Six Vocabulary Visits

It’s summer and time to visit friends. Yet, teachers often wander back into  their work to improve their strategies for the next year. I know the research on Vocabulary Instruction by Marzano— see a review and many resources here:

And in thinking about instruction for next year, I decided to visit six vocabulary friends, and I hope you enjoy the visit:

1. Listening Vocabulary
Every teacher knows how valuable a working vocabulary is to learning and understanding. Many kids are exposed to conversations, books, museums, travel, sports and science camps, and other engaging family activities that enrich their understanding of how the world works today and in the past, with a rich vocabulary that accompanies those activities. A good listening vocabulary, those words you understand in conversation, guide the understanding of written words.

In order to read well, then, a good oral listening vocabulary will improve the ability to understand written text. What if students could listen to stories and hear the words?

Did you know about these free audiobook sites for children?

Lit to Go by Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse


Storynory’s Catch Phrase (explains common phrases in stories)

Sync (13+)

What about student research and reading online?

Try: Reading Words Online — turn text to speech (add to your browser) Turn your blog into a podcast

If you have access to a Mac OS X, check out these accessibility features, including text to speech, built in to the system:
(text to speech directions)
Literacy Learning

For Students with Disabilities:

Where do you see these fitting in?
I see students link to them from a class webpage, students listening on their own or the school’s iPads/iPods/computers. I see a class or group of students listening and enjoying together (whiteboard or computer). And I see students access these at home, either downloaded on their own devices at school or accessed directly from home. I see students choosing what and where.

2. High Frequency Words
To facilitate reading, students learn the high frequency words used in texts to develop automaticity in reading. What are these high frequency words?

Lists can be found here (free)
Sight Words
Wordbank 1200 High Frequency Words

For Students and Teachers
Spelling City (freemium)

For Students
Fun with Learning
Say the words before they disappear.

Where do you see these in your classroom?
I see kids reading flashcards with each other (see visit number three), or on Fun with Learning. I see kids noticing these words as they write. I see kids making up their own words using the meanings of the words they have learned. I see kids using words more precisely (“underneath” instead of “over there”). Merrium-Webster allows users to build an online dictionary. We could add our class favorite words there. I see a class wiki or google site with our own Great Words to Know. I see students choosing how and where they practice their words (in class, self, groups, at home, online) as part of their self-learning/reflection.

3. Academic Vocabulary:12 words

Standardized tests drive instruction today, like it or not. I’ve been reading many blogs who have mentioned Larry Bell’s  suggestion that students learn twelve important academic words frequently found on standardized tests. Here’s one blog with these words:

12 Words (trace, analyze, formulate, explain, describe, summarize, infer, compare, contrast, predict, evaluate, support)

This would be a great start to helping students with school-based learning. Learn them. Use them in questions and tests. Students apply them in their work and self-created test questions.

One way to learn words is through flashcards and learner-friendly glossaries.

I found two sites that help students and teachers create and use flashcards or glossaries.

First, quizlet, a freemium online app allowed me to easily created a set of online flashcards of the twelve words. I also created a set to use to teach with which included examples.  Students can sign up to create their own in quizlet. Teachers can create private groups for students.

Second, in Wordsmyth, I quickly created a glossary of the words with audio, mostly kid-friendly definitions, part of speech, an example, and related words. I could choose a dictionary (beginner, childrens, advanced) which then suggests kid-friendly definitions accordingly. This is important in learning new words: the definitions need to be in kid-friendly terms and their own words.  In this set, I added the word, “evidence” to the list.

For the related words, a great strategy is to place those words on a continuum of least-strong to most-strong in its meaning. Reading Rockets provides a wonder lesson and resources about this: Semantic Gradiants

Other Flashcard Apps:

Google’s Widget in Spreadsheet  How To
Studyblue — free
Studystack — Sample flashcards about Google Apps

Many of these apps are now available for the iOS platform (iPhones, iPads, iPods). gFlash is available on all devices.

