Feb. ’18 Elementary Literacy Show – Vocabulary

Interview: Dr. James Erekson, University of Northern Colorado Professor of Literacy

In Practice: Ellen Mackey, G2 Teacher, Red Hawk Elementary School

Teacher Panel: Courtney Groskin (G4), Kris DeBuse (K), and Jennifer Merideth (G2) from Mountain View Elementary School

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the importance of teaching vocabulary and why do we teach vocabulary?
  • How do we intentionally plan for vocabulary?
  • How do you integrate vocabulary into other contents of the curriculum.
  • How might you integrate technology with vocabulary?


The resources mentioned and shared by Dr. Erekson can be found here.

Family and Community Literacy: Comprehension Conversations


The Gist

Ask your child what their vocabulary words are and what they mean. Then, attempt to use those words appropriately in a sentence. Ask your student to tell you whether you’ve used them correctly or incorrectly and how you might improve your usage.

The Whole Story

Similar to last week’s suggestion of Quick Writes, this week, we’re looking at how family literacy practice can put school vocabulary into practical use. This week, we’re considering how families can help students think about what it means and sounds like to use new vocabulary in spoken conversation. How can you structure these conversations?

  1. Ask your child to share an individual vocabulary word with you and share what it means in their own words.
  2. Follow up by asking questions for clarification such as, “What’s another word that has a similar meaning?” “Who might use this word?” “What kind of things would I read to see this word?”
  3. When your child thinks you’ve got a good grasp on the word, ask if you can try to use it in a sentence to see if you’ve got it right.
  4. Speak the word in a sentence and ask if you’ve used the word correctly.
  5. Either way, ask your child to explain why they think you used the word correctly or incorrectly.
  6. Try to see how many sentences you can each say using the word in new and appropriate ways.

A word of caution not to bombard your child with all of their vocabulary words in one sitting. For one, this will make otherwise fun, playful conversations feel like a learning trap. For another, the goal here is high-quality conversation and use of words, not zipping through all of them.

While Quick Writes and Word Walls can necessitate fixed locations or stable writing surfaces, these Comprehension Conversations can be had while waiting in line, riding in the car, or anywhere you can hear one another talk.

The final added benefit is the reversal of roles. When having Comprehension Conversations with your child, work to be the student and allow them to be the teacher. If they send you in a direction or offer a meaning you don’t think is exactly correct, model what you’d hope they’d do when they have a question – ask if you can look it up and see how the answers compare. The goal is conversation and learning together.

For more on the importance of children hearing vocabulary in the home, you might check out this article from Linguist William O’Grady.

Family Word Walls

Math Word Wall

This post is part of a series to support SVVS families as they help their children grow as readers, writers, listeners, and speakers. 

The Gist:

Establishing a word wall in your home using your child’s school vocabulary words and others can be an easy way to help support their growth as readers and writers.

Whole Story:

As you’ve visited your child’s classroom, you’ve probably noticed a wall or a section of a wall covered in large words, maybe hand-written and pasted on pieces of construction paper. These are word walls, and they’ve become a foundational practice for teachers working to help students get as many opportunities to interact with language as possible. All of this aligns with the National Council of Teachers of English’s 1997 Resolution on the Importance of a Print-Rich Classroom Environment.

Building a home word wall can be a helpful way to support your child’s reading and learning. Here are some simple steps, along with some suggested activities for making it useful:

  1. Start collecting words from the vocabulary your child’s classes at school. This could be suggested vocabulary sent home in newsletters by teachers or by collecting the bolded or unfamiliar words encountered in school reading. Add to these words by keeping an eye out for interesting and new vocabulary you encounter during family reading or out in the world.
  2. Select a space in your home where you can post and keep your collected words. This could be a blank wall, the refrigerator door, or any other shared space. While it may make sense to put the word wall in your child’s bedroom, choosing a shared space sends a signal that reading and writing are family activities.
  3. Either handwrite or type and print your words to be posted to your word wall. Be careful to make sure your words can be read from afar, so you don’t need to move too close before you have a conversation about what they mean.
  4. Talk about and use the words on your wall in regular conversation or using some of the applications recommended below.

Application (E=Elementary, M=Middle, H=High, A=All)

  • Visiting Word. After you have worked on a word wall for a substantial period of time, add a “visiting” word. This encourages your child to do a review of the word wall as they hunt for the new word. Present the visiting word as the new word for the day. (E, M)
  • Word Pictures. Divide the family into teams. Each team select one of the words from the word wall and illustrate it on a piece of paper. The opposing team gets a point for a correct guess and illustrates another word. (A)
  • Categories. Work as a family to create categories and group the words from the word wall to fit those categories. Set the number of words that are allowed in a “miscellaneous” category and create a maximum and minimum number of categories that can be used. This activity could be done individually first; then share and compare your categories. Each family member can share their groups of words with the family who guess the principle behind the sorting. (M, H, A)
  • Word of the Day. Choose a “Word of the Day.” Have everyone in the family use the “Word of the Day” meaningfully throughout their days. When you are back together in the car, at the dinner table, before bed, take turns talking about where you used your word throughout your days. (A)
  • Unfolding Five Words in a Story. Family members are given a word wall word every two-minutes for ten minutes (five words in total) to incorporate into a story they are writing on a topic of their choice. When a new word is given, everyone works that word into their story immediately. Encourage everyone to write continuously and quickly during the ten minutes. Family members share their stories. For new writers in the family, consider paring them with more mature writers. (A)

Other Resources: