Showing posts with label vocabulary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vocabulary. Show all posts

The Surprising Way iReady Data Can Transform Student Outcomes

With everything I have to deal with as a special education teacher, why in the world would I ever focus on a student's vocabulary. The answer is quite simple. It impacts EVERYTHING!!!

What does this have to do with planning? Planning for students to make IEP goals is ALL based on data. Read on to see how I start planning for my OG groups by answering the larger questions about what in the world is up with my student's vocabulary scores? Is there anything I can do to increase their vocabulary?

I spend the bulk of my teaching time (like everyone else) on phonemic awareness and phonics with a side of fluency and comprehension.

Yes, vocabulary is built into each listen but is it enough???

I would hazard a guess for this group of students, this project is focusing on, it's not even close to helping them close gaps. 

Five facts that prove why this is important

  • Improved Communication Skills:  A strong vocabulary enables students to express themselves clearly and effectively, helping them articulate their thoughts, ideas, and emotions with confidence. It allows them to engage in meaningful conversations, express their needs and opinions, and actively participate in classroom discussions.
  • Reading and Comprehension: As students encounter new words in texts, a rich vocabulary enables them to decipher the meaning of unfamiliar words and understand the overall context. The more words students are familiar with, the better equipped they are to comprehend and enjoy a wide range of written material, expanding their horizons and fostering a love for reading.
  • Academic Success: Many subjects, such as language arts, social studies, and science, require students to understand and use specific vocabulary terms. By expanding their vocabulary, elementary students can better understand textbook content, and comprehend instructions. A broad vocabulary also contributes to better writing skills, allowing students to express their ideas fluently and effectively in assignments and essays.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: A diverse vocabulary enhances critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.  Vocabulary development fosters cognitive flexibility, enabling students to analyze problems, make connections, and draw conclusions based on the information available to them.
  • Increased Confidence and Self-esteem: Building a strong vocabulary instills confidence and boosts self-esteem in elementary students. When children possess a rich vocabulary, they feel more assured in their ability to express themselves and engage in social interactions. They become more comfortable speaking in front of others, advocating for themselves, and participating actively in group activities. This confidence extends beyond the classroom and positively impacts their overall personality development and social interactions.

Science of Reading and Vocabulary

The Science of Reading model recognizes the intricate connection between students' vocabulary and reading development. Vocabulary is a fundamental component of reading comprehension, as understanding the meaning of words is crucial for understanding written text. 

In the Science of Reading model, vocabulary instruction is seen as an essential part of teaching reading skills. By explicitly teaching students the meanings of words, word relationships, and word-learning strategies, educators can equip them with the tools necessary to decode unfamiliar words and make connections between words and their meanings. 

A strong vocabulary enhances students' ability to comprehend and analyze texts, make inferences, and engage in critical thinking. Furthermore, vocabulary instruction in the Science of Reading model goes beyond isolated word memorization; it focuses on teaching words in context, promoting a deeper understanding of how words are used and their nuances. 

Science of Reading, Vocabulary, and Special Education

I have witnessed firsthand how the Science of Reading model of reading and a weak vocabulary can significantly impact students. For students with learning disabilities or language delays, the lack of a solid vocabulary foundation poses immense challenges in their reading journey. 

Without a strong vocabulary, students struggle to comprehend texts, decode unfamiliar words, and make meaningful connections between words and their meanings. This weak vocabulary hinders their ability to access grade-level content, understand instructions, and participate fully in classroom activities. 

It also affects students' overall confidence and self-esteem, as they may feel frustrated and left behind compared to their peers. As a special education teacher, I recognize the critical importance of addressing vocabulary deficits through explicit instruction, targeted interventions, and multisensory approaches. 

By incorporating evidence-based strategies from the Science of Reading model, such as word-learning techniques and vocabulary-building exercises, we can help these students develop a robust vocabulary, overcome reading challenges, and unlock their full potential for academic success.

Which Cliff did I jump off First? 

Head first into some Action Research, because I need something that doesn't replace what I'm ready doing but it also has to be evidence-based. 