Where do you see these in your classroom?
I see kids creating their own glossaries and flashcards which will deepen their word understanding. I see kids using words more precisely (“underneath” instead of “over there”). I links to their creations on a class wiki or google site with our own Great Words to Know. I see students choosing how and where they practice their words (in class, self, groups, at home, online) as part of their self-learning/reflection.

4. Academic Vocabulary: Content Words

As students study in textbooks and online to become experts in their area of study, they encounter words particular to each discipline. We want students to recognize and take time to learn these words so they can speak and write as historians, geographers, biologists, authors, etc. We want our classrooms filled with literate conversations. What are these words?

Building Academic Vocabulary

Bringing Words to Life available on Kindle

I discovered a wonderful site from Tennessee filled with resources for helping teachers and students master academic vocabulary.
And one from New Zealand which also includes exercises for students who are English language learners.

By choosing the words, and helping students choose the words, that are content-specific, we ensure students have the opportunity to develop better understanding of the content. Using wordsmyth or quizlet or any other site that helps students generate and practice these vocabulary words will aid in their progress.

vocabtriangleA strategy I use in my class is called word triangles. Here’s the strategy sheet. Students choose a word and list it inside a triangle. On two legs of the triangle, students write two details from the text that relate to the word on the lines next to each triangle. On the third line, students write a connection to the word. This helps students focus on the word, the text, and their understanding through a connection. It’s been a powerful addition to our learning.

Where do you see these in your classroom?
I see kids developing a relationship with words, in their own lists, at home, online, and in class. If our daily routines in the classroom focus on the art of the wordsmith, student wordsmiths will emerge. I see teacher and student choices in academic vocabulary with brief daily discussions using the words we choose. I see continuing our Vocabulary Wednesdays for more focused instruction with wordlists, games, sharing.

5. Improving Vocabulary

Yes, automaticity and academic vocabulary is important, but what is more important is lifelong learning. Becoming a wordsmith is fun. In my classroom, my wall is adorned with Donald Murray’s quote, “Writing is hard fun.” Vocabulary is “hard fun” too. But key to learning new words is putting those words into one’s own frame of reference with one’s own images, words, and connections and using the words correctly in daily use.

Students need kid-friendly definitions:

The Oxford dictionary is for language learners, so the definitions are written in easily understood words and so is this learner dictionary, both specially designed for easy understandings of definitions.

And, suggestions for activities to practice, learn, and use words can be found at this Learning Tasks site.

Students can create their own learning center at

Using the strategies in our first four visits with learner-friendly dictionaries, and interactive activities, and maintaining an online vocabulary center will propel students to become wordsmiths.

Where do you see these in your classroom?
I see kids challenging each other and recognizing their new word power. I see a hallway of Wordsmith Wonders, where students add their words in a graffiti -like wall that encourages wordplay, poetry, and interactivity. I see blogs with improved vocabulary and word challenges.I see our wiki or Google Site growing in power. I hear the hallway chatter with laughter of a found phrase to share on the Wordsmith Wonder or blog. I see and hear students choosing their own wonderful words.

6. Sharing Vocabulary

Choosing, learning, practicing words need social connections. Our Wordsmith Wonders will begin the interaction of sharing and applying our vocabulary. Working with partners and groups for learning on Vocabulary Wednesdays will offer more sharing time so we learn from each other.

A new book of strategies is Inside Words by Janet Allen (available on Kindle).

Merrium-Webster allows users to build an online dictionary; add to it.

Word Whirl
Students bring their best new vocabulary words, ready for Word Whirl. Students think about a poem or speech with their words for two minutes so that in one to two minutes they speak on a topic or recite their poem. They try their ideas out with a partner, seeking questions on content and format, and offering those to their partner. Students rethink their work for two minutes. Now the whirl: students pop up and share their work to the class. Listeners write down the interesting word(s) they hear, and one compliment. Next person pops. At the end all students either turn in their list/compliments or type them into a shared google doc. The document is discussed as a class as it is projected, or a leader shares the compliments and key words. What did you like? What did you notice? What was confusing? What word will you try? Students add their whirl to the Wordsmith Wonders, their own blog, or a common wiki or site.

And now how about you share: share1

What word did you learn today? Share it so we learn too…. at

Where do you see these in your classroom?
I see wordsmiths recognizing each other for vocabulary choices. I see impromptu discussions where words carry weight by their succinct addition to the topic. I see restatements of content more clear and concise, a group endeavor to summarize with pizazz. I see a badge of honor anyone can earn for the learning and using of vibrant vocabulary, like our vivid verbs in writing.

7. Listening Vocabulary

Vocabulary is required learning. While the teacher must direct the learning of specific vocabulary for their content area in each lesson, students should also consciously construct their own improved vocabulary. How students learn new vocabulary should not just be teacher directed, but also interest driven (new buzz word: passion). These activities provide opportunities to listen to our words in conversation and discussions and in written work for class or on blogs. Which brings us right back to listening: Wordsmiths listen to the way words work wonder in our minds. So if you find your classroom filled with wordsmiths, grab this badge to share with them.


Where do you see these in your classroom?

The friendly vocabulary visiting is done, except will you please share your favorite vocabulary friends here? I know I would love to meet a few more before school starts!

Inspiration for this blog comes from Elizabeth at Apache Junction.

My Growing Vocabulary Diigo

Photo Credit:

Wordsmith Badges by Sheri Edwards CC3.0



on “Six Vocabulary Visits
9 Comments on “Six Vocabulary Visits
  1. Thank you so much for this plethora of resources. I can immediately see three sites that you linked that I am going to share with my students. I am glad that my blog inspired you to write this blog. Becoming associated with you has enriched and renewed my view of how to teach. 🙂


    • Syd, I love your handle (edunut). Thanks for stopping by. I hope you add how you handle vocabulary in your PBL projects. I think it would help others decide to try PBL. I’ve subscribed to your wabi-sabi teacher blog. I like your goal “Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic centering on imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. I aspire toward attaining wabi-sabi-ness in my teaching practice.” That is something we need to remember so we take the risks to help our students. Sheri

      • Shari, thanks so much for visiting my blog o’ imperfection.

        This past year, my class used a wiki to create their own Humanities dictionary. They used animated avatars to introduce and pronounce their words and peer-reviewed one another’s contributions.

        For doing it the first time, I think it went well, however, some students commented in their reflections that the wiki was not something they ever used as a reference tool and felt it was a waste of their time for that reason. If I do it again this year, I’ll have to come up with some way to pre-assess to show how the process for building and maintaining the wiki helped to improve learners’ understanding of key concepts rather than its use as a reference tool. Does that make sense?

        Yours imperfectly,
        Syd :o)

        • Dang it, I always forget the happy face emoticon translates to “call me” when I hit the save button. Don’t call me- just know I’m smilin’. lol

        • Syd, I like your idea. Perhaps the kids could use their animated avatars as discussions between each other. Partners could write a conversation using their vocabulary words. One avatar would speak first, and then the other would answer. Maybe it could be a string of responses to each other that use the vocabulary and show what they know about the topic — each avatar would respond to a question from the previous avatar. Sort of an online panel discussion or round table using avatars. Voicethread would work too.

  2. Hi Sheri,

    Thanks for your post. In our literacy block, we do a “word of the week activity” which the kids enjoy. We then turn it into a challenge for the other classes to see if they can solve the word. I’d send you an example but only have the flipchart outline at home.

    The other utililty we have been making use of is vocab grabber – a great resource.

    Recently discovered the site Kubbu which allows you to create a variety of activities which are great for vocab and spelling. Two examples I created are here.

    Hope you find useful

    • Gary, Thank you so much for sharing such excellent resources others will be able to use. The visual thesaurus grabber is a must for students to learn to use when they get stuck. Love their examples. I will also try Kubbu — your examples are excellent to show the possibilities. Thanks for for adding to the resources. Sheri

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