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The Wonderful World of Words

By Cathy Puett Miller

Welcome back to those of you who read the first installment in this series on vocabulary instruction. Those of you who missed it, might want to go back to The Hidden Side of Strategic Vocabulary Instruction before reading this article.

Incidental learning of vocabulary requires support every day of the school year, even when you intentionally teach selected new words as well. Make sure you include both elements -- incidental learning support and direct instruction -- each day. The surest way to include incidental learning is to plan for it. It wont just happen:

Great Books for Teaching Vocabulary

* Grades K-2: Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson
* Grades 3-5: My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George
* Grades 6-8: Over the Wall, by John H. Ritter
* Grades 9-12: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

Review Current Lesson Plans
* Identify prime places to insert incidental learning opportunities (independent reading time, discussions and teacher read alouds) every day.
* Look for snippets of 5-10 minutes or less.
* Add the additional purpose of vocabulary instruction into your plans for whole and small group discussion, read-alouds, and buddy -- or sustained -- silent reading time.

Beef Up Your Classroom Library
* Make sure you have a wide selection of books that are vocabulary-rich and fun; include both literature (fiction) and factual books (non-fiction).
* Classroom libraries are not the prime place for leveled readers.
* Engage students in skimming texts for unknown words and use that test as a guide: if a student doesnt encounter at least five unknown or Im kind of sketchy words in a chapter book (or three such words in a picture book), consider replacing the book with another one. If students love the book, make an exception to keep a balance. Remember there are many purposes for reading.
* Highlight a high-level vocabulary word on a random page and encourage students to find and define those words.

Read-Aloud Choices that Build Vocabulary
* Select a mix of read aloud books that is appealing, funny, and/or connected to content learning, for example Nightjohn, (historical fiction on the 1850s) by Gary Paulsen, to complement social studies instruction.

More from the Vocabulary Instruction Series

Be sure to see all these articles in Cathy Puett Miller’s series on effective vocabulary instruction.:

* The Face of Effective Vocabulary Instruction
* The Hidden Side of Strategic Vocabulary Instruction
* The Wonderful World of Words
Building on the Power of Incidental Vocabulary Learning

* Regardless of your purpose for selecting the book, review the text for vocabulary that might be unfamiliar to students.
* Flag unfamiliar words and model for students how to wonder, ponder, and think about unfamiliar terms by showing them how you do it (in a think aloud).
* Identify a strategy you can model for figuring out unknown words. Create micro-lessons (even smaller than minis) that teach that strategy. Be careful not to stray very far from the read aloud experience when inserting vocabulary asides.

Intriguing Words They Discover
* Set up a special wall or segment of your blackboard/whiteboard for Intriguing Words I Discovered Today or Our WOW -- World of Words Let students choose a name for the list.
* Ask each student to select a word he or she found during silent reading (see The Hidden Side of Strategic Vocabulary Instruction) and post the word with his or her initials (no definitions).

This list soon will grow to be too large to be useful. When that happens, begin harvesting words regularly. Youll learn more about how to do that in the next article. Stay tuned!

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, Family Network, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.
Cathy lives with her husband, Chuck, eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, and lots of friendly, ferociously read books in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.