Tuesday, March 15, 2016

KTL Newsletter 9 - Key to Vocabulary Routine

Vocabulary is one of the five elements necessary for a reader to be considered proficient: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The vast majority of students have mastered phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency issues in elementary school, so the issues that continue to hamper reading in the middle and high school grades are those of vocabulary and comprehension. Arguably, without an understanding of the words they are reading, comprehension is hampered, so teaching vocabulary, both directly and indirectly, is important to students’ ability to access the curriculum.

Ideally, teachers should identify words that students will encounter across curriculum (Tier II words) and teach these words in depth and/or reinforce their meaning. Content specific vocabulary, particularly those words related to science and math curriculum are less transferable to other subjects, but often relate to other vocabulary in the subject.

The Key to Vocabulary Routine
  1. Preview for difficult material
    1. Identify problematic words, phrases, figurative language
    2. Generate previewing list
    3. Provide background knowledge about words to aid in comprehension when reading
  2. Use activities that connect background knowledge about the words to background    knowledge and related words
    1. Categorizing
    2. Semantic Mapping
    3. Semantic Feature Analysis
    4. Scaling
  3. Select specific words to teach in depth
    1. identify a small set of keywords
    2. teach all aspects of the words
    3. develop user friendly definitions
  4. Identify opportunities to teach word learning strategies
    1. use of context to determine word meaning
    2. use of word parts to determine word meaning
Promote word consciousness (Sedita 2013)

One method of measuring student familiarity with vocabulary is to provide them with a list of words from their literature or text and have them rate their level of understanding, see example below.

Creating templates using two column note format can be a thoughtful way to have students learn and record vocabulary. 


Make sure that the definitions that students are given do not create further obstacles to their understanding. Using different sentence frames for each part of speech can be a helpful method of simplifying the definition and providing consistency:
Noun: A ____________ is a ____________ such as _____________________.
Verb: To ____________ is to ______________such as ___________________.
Adjective: To be __________ is to be ___________ such as ________________.

Remember, students learn best when provided with multiple opportunities to interact with new vocabulary. Activities such as having them write their own sentences, sort words into categories, create their own illustrations and rank words are just a few of the options available.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

KTL Newsletter 8 - Helping Students Find The Main Idea

Perhaps one of the most foundational, yet challenging, aspects of the Keys to Literacy programs is helping students find the main idea of a piece of writing. 

When exposed to a piece of writing (whether it be expository, narrative, or persuasive) students frequently provide lists of the most important details; however, lack the skills to narrow those details down to one main idea. In an effort to improve this skill, it is helpful to first guide students in the process using the I-We-You model

After asking students to read an expository passage aloud during class, use self-cueing prompts to help students ask themselves questions in order to identify the big idea of the text. Two questions I have found helpful to aid students in their thinking is, "Who or what is the focus of the source?" and "What is most important about it?" This helps students focus on the big ideas of the reading rather than becoming bogged down in details. 

Once students have answered these questions they are able to narrow down the central focus of the reading. As part of the "I" part of the model, teachers can have a pre-written main idea prepared to share with students as a model. An activity I have found helpful is writing each word of the pre-determined main idea on separate index cards. Each student is given an index card and as a class they must assemble themselves into the main idea sentence. Once assembled they must read the sentence aloud and compare how it matches their main idea. This also incorporates the "We" part of the I-We-You model. 

As an extension, teachers can use different colored index cards to emphasize key words versus non-essential words. This activity is especially useful for students who have a difficult time cutting out details. Students are then set up to practice the "You" portion of the I-We-You model by reading an excerpt and finding the main idea independently or for homework.