peers. I like this activity in that it makes new words literally "tangible" for the learner and gives students a chance to develop their own understandings by synthesizing what they learn from their peers.


Students can develop appreciation for word meanings by analyzing the parts of the word itself regardless of its context. By developing the ability to spot clues to meaning from prefixes, suffixes, and roots, students become empowered to make accurate predictions about a words meaning that will grow and develop throughout their lives.

in "Word Awareness" students are asked to research the meaning of particular word roots and then challenged to create new words out of those roots by adding prefixes and suffixes. I like this activity because it puts the work of learning into their hands by developing their research skills. It also gives them a sense of ownership in that they don't simply learn a meaning but create one of their own by manipulating the words. Even if the words they create are not "real" it teaches them that words are theirs to be used as a form of individual expression.

Word Awareness

This concept refers to the development of a student's sense that the words they learn become a "bag of tricks" that they can use to express themselves. It relies on and encourages them to exercise their growing vocabulary by using the words they "own" in creative and powerful ways.

"Quick Writes" are a chance for students to start using a new word in their own writing. I especially like this exercise because it does not rely too heavily on clues and indicators outside of their own experience - it allows them to make their own meaning. I have taught students new words by providing them with the words in context or paired with a visual clue, which can be helpful but have the potential to lock in an association that is too narrow. An image of an "astute" shopper may give a learner some understanding of the word, but if they forever equate "astute" with the act of shopping they have missed the potential for the word's wider applications. By asking them to use a word in their own writing - and then comparing their work with others - students are exposed to a range of


Wide Reading

This strategy is as straightforward as it sounds. In order to develop vocabulary, students must be immersed in jot as much as possible. Ellery recommends at least 20 minutes of reading a day in order to expose learners to enough text from which they can draw new words.

In "Author Study" students read multiple works by the same author and identify certain words or phrases that are common to all the books. I like this technique because in addition to encouraging students to be close readers who have a direction and purpose to their reading, it starts to develop in them a sense of an authors "voice." By being encouraged to imitate the style of a particular author, students begin to appreciate that writing style is the result of conscious choices that they can make for themselves as they grow as writers themselves.


The traditional way to learn vocabulary - "look it up!" can be an effective entry point into a word's meaning but has the potential to encourage an understanding that is superficial and limited in breadth.

My own idea for how to make referencing a more meaningful exercise is to ask students to identify a word they do not know from their own reading and charge them with finding multiple sources that purport to tell them the "answer." By looking at a range of dictionary definitions, thesauri, and glossaries students can begin to triangulate a meaning that works for them by synthesizing the various sources they encounter. For a certain level of development it might be enlightening to ask them to look up a definition in a scholarly dictionary like the OED and compare it to Webster's to see how the two sources inform each other.