Word-learning Applied as a Reading Comprehension Activity

Word learning IS a reading comprehension activity.

If you’ve tried to increase your focus on words for a whole month, with The 90 Minute Challenge, keep it up! If you are trading off some comprehension instruction time for word instruction, you are not losing a thing, as long as your students are still thinking deeply and practicing context clue skills.

It has been my goal to encourage you to engage your students more and provide guidance on how to teach words effectively. When taught within contexts and metacognitive strategies are applied, word learning can become just another reading comprehension activity. I hope you will continue to give it 90 minutes a week of your time.

Please read my summary of the best ways to keep it up…below (if you’ve been using Word Lab Web, you’ve got it 90% covered):

Do your students know that good readers have to work at word learning too:

Show students that you also struggle with comprehension when words are hard. Model what you (and most readers) do:

  1. re-read the sentence
  2. use contextual clues to figure it out (talk through how you do it)
  3. look it up
  4. use a technique for remembering it

Provide tools with a rational for their use:

  1. Prove to them that most people don’t remember a word after one introduction, by playing Hot Lead! This activity also only needs to be done once to get the point across.
  2. Introduce the idea of keeping track of new words: a journal with 3 columns on a page headed word, meaning, picture/example, for review. Writing about words is important. By writing down the words and additional connections to those words, the brain’s pathways are triggered in ways that improve storage. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/writing-and-remembering-why-we-remember-what-we-write.html Use Word Walls as another form of whole class journaling.
  3. Provide an easy digital “look up” tool such as a tablet or phone (they do not need to be connected) with a downloaded dictionary such as Merriam Webster’s Learners Dictionary.

Students should learn 1000 to 4000 new words a year…

How in the world would anyone be able to teach that many new words to each of their students!

Fortunately, it’s not your responsibility to actually teach all these words. And it is reasonable for your students to learn at least 3,000 new words a year, with your help. But you do not need to (and cannot) teach them all. The majority of these words are learned through reading and classroom experiences.

So how many words is it reasonable for you to teach?

According to Marilee Sprenger and other experts in vocabulary, approximately 300+ words a year. This can include words taught in all subject areas. For a teacher in an ELA classroom teaching 8-10 words a week is a challenge, but doable.

What does it mean to “teach” words?

Well certainly not just providing definitions. Words must be learned deeply and permanently, until they become part of a student’s repertoire. In addition, we should be teaching them the words they are less likely to learn on their own from their reading and likely to need in order to learn from text books and other informational materials.

In other words, Tier II academic words.

Addressing 8-10 words each week, briefly, is the easiest part of teaching new words. The hardest part of the teaching is scaffolding them into the long term memory of your students.

VOCABUTRIX and Worder Nerds address the first step. This involves guiding students to make personal connections with their words. After that, it’s as straight forward as practice makes perfect, to store these words in long term memory. Use a wide variety of ways to access understanding. Then finally practice retrieval. Use the activities Pop and Pyramid Wordup for practice and retrieval and keep reviewing for at least a month after students have learned the words keeping in mind that some student need more time than others. Refer to Marilee Sprenger’s new book 101 Strategies to Make Academic Words Stick for more ideas.


Let them struggle and succeed, review and question…then celebrate the learning!!

Want to make it fun to find hard words? Try Word Find as described in my blog The 5 Most Important Characteristics of any Vocabulary Instruction – Plus 1 more.

Until then,

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