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Word Nerds Review + a Giveaway

9781571109798Ever encounter a professional text you wish had been published sooner because it could’ve enriched your instruction (and your former students)?   If you read this blog back in 2007-2008, you might remember my school had an emphasis on vocabulary that year. My colleagues and I spent countless hours identifying Tier Two words from our interactive read aloud books. I spent at least two hours every Sunday afternoon preparing my vocabulary lessons for the upcoming week, trying to create games that would teach and excite my students. (Click here or here to see what a week’s worth of vocabulary lesson planning looked like in my fourth grade classroom.)  It was a lot of work, but I watched my student’s oral and written vocabularies soar that year, which made all of the time I spent preparing vocabulary lessons worth it.

Had Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary by Brenda J. Overturf, Leslie H. Montgomery, and Margot Holmes Smith been published in 2007 (as opposed to 2013), I cannot even imagine how much easier weekly vocabulary lesson planning would’ve been since I would’ve had a lot more ideas for ways to effectively teach vocabulary!  Word Nerds is filled with fresh ideas for ways to teach vocabulary so the meanings of the words stick with kids.  It also provides lots of research, which will help anyone new to strategic vocabulary instruction understand why it is important to teach words through reading, conversation, and word play (as opposed to simply having kids look up the definitions of words in the dictionary).

Overturf, Montgomery, and Smith provide readers with the routine they use to teach vocabulary.  Their format is not prescribed nor scripted.  Rather, it’s an approach that is clear, attainable, and flexible for anyone who believes in the necessity of explicitly teaching vocabulary.  They provide a lot of guidance for meaningful assessments that go beyond “write the word in a sentence” pattern so many of us have fallen into over the years.  Furthermore, the authors tie vocabulary instruction to the Common Core throughout the book, which will help you justify spending extra time on vocabulary with your students since doing so will help them meet the standards.

Montgomery and Smith are teachers at one of the highest poverty schools in Kentucky.  (Overturf met Montgomery and Smith in 2006 when they were students in her class at the University of Louisville’s MAT Program.)  They have found innovative ways to make students curious about words so they want to build their vocabularies.  Yet, as teachers in a high poverty school, they understand that using juicy words doesn’t work in all situations.  They state:

Our kids become so excited about new words that they want to share their new knowledge with everyone.  We worry (and sadly, it has happened) that they may be ridiculed at home or in their neighborhood for “showing off” their expanding vocabulary.  This is why the classroom must be a safe place for students to practice their new learning.

We discuss where and when it is appropriate to use different types of talk and vocabulary.  We make distinctions between what we call “Backyard Barbecue Talk” — the kind of pragmatic and casual conversation that is perfectly acceptable at a family reunion or at home with your friends — and “Professional Talk” — the kind of words you use in a discussion in the elementary classroom, at college, or on the job. By teaching our students how to gauge when each type of talk is suitable, we give them the confidence to hold their own in professional settings and the poise to participate easily in Backyard Barbecue Talk with their family and friends. We strive for culturally responsive teaching that is sensitive and accepting of home dialect and culture, but with the understanding that students have to learn the dominant code in order to take advantage of opportunities in society (Delpit 1995; Hill 2000; Ladson-Billings 1995; Lovelace and Stewart 2009). (60-61)

As a former inner city school teacher, I felt like I was learning from wise colleagues down the hall from my classroom.  The passage above is just one of many examples in Word Nerds that made me realize the authors understand the challenges of teaching vocabulary in high poverty contexts, as well as the pay-offs.

  • Here’s an overview of how Montgomery and Smith teach vocabulary to their students after they choose words to teach (from page 32; reprinted with permission from the publisher):

Step 1: Introduce the terms using a pocket chart, word cards, a cloze sentence with a blank

where the word should go, and kid-friendly definitions on sentence strips. Ask students

to predict the words, try out the words, and begin vocabulary journals.

Step 2: Add synonyms (or examples) and antonyms (or non-examples). Finish vocabulary

journals.

Step 3: Practice using the words with whole-group and small-group activities. Practice applications

of synonyms and antonyms with whole-group and small-group activities.

This step can take several days of intentional experiences.

