Building Bigger Vocabularies Through Books: Part 1 of 2

In this month’s issue of The Reading Teacher, there’s an excellent article, “The Vocabulary-Rich Classroom: Modeling Sophisticated Word Use to Promote Word Consciousness and Vocabulary Growth,”  which deals with ways teachers can broaden students’ vocabularies.  Holly B. Lane and Stephanie Arriaza Allen, the article’s authors, provide concrete examples from a kindergarten and a 4th grade classroom to illustrate ways teachers can strengthen students’ vocabularies during Morning Meetings and at other points during the school day.  As teachers, especially those of us who work with students who are ELLs, it’s our duty to expose our students to as much language as possible when they’re with us during the school day.

The school I taught at in Rhode Island had a large ELL population.  As a result, there was a big push for meaningful vocabulary instruction prior to the 2007-2008 school year.  Keeping Beck & her colleagues’ three tiers of words in mind, the school I taught in strove to increase students’ Tier 2 vocabulary words, which are the words that are key to helping students comprehend texts since these are the words encountered most often in everyday conversation, reading, and writing.

Therefore, teachers were encouraged to use our Interactive Read Aloud Books, which often contained lots of Tier 2 words, as the basis for our vocabulary instruction. Each week, we’d select five – six words from the text to teach to our students. Our instructional coaches provided us with a variety of vocabulary games to help us get started. Over time, visual and performing arts activities found their way into vocabulary instruction.  By the end of each week, it was clear students owned all of the vocabulary words.  It was evident that students owned the words they were instructed upon since they were using them in conversation and in their writing.

We know that children learn words best through extended instruction over time (Coyne, 2009), and explicit instruction is the best way to ensure that children learn word meanings, and, especially, subtle differences between words (Scott & Nagy, 2004). That said, Promoting incidental learning and word consciousness through frequent and deliberate modeling of sophisticated vocabulary can add substantial breadth to children’s vocabularies (Lane and Allen, 2010, 369).

I recently received a review copy of Willow’s Whispers, which is new this month.  As soon as I opened the book I was struck by the amount of Tier 2 vocabulary words in this text, which is a Fountas & Pinnell Level K.  The story has a powerful message (Click here to read more about the book.), which makes it an excellent book to use as a read aloud in primary grades.  After reading the book aloud at least once, it can be used to expand students’ vocabularies.  Here’s a look at a week’s worth of vocabulary lessons I created for six Tier 2 words I identified in Willow’s Whispers:


Acknowledgment: Material from Willow’s Whispers written by Lana Button and illustrated by Tania Howells is used by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd., Toronto. Text © 2010 Lana Button.

After using the book to teach vocabulary, it can be held up as a mentor text since it can be used to model how to use strong verbs in a narrative, which is something many students don’t do unless they’re shown explicit examples of how powerful, specific verbs can make a story richer.

Check back tomorrow for tips on how to create a week’s worth of vocabulary lessons, like the ones you see in the Scribd Document (above).

Finally, here are more posts that deal with vocabulary instruction: