Teaching Vocabulary for the Common Core: 5 Proven Steps

Anyone can use the five research-based steps to clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and to make academic vocabulary from the Common Core State Standards relevant and meaningful to the lives of students. We know that so many factors outside of school have a big impact on student success, but "new research demonstrates that one factor in particular--academic vocabulary--is one of the strongest indicators of how well students will learn subject area content when they come to school." (The Art and Science of Teaching: Six Steps to Better Vocabulary Instruction, by Robert J. Marzano)


Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.  (K-12 College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, Language)

Marilee Sprenger, in her book Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core: 55 Words That Make or Break Student Understanding, has curated a list of the critical words students must know to be successful with the Common Core State Standards and any other standardized assessment they encounter.  View Ms. Sprenger's list of critical verbs and critical nouns.   Also, don't miss reading the new research on teaching vocabulary in Chapter 1 of her book.

The steps (in red text below) can be found in Classroom Instruction That Works,  by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock.*


1.  Direct Instruction by the Teacher, Part 1

"Give students a brief explanation or description of the new term or phrase." *
Display the word in an online dictionary, like Vocabulary.com or VisuWords.  
VisuWords™ Online Graphical Dictionary   (Hover over a circle to read the definition.  Double-click a circle to expand the network.  
Click and drag the background to move around.)
Ask students to teach the definition to a friend.

2.   Direct Instruction by the Teacher, Part 2

"Present students with a nonlinguistic representation of the new term or phrase." *
Look up pictures and pronunciations for the word in an online dictionary like Wordnik or find a video 
from Khan Academy to illustrate the meaning of the term.  Dramatize the meaning of the word.

3.   Students Generate Definition

"Ask students to generate their own explanations or descriptions of the term or phrase." *
Repeat the definition and ask students to generate their own explanation and type
     it into SitePal’s Text-to-Speech widget [or Natural Reader
Allow them to click “SAY IT” [or the PLAY button] to listen to the definition.  Set aside a few minutes
     for students to have fun with the different voices and special effects.
Natural Reader   [Does not require Flash]

4.   Students Draw 

"Ask students to create their own  nonlinguistic representation of the term or phrase." *
Students work individually or with a partner to create a graphic or InfoGraphic
(a visual representation) of the term.   Use your favorite draw program or choose 
one listed below.
Easel.ly Create and Share Visual Ideas  [for Tablets or Desktops]  
SketchPad   [for Tablets or Desktops]
Artpad    [Desktop Version / Requires Flash]
Storyboard That  [Tell students to simply click the button for CREATE A STORYBOARD and begin.  There is no need to log in.]

5.   Students Review Accuracy 

"Periodically ask students to review the accuracy of their explanations and representations." *
Students ask four different people to give them a definition for the term. 
Students use Padlet or Edistorm to compare definitions.  In Padlet, they can post the four definitions on four different sticky notes.  They should build a wall, and then double click on the wall to add a new sticky note.  
In Edistorm, students also post virtual sticky notes, but may vote for the most accurate definition by dragging "dots" from the side bar to the sticky notes.  Each student gets a limited amount of votes to pick their favorite ideas.  You can instantly sort notes by the number of votes.   (Exercise caution with Edistorm since students have the capability to cruelly exclude others.)
Teacher reviews the meaning of the term, along with the visuals from Step #2 before asking each
student to determine which definition most closely matches the correct meaning of the word.
Optional:   Students can use Storyboard That to incorporate a group of vocabulary words into a set of sequential drawings to tell a short story.  
There is no need to log in.  Tell students to simply find the button for CREATE A STORYBOARD and begin.




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