Step 4: Engage in a whole-group activity to celebrate vocabulary learning.

Step 5: Assess understanding using a teacher-created test that resembles a standardized test.

  • Here’s a sample vocabulary planner from Word Nerds (from page 33; reprinted with permission from the publisher).  This will give you an idea of some of the things the authors do to get ready to teach their students a word.  Besides defining words, the authors feel students need to know synonyms and antonyms.  In addition, the authors have students draw pictures of each word to assist with meaning-making.  (NOTE: A blank version of this planner comes in Appendix A of the book.)
9781571109545.pdf
Click on the image to enlarge.
  • This graphic organizer connects with the vocabulary planner above (from page 152; reprinted with permission from the publisher).  One of the authors’ colleagues, Ashlee Kemper, taught a lot of ELL students and adapted the authors’ strategic vocabulary instruction to meet her students’ needs (see pgs. 50-51 of Word Nerds).
    • The authors’ students typically fill out Frayer Model graphic organizers in their vocabulary notebooks.  Since I taught a sizable ELL population when I was in Rhode Island, I particularly liked the way the authors adapted the graphic organizer (below) for their ELL students.  The main difference between the ELL version and the one for students whose first language is English is the section for the students’ connection to the word.
Click on the image to enlarge.
Click on the image to enlarge.
  • This is a formative assessment chart for vocabulary instruction (from page 128; reprinted with permission from the publisher).  This chart illustrates a variety of formative assessment techniques the authors describe throughout the text.
Click on the image to enlarge.
Click on the image to enlarge.
  • Click here to view the study guide for Word Nerds.

If you’d like to give your students the gift of a richer vocabulary, then add Word Nerds to your summer professional reading stack.  It will put you on the path to creating an innovative and meaningful vocabulary curriculum for the upcoming school year.  And, it’s the kind of resource you’ll return to again and again as you seek to enhance your instruction in the years to come.

Giveaway Information:

    • Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers sponsoring this giveaway.  One commenter will win a copy of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary.
    • To enter for a chance to win a copy please leave a comment on this post related to vocabulary instruction.
    • All comments left on or before Thursday, June 27th, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Friday, June 28th.   I will announce the winners’ names at the bottom of this post by Sunday, June 30th.
    • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship the book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you only leave it in the e-mail field.)

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone for such enthusiasm about this text!  Stephpbader’s commenter number came up with the random number generator so she’ll win a copy of Word Nerds.  Here’s what she wrote:

I enjoy teaching vocabulary to my students. I try to make it fun and use ways to make the words “stick” like vocab skits in which the students have to act out the meaning of the word without saying the word and the audience guesses or Splat! where I (or a team of students) draw simple sketches on the board depicting each word and two students go head to head to splat the picture that matches the word with a (clean) fly swatter.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

129 thoughts on “Word Nerds Review + a Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. I am anxious to learn a better way to teach 5th graders vocabulary. I have previewed Word Nerds and can’t wait to get started. I think this book will help me help my students!

    Like

  2. I’m excited to have a resource that would help me specifically teach vocabulary in a way that’s meaningful for my students. Sounds like this book is a great resource!

    Like

  3. I enjoy teaching vocabulary to my students. I try to make it fun and use ways to make the words “stick” like vocab skits in which the students have to act out the meaning of the word without saying the word and the audience guesses or Splat! where I (or a team of students) draw simple sketches on the board depicting each word and two students go head to head to splat the picture that matches the word with a (clean) fly swatter.

    Like

  4. This sounds like just the resource my 5th grade team has been searching for! We have really struggled with how to make vocabulary instruction relevant and worthwhile to our students. If i don’t win the drawing I’m definitely going to get a copy!

    Like

  5. Thanks for the review of Word Nerds. This is exactly what I am looking to implement in my classroom. We are abandoning a spelling/vocab program that was meaningless worksheets. This looks like it would motivate the learning and usage of new words.

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  6. I develop professional training for teachers from sixteen school districts and would love to add this book book to the professional library. I am looking for strategies and techniques to build vocabulary for ALL students. This book would provide more insight into this area of instructional need and serve as a tool for lesson design.

