20 Replies| Latest reply: Nov 10, 2011 1:08 PM by danielle6849 RSS
jroberts Learning

Every teacher is a literacy teacher

I think everyone can agree that literacy is the number one reason students require tier 2 and tier 3 intervention. One of the “core-values” we have adopted at our school is that every teacher is a literacy teacher. We have put an over-whelming emphasis on making sure that our teachers put vocabulary at the top of their priority list, regardless of the subject.

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  • teacher333 Beginner
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    I do agree that every teacher is a literacy teacher, but we need to find a better way to teach vocabulary.  Students need to make more connections, especially lasting connections, with the new vocabulary, not just memorizing them.  We preteach vocabulary in all areas, especially in science and social studies, but unless they can make that connection as to what a particular word means to them, the student will forget those words right after a test/quiz is given.

    • cfjohnson Middle
      Every teacher is a literacy teacher

      I know what you mean. This year at IRA Mary Ellen Vogt talked about this a little and showed something she called called 4 corners vocabulary. It helps the student go beyond memorization by associating more than a "boring acadmic definition."




      Apart from something like this, I struggle with going beyond the standard word wall or flash cards. Is there anything else you have tried?

      • teacher333 Beginner
        Every teacher is a literacy teacher

        I do something similar to this, but one of the boxes has the definition of the word in the student's own words, so this way they "own it".  I also have them add some color as at times some of my students remember much better with colors associated with things. I also have done a matching memory game, where there might be 3 columns, in different colored index cards; one row has the definition printed on it, one a picture and one the word.  All are facedown, and the student needs to pick one from each column, read the words if there are any, and try to make a match.  You can also do this with only 2 columns, just for the words and definitions, but adding the picture column also further imprints the information.  This has worked not only in science and social studies, but also reading groups, and my students always ask to play this. 

      • mvogt Expert
        Every teacher is a literacy teacher

        Cortney, I was surprised and happy to see the 4 Corners activity I talked about at IRA!  Thanks for sharing it on Teachability!  I also really enjoyed Pat's description of some wonderful adaptations in the activity (kids writing their own defintions and using color).  Kids can also make their own 4-corners vocabulary books for different content areas. What I really like about this idea is that it contextualizes vocabulary words for kids who need a bit more scaffolding.  Some academic words that English learners (and others) have difficulty with, such as "discuss," "explain," or "summarize" can become 4 corners charts, but instead of drawing or finding a picture (hard to do with these types of words), simply photograph your students engaged in discussing, explaining, or summarizing, etc.  The kids will love seeing their photos on vocabulary charts...and they're much more likely to remember what to do when it's time to engage in on of these academic activities.

        • carashores Expert
          Every teacher is a literacy teacher

          These are all great ideas.  The version of the graphic organizer that Pat talked about is called a Frayer Model, and it can be adapted for different parts of speech and grade levels.  According to a large body of research, one of the most important components in teaching vocabulary is having the student put the definition in their own words.  This requires that they process the meaning rather than just memorizing it.  If you want to dig a little more into the research, here is the citation for an article that Robert Marzano wrote for Educational Leadership.  It gives the most effective practices for teaching vocabulary and will point you to some additional research.  The citation is:


          Marzano, R. J. (2009).  Six steps to better vocabulary instruction.  Educational Leadership, (67)1, 83-4. 

  • ms.nelson84 Beginner
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    Hello Ms. Roberts,


    I definitely agree that students need to feel that the vocabulary they are learning is relevant. Here are some ideas that may be helpful to you.


    1. If you're teaching a concept or a vocabulary word, try posting an image and ask students to write down 10 words that could describe or define the image or word. Make sure students skip a line after each entry. When it's time to share out, ask students to write down words they did not think about in the space provided. After this, ask students to come up with a working definition that includes at least 3 of the words the came up with. If you give students an exit slip, tell them to include at least 3 of the academic vocabulary words in their summary.


    2. Hand out strips of paper that has different vocabulary words. Ask for volunteers to act out their word and get the rest of the class to guess. You can also instruct the presenter to use knowledge from your previous lesson to describe what the word is without giving it away.


    3. You can also use some academic vocabulary words to create a Taboo game. After the game, ask students to write a story using the words or a summary of the lesson using the words they learned during the game.


    I hope this was helpful.

    • srvaughn Expert
      Every teacher is a literacy teacher

      I also think that students can find learning new words, particularly unusual or big words, fun.  Promoting ways for students to be "word collectors" and "word wizards" helps them to develop word consciousness so that they pay attention to new words and learn what they mean.

      What can teachers do?


      * Ask students to listen for new and unusual words when they are watching television or listening to adult conversation. Ask them to try to figure out what the word means based on the context.

      At the beginning of each class or school day, take a few minutes and ask students, "Did anyone learn any new words yesterday?"  Keep a chart of the new words and their meaning.


      * Ask students to keep a log of words that are new to them.  At the end of each class or school day, ask students to identify new words they saw or heard. Work with students to define these new words. Give students lots of feedback for being good "word detectors" and learning new words.


      * Use unusal and multi-syllable words with students and encourage them to use these same words with each other. Learning new words and their meanings is fun and can be part of all learning.

  • elizmg Beginner
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    While reading through these posts, I noticed Math was a content subject sorely missing discussion. I use many literacy strategies in Math. I teach students how to use a KWL chart to dissect a problem. I have also found some students do not try to use their tools to sound out difficult words in Math. We model breaking up or chunking large or multisyllabic words into pieces and looking at the smaller pieces to figure out the whole word and what it means. This seems to help students not only realize that literacy strategies can be used in any area, but also helps them build the background knowledge around what they already know.