But before I jump head-first into setting this idea up … a reality check about why is iReady even a part of my thinking as a Special Education teacher.

How my building and I use iReady: 

  1. It’s dictated by my state and building to use it. Classroom teachers do use the benchmark scores for their yearly professional evaluations as part of their ratings. Most offend beginning of the year to mid-year. 
  2. Teachers do (yet frowned upon & 🙄) use either the Benchmark, Category, or Growth Monitoring score for Read Plans. 
  3. Read Plan cut-scores come from iReady Scaled Scores (students who need to be placed on a Read Plan K-3)
  4. Our building RTI/MTSS team, lets teachers use the same Read Plan goals for RTI/MTSS goals to help with the workload. 
  5. iReady as a whole is only as good as the student taking it meaning it reflects how a student feels about testing.
  6. iReady aligns with state standards.
  7. Specialists and administration look at most of the data from a balcony view, so the whole grade or a whole population of students.
  8. iReady will pull out program strengths and needs. But it takes time with both a program and using iReady to ensure you have a solid picture to make decisions about.
  9. Building Interventists use iReady Benchmark to create groups to pull for both reading and math.

A few cons to using iReady Benchmark scores, category, or Growth Monitoring Scores to make decisions. 

  1. iReady Reading will pull out a program’s and grade levels strengths and needs–aka the good, the bad, and the ugly. (ask the question be prepared for the answer even if you don’t like it) & in my case falls way outside of my purview but it has come up in student-specific conversations. (which is toad-ally fun)
  2. To the best of my knowledge, the Benchmark Data (whole and category-scaled scores) are the only thing that you can do something with on a macro scale. An example: "By iReady mid-years, and given small group phonics instruction, Joey will be able to increase his iReady phonics score from 350 to 400 scaled points."
  3. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if a student’s not feeling it how accurate is it??? Hence the need for a body of evidence when you start talking about needing additional interventions, need to make a course change, or looking at special education testing. 
  4. Using the data from Growth Monitorings is a no-go. The Growth Monitor is designed to be a “dipstick” of how things are going. It’s short and to the point. It doesn’t test across all five domains every time you give it. This means you have a high probability of getting false data. Couple that with making intervention decisions off of and well … off the cliff we go.  It also takes at least 4 data points to get a student-specific trend line.

I cannot change how my building uses iReady for intervention progress monitoring. I can only change the progress monitoring tool when the students are brought for me to review or a teacher comes to me with a question about what tool to use.

Teachers and Parents: If you use or see iReady Progress Monitoring for Read Plans or for RTI/MTSS goals, ask yourself, “Is this progress monitoring tool going to give me the information I need to make instructional decisions?” “Is it specific enough to tell me if the student has mastered the skill or not?”

Do Not use it if you don’t have to create goals and as a progress monitoring tool. 

What do I do with iReady Data as a Special Education teacher?

I use iReady as a special education teacher as part of their body of evidence. It is part of their whole data story. It is part of the WHOLE STUDENT and is never used as the end-all-be-all of a student. 


Depending on which data set you are looking at within iReady you can only gleam specific information or thoughts around a student or Core instruction.

In my building, the hope is that if the student is in any interventions, you can see it translate back to moving Benchmark scores aka the Student's Annual or Stretch growth. (this also requires additional data not just these data points)

This means iReady should not replace intervention-specific data collection–the mirco data you are collecting on if the intervention is working. iReady will give you notions of carryover. 

iReady is the macro the big picture. In my building, iReady is a pretty good predictor of how 3rd-6th grade students will perform on the State Assessment in April. (Yes, this means Spring Benchmark is given after students take the State Assessment. And, yes, I can only speak for my state and building. And our state-reported data has held this idea to be true the last four years–even though COVID–both good and bad.)

Back to how I use this information as part of my data collection for students who see me for reading or math. 