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  7. Would love a copy of this book. As a reading teacher, I always feel ELL students in particular should just sit in vocabulary instruction for a long time! It would be nice to have new and fresh ideas.

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  8. I believe that exposure and improvement in students’ vocabulary will lead to greater enjoyment and understanding of literature, as well as increased confidence and competence in writing skills. I would love to read this book as I continue to teach Reading to my students. Thanks for a great review!

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  9. Love this book already! I teach language arts and Spanish, and I could use these ideas for both subjects! Thanks for introducing it to us!

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  10. What a wonderful resource! We are really only just targeting explicit teaching of vocabulary in Australia, it would be wonderful to get it ‘right’ from the beginning

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  11. I’ve been told we’re putting more emphasis on vocabulary instruction this year, Thanks for sharing a good place to start my search for new (and better!) resources!

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  12. This book looks like a wonderful addition to my instructional library. Anything to help hook students into vocabulary is wonderful!

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  13. In our Title I school, a big obstacle to comprehension always seem to come back to vocabulary. I struggled with how best to improve my students vocabulary all year. I need this book!

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  14. I would love to add this to my professional reading stack! Vocabulary has always been hard for me to be consistent with. I could use a more structured system than what I currently have.

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  15. Wow, Word Nerds looks like an excellent book to improve the retention of vocabulary. I would be thrilled to win this text!!!

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  16. What smart teacher wouldn’t love to have that resource at their fingertips–voila! 2 hours a week saved because someone else already thought it through. Now I can worry about other things! Thanks!

    Like

  17. This looks like just what I need to work on my goal of improving vocabulary instruction in my classroom. Winning it would be what my budget needs, too!

    Like

  18. I love new ideas for making learning FUN! I primarily teach science and writing, but I could definitely put these ideas to good use! I also shared your link with my some teacher friends! Thank you! ☺

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  19. I follow your website via Facebook and saw your post about Vocabulary. I am currently in a graduate course on Vocabulary instruction! This book has peaked my interest and I am eager to dig in to see more. Thanks for sharing!

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  20. I have taught for many years, but continue to struggle with good vocabulary instruction. I’m looking forward to reading this book!

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  21. Thanks for the excellent review of this book. It has been coming up in my suggested items list on amazon, but I hadn’t investigated!

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  22. Perfect summer reading! I’m planning the buttons now for my new batch of word nerds coming in August to a familiar classroom nearby… Meanwhile, I’ve linked to your site and your book on my Teacher Links resource web page.

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  23. I love teaching new vocabulary every day in as many ways as possible. I have moved from being a fifth grade teacher into a K-3 Literacy Coach/Literacy Interventionist position this past year. I love working with the younger students, too now, and seeing the excitement from learning new words, using them, and making them their own is infectious. We currently use the Words Their Program and I also use many Tier II words from the books I read to my students. Thanks so much for the chance to win this amazing book, and thanks for this wonderful website/blog! I love it!!

    Like

  24. I teach in a school similar, I think, to the school described in WORD NERDS. More than half of our students are ELL’s. We have committed, as a faculty, to actively working on vocabulary development and academic language. I had already planned to read this book this summer.

    Like

  25. I love vocabulary! AS an ELL teacher you have to teach vocabulary every day. Having a book that would bring guidance to me and my fellow teachers would be fabulous! The fact that the authors have even include modifications of their graphic organizers for ELLs is a great selling point for me!

    Like

  26. I am on the move from third to fifth grade in a title 1 school. Our state writing scores were down this year, so I am excited to find new and innovative techniques to teach vocabulary. One method that I use in class that really works for my kinesthetic learners is to create some kind of movement, etc. for each word so that students are able to return to a familiar reference when they find that particular word in context.

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  27. I teach first grade (looping to second next year) and am excited to read more about vocabulary development for students. I encourage my students to be “word nerds” and their excitement has fueled me to find more resources and opportunities for them to grow and learn!

    Like

  28. In my 31 years of teaching, I have seen a huge decrease in students’ vocabulary, which impacts everything they do!! It is getting worse, and I, at least, am so bogged down with so much other stuff to do that I find it very hard to help students increase their vocabulary. This book would be a great help as a lot of the work has been done. Thank you!!

    Like

  29. So excited to build a rich vocabulary for our students. This year I have been using fun vocabulary words as part of our classroom behavior routine – my first graders love it. Excited about this book. Thanks eh!

    Like

  30. It would be great to see some new ideas and thoughts about teaching vocabulary. The stories in you blog are just what I want to see happening in my classroom. I would love to win a copy of this book.

    Like

  31. I have previewed the book online and it is already on my to buy list. I use many of the steps already but I am totally missing the activity part. There are many good ones in the book that I plan to use with my students in the fall. Great book!

    Like

  32. I work with at-risk middle school students with learning disabilities. One of the biggest struggles is with their lack of vocabulary skills. It affects every aspect of their education. Without the needed vocabulary skills they can’t move forward. This books seems like the answer to motivation and retention difficulties I am up against.

    Like

  33. I like how explicit the steps are for busy teachers! Seems like an engaging system for students to learn tier 1, 2, and 3 vocabulary words. Thanks for creating this book. Vocabulary is a key to comprehension and teachers need support to be able to integrate vocabulary instruction into their daily teaching.

    Like

    • No.
      If you go to pages 29-31 (you can preview the book online on Stenhouse’s website), you’ll get more information about how the authors selected the words to study with their kids. They often chose Tier Three words from their social studies and science content.

      Like

  34. I am always looking for new ways to improve vocabulary instruction for my ELL classes. This looks like just the tool I need to read next!

    Like

  35. This would be an excellent resource to add to my collection and share with my colleagues! I’m curious about ways to not only expand literacy vocab, but math as well.

    Like

  36. I remember loving words and shades of meaning as a kid. What a great idea. Would LOVE to have this for my class. Please, please, please

    Like

  37. As a K-6 ESL teacher, I am always looking for new ways to help kids (and to help teachers help kids) learn vocabulary. I LOVE your graphic organizers, and I would love to have a copy of this book!

    Like

  38. I am always looking for ways to improve vocabulary instruction. This book looks amazing! I love words and having new, improved strategies for helping my students love words is just what I need.

    Like

  39. I have been on the hunt for new Vocabulary strategies and ideas to really reach my students. This short preview has really gotten my attention and can’t wait to win/ buy a copy before school starts!

    Like

  40. My class had fun with Miss Alaineus this spring, which leads me to be interested in this book as well. I’m going to begin this next year with word play and continue it throughout the year.

    Like

  41. Love the title! I’ge always nicknamed myself as ‘such a word nerd’ trying to lead my 5th graders to getting excited about vocabulary. Number 2 on this summer’s project list is vocabulary prep! This sounds like exactly the tool I need!!

    Like

  42. This sounds like a book I would love to read this summer. My kids love when Vocabulary comes to life in our room through the word wall they create, using CLUE (circle, look, underline, explain) or teaching someone else a new word. I love when they use new words in conversations with each other.

    Like

  43. I think many students would benefit from the explicit vocabulary instruction. I work in a high poverty, high ELL school and vocabulary and word consciousness is an area that we need to improve in our planning and teaching. Sounds like a great resource to dig into!

    Like

  44. What an excellent article! I’m impressed that this book covers so many aspects of vocabulary – ‘Backyard Barbeque Talk’ vs. “Professional Talk”, graphic organizers, meaningful assessment,etc. I will definitely read this and would love to win a copy.

    Like

  45. I like seeing that this incorporates plenty of visual support. I’m finding that pictures, kids’ own sketches, icons, etc. all help my kids learn new vocabulary. I like the scaffolding provided in the graphic organizers!

    Like

  46. It was exciting to see a fellow teacher work on specific vocabulary this year geared to our character unit. This book has some of the ideas she used. It would be a great addition for any teacher of language arts.

    Like

  47. I can see Word Nerds working in all grade levels. I teach Middle School and often students have shifted to thinking vocabulary is no big deal. To have some exciting and innovative techniques to encourage and motivate my students would be well worth the time.

    Like

  48. I am very interested in reading this book. Our school has, as others have mentioned, been looking into how to improve our teaching word work in our builiding.

    Like

  49. This could not have appeared on my FB newsfeed at a better time! I am taking a literacy class (towards my reading license) and just last night we were discussing best practice in vocabulary instruction. We were lamenting that there just doesn’t seem to be anything out there that does it “right.” I can’t wait to check this out. Word Nerd for life!

    Like

  50. Love the title! I’ve always felt it a comment to be called a nerd. After working this week with Teacher’s college coaches I am so excited to work differently on teaching talk and strengthening my Lisa’s vocabulary!

    Like

  51. This is definitely where I don’t even stumble- I’m just plain bad at vocabulary instruction. I would love an interactive, structured (for me) yet flexible way to help my kids with vocabulary!

    Like

    • I think it’s where a lot of us stumble, Tara. When I think about how I taught vocabulary before I became familiar with the techniques in Bringing Words to Life (by Beck, McKeown, & Kucan), I shudder. After reading Word Nerds, I wish I had a classroom of my own RIGHT NOW to try these strategies out with kids. They’re incredible.

      Alas, consulting is what I’m sticking with right now. BUT, once I go back to the classroom, you can be sure this will be my go-to book for strategic vocabulary instruction.

      Like

  52. my co-teacher and i have been talking about our plans to improve our vocabulary instruction next year – to make it more systematic as well as to use some formative assessments to help us gauge how our kids are really doing. this book has been on our radar, but i hadn’t looked too closely at it yet. thanks for the detailed review, stacey. it sounds awesome.

    Like

  53. I’d love to create 2nd grade word nerds this upcoming year. I want to help them expand their vocabulary so that their reading and writing will be impacted on a higher level.

    Like

  54. I’ve been pondering adding a Word Wizard job to my morning circle routine that is modeled after Reader’s Digest ‘It Pays To Increase Your Word Power.’ I envision it including reading, predicting, applying, and practice. WordNerds sounds like it will help me implement this idea more effectively.

    Like

  55. The students in my class call ourselves word collectors. ALong with the typical vocabulary lesson students tune into interesting words in their own independent reading therefore learning new and interesting words. Utilizing this book would help me awaken the weekly vocabulary we learn about.

    Like

  56. We are working on a vocabulary initiative in my district and I would love some new ideas to make the staff and students into “word nerds”.

    Like

  57. I totally was doing the huge weekly vocab lesson plans every weekend too several years ago. And haven’t seen the rich language in my kids in the last two years when I haven’t had the deep vocabulary focus. This sounds like a great book!

    Like

  58. Our school is in the process of really amping up our vocabulary instruction. We have looked into buying something but I would love to take a look at this before we do!

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  59. Another book on my TBR list. Not enough hours in the summer for all the reading and learning to be done. Thank you for sharing. I always like to hang with word nerds. 🙂

    Like

  60. I’ve been blessed to work this year with a teacher who is passionate about vocab instruction. She’s awakened an interest in me. This book looks like a treasure!

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  61. I so agree – I was looking for this book years ago. Nice to see someone has put all the piece in one place. I have vocabulary ideas all over the place and need to organize them but looks like it has just been made easier. Thanks for sharing this resource.

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  62. One of my goals this summer is to reconsider my word work instruction. Since I teach first grade there are many components of this time in our day: decoding, word patterns, spelling patterns, vocabulary, word parts, etc. I hope to make this time of our day more efficient and effective next year.

    Like

  63. I need, no WANT this book. This is what I’ve been looking for to help my 5th graders expand their vocabularies. Thank you very much for sharing.

    Like

  64. This sounds like a great book–I cannot wait to check it out. One of the key ideas I appreciated in the post is the need for teachers to awaken curiosity about words. Some students don’t think twice or ask when they hear a word they don’t know–they just carry-on. How can I encourage my students to apply comprehension techniques, or ask questions when they encounter unfamiliar wordsl

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  65. I have been NEEDING a book like this for my instruction!! So excited, bummed I haven’t heard about it sooner!! Thanks for sharing!

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  66. I’m moving up to third grade after teaching second. I’m planning to spend my summer delving into ways of teaching my new students vocabulary and of course how to spell! Being a lover of words myself, I am looking forward to being able to spread my wordly passion onto my kiddos. This book sounds like a must read!

    Like

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