Repetition is Key! Working Towards Multiple Exposures of New Vocabulary

Anyone over 25 can surely remember making vocabulary flash cards, writing words over and over to learn the spelling, and generating example sentences to try and cement the meaning of new words. Today’s students have an endless supply of mobile vocabulary flash card apps to choose from, so they don’t have to carry around a lame pile of colored index cards. Regardless of the medium the method of repetition to learn new words is not likely to fade anytime soon, nor should it, according to mounds of research.

In a recent article in Education Leadership, Lawrence at al. explained that, “Probably the most consistent finding related to good vocabulary instruction is that students need multiple exposures to a word to learn it well.” The National Institute for Literacy has also highlighted the importance, noting that, “Once vocabulary words have been selected, teachers should consider how to make repeated exposures to the word or concept productive and enjoyable.” Ensuring that the multiple exposures are significant and engaging is an important priority for teachers, and fortunately there is a plethora of interesting and exciting ways to reinforce new words. And LessonWriter makes it easier than ever!
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Here are some ways to support multiple exposures of new vocabulary:

  • Make a lesson on and get a lesson with up to seven different exposures to new vocabulary. The pre-teach vocabulary section gives instructors an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary via whole class or small group instruction. Then students encounter the vocabulary in the context of the passage and in three separate reinforcement exercises (fill-in-the-blank, matching, and write your own sentences). Teachers can also easily create flash cards and word searches from these vocabulary words.
  • Try bringing flash cards to the next level. Have students go beyond the word and definition to also include lists of examples and non-examples. Ask them to draw a simple picture that reminds them of the new word or connect the word to a physical action.
  • Use concept maps to help students activate schema and build connections to new words.
  • Have students create word sorts. Differentiate the activity by letting advanced groups determine the categories.


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Feeling Confused?

confused monkey
At a seminar I attended recently, the presenter asked for an audience member to look up the word “leverage” to clarify a point. A helpful gentleman volunteered and read through four distinct definitions of “leverage” before finally reaching the one that accurately matched the presenter’s meaning.

When confronted with a word that has multiple uses, “looking it up” can add to the confusion.

In addition to multiple definitions for everyday vocabulary, there are subject-specific definitions which are especially challenging for ELLs in content-area classes, like most science and social studies classes.

In the article “Academic Language and ELLs: What Teachers Need to Know” Lydia Breiseth offers these examples of words whose meanings change by subject:

Word Meaning/Use
  1. Lunch table (Social language)
  2. Periodic Table of Elements (Science)
  3. Table of Contents (ELA)
  4. Multiplication tables (Math)
  5. To table (delay) the discussion (Social Studies)
  1. Plot of a story (ELA)
  2. Plot of land (Geography)
  3. Plot ordered pairs on a graph (Math)
  4. To plot a government coup (History)
  1. Branch of government (Social Studies)
  2. Branch of a river (Geography)
  3. To branch out (Idiom)
  1. Your foot (Health)
  2. One foot in length (Math)
  3. Foot in your mouth (Idiom)
  4. Foot of the mountain (Geography)
  5. To foot the bill (Idiom)

For students already struggling with literacy and content-area knowledge, having to read through multiple definitions to select the right one is painful and distracts from the meaning of the text. Far more helpful is providing the precise definition for a specific context.

And it’s not just words!

Later in the same article, Breiseth brings up Debbie Zacarian and Judie Haynes, who coined the term TWIPs (Terms, Words, Idioms, and Phrases) in their book Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas, for important language structures. The article provides these examples that further illustrate how important content specific definitions are:

Terms The boiling point of water is 212° F.
Words The Declaration is now on display in Washington, DC.
Idioms She came to town once in a blue moon.
Phrases Based on the data, we agree with the scientists’ conclusion.

Analyzing texts, identifying vocabulary pitfalls, and developing instructional materials to address those challenges are the time consuming tasks that discourage you from using fresh, authentic materials in their classes.

LessonWriter automatically performs all those tasks on any reading material, so you can teach what suits your students best and still deliver high quality literacy support.

And with LessonWriter’s Differentiated Instruction options, definitions, jargon and slang can be taught as needed to some students and not to others where they may be inappropriate or distracting. Explicit instruction in slang, for example, is often helpful to second language learners but not to native speakers.

Join now to get started customizing language learning support for your students today.

3Haynes, J. & Zacarian, D. (2010). Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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The Feng Shui of Reading

After an assistant principal observed one of my first social studies classes, he commented that the bare walls were not very stimulating and maybe I could brighten up the place. At first I didn’t really understand but after decorating with student work and posters of the cultures we were studying, the students were more engaged and the room was energized.

Feng Shui
The idea that environment influences mood and learning is hardly a new one.  Feng Shui, the popular approach to arranging physical space in harmony with the five elements of ancient Chinese physics—Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, Earth—to influence mood and energy dates back thousands of years. More recently, studies have shown that improving the classroom environment definitely improves learning outcomes.

Similarly, research shows that readers have strong preferences for how words, space, and pictures are arranged on a page and meeting those preferences improves mood and enhances performance.

LessonWriter lessons balance the three elements of modern page layout—Typography, Images, and Layout—to improve students’ experience and understanding.

Our Feng Shui of Reading uses more white space, clearer delineations between tasks, and hundreds of new thematic images to brighten your pages. Click here to to try now.

All of LessonWriter’s design features are simple, fast, and free.

Check these resources for more information on how mood influences learning and how page design affects mood.

  1. The Aesthetics of Reading , Kevin Larson (Microsoft) & Rosalind Picard (MIT)
  2. Depending on My Mood: Mood-Driven Influences on Text Comprehension, Catherine M. Bohn-Gettler and David N. Rapp
  3. Better Mood and Better Performance:Learning Rule-Described Categories Is Enhanced by Positive Mood, e Ruby T. Nadler, Rahel R. Rabi, and John Paul Minda The University of Western Ontario

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One Piece at a Time: Roots, Stems and Literacy

ImageIn my second year of teaching, my school implemented a much-needed school wide literacy plan. Over 2/3 of our students were significantly behind in reading and part of the school’s core mission was to advance students dramatically enough to allow them to take courses at a local college in their junior and senior year of high school.  Clearly 6th graders who were reading on a 2nd or 3rd grade level had a long way to go.  Like many literacy plans, the intent was admirable but the execution was, well, less than effective.

A core part of the plan was for all teachers- even math and science teachers like me- to include the “word of the day” in our instruction.  The teachers leading the program were very dedicated humanities teachers, and I wish I could say I resisted the urge to be snarky when the first week’s list consisted of the following words:  polyglot, propaganda, symbolism, insurrection, and doctrine. I couldn’t, though: I replied with a note asking them to include the formula for photosynthesis in their lessons.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and we revisited the intention behind the plan and decided it made a lot more sense to support school-wide  instruction of a new common prefix, suffix or Greek  or Latin root word each week.  In addition to preventing weekly turf wars over the word list, teaching prefixes and suffixes led to much better results for students.

This makes a lot of sense because learning a relatively few number of prefixes, suffixes, and roots words gives students an advantage when trying to decipher a vast amount of words.  In her book Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing, Patricia Cunningham explains that,

“Four prefixes— un, re, in (and its variants im, ir, and il, all meaning “not”), and dis— account for 58 percent of all prefixed words. Add sixteen more prefixes— en/em, non, in/im (meaning “in”), over, mis, sub, pre, inter, fore, de, trans, super, semi, anti, mid, and under —to account for 97 percent of all prefixed words. Students who know how to read, spell, and attach meaning to these 20 prefixes can apply that knowledge to decode, spell, and understand the meanings of many multi-­syllabic words.”

Every lesson made with automatically includes the option to focus on one of the affixes found in the reading, so it is an easy way for teachers to support morphology instruction while still focusing on text related to specific content (Click here to give it a try!)

For More Great Resources on Word Roots, check out:

The Supplement to Massachusetts’ English Language Arts Framework
Scholastic Worksheet on Common Prefixes and Suffixes
Wikipedia’s List of Greek and Latin Roots
Anne Murphy Paul ‘s “Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts and Word Roots)

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What Level is the Right Level? Finding the Instructional Sweet Spot

The right level text can be the difference between engaged students increasing their skills and comprehension, and alienated students unable to make meaning or progress. This is why skilled teachers are careful to choose texts that Image are the appropriate level for their students,; but finding the instructional sweet spot is by no means an easy task.

Lev Vygotsky coined the term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)  to describe “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.”

ZPD has often been an elusive pedagogical ideal, but the push from the Common Core to include texts with a greater degree of complexity at earlier grade levels has exacerbated the need to find the right fit.  Fortunately, there are some great tools that not only help educators identify texts of appropriate levels, but also provide instructional strategies to make difficult texts more accessible to students:

These are terrific resource for learning more about instructional techniques related to accessible texts:

How do you select text of the appropriate level for your students? We’d love to hear your suggestions.

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