  • Shane Templeton Expert
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    I'm excited about the focus on Vocabulary that has emerged here. Every teacher is a teacher of language, and for content teachers,that language is the vocabulary of their discipline. A number of us who have been working in the area of vocabulary have emphasized that engaging and effective instruction teaches ABOUT words and not just the individual words themselves. This is what has been referred to as “morphological awareness” in the literature; “morphology” is mentioned in most state English/Language Arts standards and is prominent in the Common Core State Standards.

    Beginning in the elementary grades, we provide the foundation for teaching word formation processes, the “how to” of morphology:  How Greek and Latin roots, affixes, and base words combine to create new words. Beginning with words with which students are familiar, for example, teachers demonstrate how the meaning of the word “interrupt” comes from the combination of the Latin root –rupt-, meaning “break,” and the prefix inter-, meaning “in between.” Literally, if we interrupt someone when they’re talking we “break in between” the words they are speaking. The root –rupt- occurs in dozens of words in English, so understanding its meaning, along with understanding how meaningful word parts combine, allows students to decode the meaning of words they encounter in their reading but which they may not have been taught. Another example: the word erupt in science literally means “break out” (rupt + the prefix e-, which means “out”). When a volcano erupts, that’s exactly what it does!

    A quick plug for two books that provide the knowledge base and a scope and sequence for instruction in morphology: Words Their Way (especially Chapter 8), and Vocabulary Their Way (intended for teachers in the intermediate, middle, and secondary grades).

    • teacher333 Beginner
      Every teacher is a literacy teacher

      When we come back to school next month, our school will be running a pilot program with Words Their Way, but only for the inclusion classes; I have gotten all of the books from the library just to get an idea of how the program works, and you can get a let of information from just administering the spelling assessments.  Does anyone here have experience using that program?

    • smebbers Beginner
      Re: Every teacher is a literacy teacher

      Interesting discussion here!


      If every teacher is a literacy teacher, then every genre and every topic provides a potential springboard for promoting literacy. Shane's comments about the roots of the language are highly applicable across the content areas.  Many of the scientific terms are formed of highly versatile and productive Greek roots. In an informal study of the glossary of a middle school science text, I found that almost 60% of the words were of Greek origin, containing roots like ge-o ('earth, rocks'), hydr-o (water), phot-o ('light'), therm-o ('energy, heat'), etc.


      So, I see value in teaching the most applicable roots and prefixes across the subject areas, but perhaps especially in science class.


      PS.  Shane Templeton wrote a great post about how to dig into the roots, and the origins of a word, at Vocabulogic. See Dr. Templeton's post here.

  • rvesper Beginner
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    The problem that I try to address through my class is the "I write differently for different classes" strategy that students employ.  As an art teacher I was, at one point, under the misguided belief that students had no idea how to write.  I confronted a student who was planning on a career in writing about a paper she had turned in and she explained this system to me.  Since that time, I always let my students know that I have an English degree and have written several scholarly papers about critical theory in the Arts.  They know from day one that they need to write in their English class style with me.  When we read articles about artists or ideas, I have them use their dictionary.com app on their phone or sit at a computer.  If they hit words they don't understand they highlight them and look them up.  Then when we discuss the article, I ask about terms that they needed to look up.  Everyone benefits from the process, including myself.  I also model this behavior and let them know that I still do this when reading difficult texts, or texts in an unfamiliar subject area.

  • cryan Beginner
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    The four corners ideais fantastic! I use something like this. As a Social Studies andScience teacher I always incorporate vocabularyinto my lessons. The students are given a bunchof index cards before the unit with a hole in the cornerand a silver ring through them. With the introduction of every word-they are to write the word, draw a picture, and writea defintion in their OWN WORDS! Throoughout the unit- I goback to words with games, word sorts, bingo, etc.



  • aleciarb Beginner
    Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    I enjoyed reading the comments and ideas about vocabulary instruction. If interested, consider checking out the Vocabulogic blog by Susan Ebbers and colleagues. They blog a few times per month about vocabulary, morphology, and linguistics.



    • smebbers Beginner
      Re: Every teacher is a literacy teacher

      Thanks, Alecia, for the kind feedback regarding Vocabulogic. I'm so glad you are enjoying it. 


      One of the posts was written by Michael Coyne (University of Connecticut). Dr. Coyne describes his success with directly teaching vocabulary in primary grades through a storybook approach, within an RTI framework. Here is an excerpt:


      "Most importantly, the at-risk students who received Tier 2 intervention learned target vocabulary equally as well, on average, as their not-at-risk peers."


      To read Dr. Coyne's post, see this link.

  • danielle6849 Beginner
    Re: Every teacher is a literacy teacher

    I have a graphic organizer that is a little more comprehensive than the four corners.  I got it from a workshop at UPenn, though I can't remember the name of the creator.  It has the connotation, denotation, synonyms, antonyms, examples, non-examples, and a symbol.  It does seem to help the kids learn the words on a deeper level (not to mention the synonyms and antonyms!).  We also use it to discuss the nuances between words.


    A more successful endeavor in my class anyway is the vocabulary panels.  The kids love them!  What they do is use the letters of the word to create a visual representation of the word.  For example, one student did a panel for the word Orient, in which he made the O into a compass.  Another student used the letters in cultivate as plants.  Still another made the O in violate into handcuffs.  The kids love it and it requires a higher understanding of the words.