Prior to Common Core I felt it absolutely imperative that I front-load new or unfamiliar words to my students. Like many of my peers I felt that by giving my students the word meanings before reading they would become better readers and more fluent English language speakers. However, I now believe that not every new word lends itself to teacher front-loading- that students can determine new word meanings through text and picture clues. It is also my opinion that students’ confidence in their ability to read is greatly improved when they realize they just figured out meaning of the new word.
Common Core Connection:
In the elementary grades Common Core does not call for the end of front-loading new vocabulary. There are times when teacher front-loading is appropriate, but not for every single text.
Close reading is a reading routine where students thoroughly examine a text through repeated readings. I think that close reading activities promote RL.1.4 and L.1.4 by giving teachers ‘permission’ to stop doing all the labor and let students have a larger role in deciphering new word and phrase meaning. With close reading, students have the time and support to discover new vocabulary and shades of meaning.
In today’s lesson my students read the literary story in a whole group setting. After we read the story together, they then read it quietly to themselves and note any words they did not know the meaning of. Once a list of unknown words is established, I put my students in groups where they re-read part of the text and use text and picture clues to determine the meaning of the words that were new to them.
(If you do not use this curriculum try: Treasure Hunt, by Allen Ahlberg)
I began today’s lesson with my students sitting at their desks with their anthologies opened to the story text Fireflies for Nathan, by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim. Before my students began reading this literary text I gave them a moment to take a picture walk. I usually start a new reading lesson with a picture walk because it helps to familiarize the students to the reading. However, today I did not pre-introduce my students to words I felt they may be unfamiliar with.
I have taught this lesson several times, however, this is the first time I did not front load what I perceived as new words to my students. In the past I would show pictures and tell them what the words meant and be done with it. Originally I imagined this lesson taking only one day; however, it turned into a two day lesson, because my students went deeper in their own learning (see Day 2 for the next part of the lesson).
As mentioned in the Preview Section, Common Core does not do away with front-loading; what it requires is that students take on a more active role in learning new vocabulary, concepts, key details, arguments, and inferential meanings. Common Core also requires teachers to go deeper with their teaching and students to go farther with their learning to consider the author’s purpose, make connections, and assimilate new information with their own experiences.
I feel that by learning more about the benefits of close reading strategies and incorporating them in my teaching my students are taking ownership in what they learn, and therefore are more interested in learning.
Once my students finished looking at the pictures I had them partner share what they predict this story will be about. I then used the magic cup to select a partner pair to share with the class what they concluded from the pictures this story would be about. The accompanying Demonstration Video: Magic Cup shows how the magic cup works, note the students showing a thumb up to agree in the background.
At this point I told my students we would read this story through without any interruptions or questions. I then used the magic cup to select students to read a page or two from the story. While the selected students read the rest of the class followed along. They showed me they were engaged with the reading by slightly nodding their heads to show me the reader was doing a good job or a slight shake if the reader needed help. During an initial read like this, I try to have as many readers read as possible. This gives me an idea of how to pace the lesson, what vocabulary my students need, and how they make connections to prior knowledge.
As my students finished reading I said: ‘Wow, there were a lot of new words that I did not know what they meant. Did anyone else notice some new words?’ As hands went up, I continued by stating: ‘It looks like a lot of you have questions about the words in this story. Before we continue let’s see if we can make a list of this words and find out their meanings together’.
Usually after the Guided Practice I would have a Collaborative Activity and then the Independent Practice, today I switched these two activities. I explained to my students they were going to create a 'working list' of unfamiliar words before they could continuing working with their partners. During this Independent Practice time my students rotate through reading activities, one being journal writing. I explained to my students instead of writing in their journals, they would re-read the story quietly themselves and write down any word or phrase they were unsure of the meaning, along with the page number. At that point I displayed the Words I want to Learn Activity Sheet (see materials in Preview Section). I continued by explaining we would then look at their words when we met in their differentiated reading rotation time.
As my students went into their different work areas where they begin their reading rotation activities in, I met with my beginning reading group and had them re-read the story to me and prompted them to write any words that were new to them on their Words I Want to Learn Activity Sheet. No matter what their reading level, students need to feel secure in their classroom environment to in order to honestly admit they do not know a word or phrase. As seen in the video: What Does this Word Mean?, this student knew the color red, but not what a 'red streaked sky' was. After he admitted he did not know, several other children also felt comfortable enough to admit it too.
It should be noted that students need a lot of modeling, guided practice, and independent practice to get to an awareness point that they really do not understand or know an unfamiliar word or phrase. As any experienced teacher would tell you, many times First Graders want to please their teacher and will write as many words as possible on their paper in order to seek appraisal, at the other end of the spectrum are the students who lack confidence in their ability to read- and they too will write many words. Besides modeling and practicing in differentiated reading groups, I also help students realize they really do know words through our spelling program, along with grammar and spelling activity sheets that include synonyms, homophones, and cloze reading activities where students need to choose the correct word to finish the paragraph.
As each reading group met with me we reviewed their word lists and discussed why they included certain words. In the past when I frontloaded the new vocabulary words I included: Queen Anne’s Lace, goldfinch, star the grass, and beacon of light. My student’s included these same words as well as Poppy and red streaked sky. A few students in my third highest reading group also included words that they could not read. However, after pointing out to them that many of the words they included were either words they have read in the past, or practiced as spelling words, I had them re-read the passages to me and concluded they were reading fast and not paying attention to their reading.
After meeting with all my reading groups, I had them come back to their chairs and displayed their word list on the Promethean board. I explained that we would discover the meaning of these words during our next reading block, which would be the next day.
To earn a sticker my students told me how they felt about identifying and choosing the new words they wanted to learn about.