  1. The Fall benchmark is where I look at where my students scored the lowest and the highest. This gives me a gauge as to how students are coming back to school after having 10 weeks off. These scores tend to align with IEP goals and end-of-year progress monitoring data. Such as the Phonics "can dos" matching the CORE phonics survey data. 
  2. Benchmark to Benchmark data look at the percentages it can tell you if students dropped. I use the percentage data more than the Scaled Scores. (If you can always print out the benchmark data.) 
  3. I look at the Can Dos to gain insight into skill breakdowns. These can give ideas as to the next steps and may or may not align with IEP goals. The insights here help me more with math than reading. 
  4. I pull the Diagnostic results for all the grades aka the ultimate balcony view. This is a must for my LD reports and any intervention questions I get. I pull grade-level Scaled Score averages after each Benchmark. I have to report how the student compares to their grade level peers. 
  5. From an RTI/MTSS perspective, the Diagnostic Report, allows you to break down the data to understand if you have a strong core in reading or math and set building or grade-level goals to move students across bands.  
  6. My state and building/district mandate classroom teachers give the Reading growth monitor each month for Read Plan students. It takes at least four data points to get anything useful from the information.  (See #7 for more)
  7. I can assign the Math Growth Monitor. I have in the past given this as part of the monthly progress monitoring data I collect. Like with Reading it takes time to get anything one could call useful and most certainly nothing I would ever set goals using. If, and I do mine if, the student took the assessment seriously I can see if both Core and intervention as working or if they were messing around on a Diagnostic. (like that never happens)
  8. I can ONLY usefully use the Benchmark numbers to make instructional decisions. This means I can compare Fall to Winter; Winter to Spring; and Fall to Spring.  The data from Winter in my building historically, is not reliable as most students drop. (Some a little. Some a lot. That’s a whole different rant for a different time. lol.) 

I did promise the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is how we use iReady. Is it the only way, probability not. Are there other reports, things to glime, or things not to do, most likely but this is what I'm going with.

Stay tuned for how I plan to attack this for the coming school year and learn some nuggets that you can take back and use in the fall to build student vocabulary that are research-backed and align with the Science of Reading.

Chat soon-

PS--Have a different way to use iReady or a suggestion on what not to do, please share. I'd love to hear how others use iReady to help close students' academic gaps. 

Why Unlocking Vocabulary is Key to Bridging the Gap for Students

The hard thing about waiting three months for iReady's classroom diagnostic data is not knowing how students will do after 10 weeks of intervention.

My state and building use iReady diagnostics three times a year for READ Plans and intervention data. (more on come on iReady-both loves and dislikes)

As a special education teacher, I only use this data to compare students to their peer group and see what kind of gains they had over the year. (I have a whole blog post coming on how my building uses iReady.)

My building relies on this information to make predictions about State testing outcomes and interventions.

For me, I look at the overall gains my students make on the five categories assessed each time. This year, I made a huge shift to building and creating a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and phonics. 

The macro data showed students made huge gains when using both Heggerty and Yoshimoto Orton-Gillingham. We lived in controlled decodable and built vocabulary through morphology. 

What didn’t improve???

Student’s vocabulary 

On iReady, students’ scores either dropped or maintained. 

I’m the first to tell you that you should never, ever make significant instructional decisions on a single piece of data. It could take you off a cliff.

But if you layer in IEP goal data and it shows everyone either made or is on target to meet their goals well within their IEP cycle …

Could layering in something, not a change continue that growth????

Could it support and build students’ vocabulary and not have all the growth drop off???

Why Focus on Vocabulary

When I explain the five reading components to parents, I use a pyramid. Phonemic awareness and phonics are the base of the pyramid. With vocabulary and comprehension coming after. Fluency is needed across all. 

To get to the top of the pyramid, word-level comprehension is needed before moving to sentence, paragraph, chapter, etc. You see where it goes. 

But what happens when you have weak word-level vocabulary????

What then? Let me explain how I landed here ...

All my phonics kiddos were placed in Orton-Gillingham. As the year progressed, the pacing of these groups slowed. In some cases stopping for a week or so on a concept, or phonogram or just working to get them unconfused. (English is so confusing.) 

As lessons got more complex and the more layers students had to work with the more, I noticed other holes. Looking back at my lesson notes and comments about student progress within lessons it became more obvious that vocabulary was one thing students were struggling with.

To be clear, I'm not talking about Tier 3 subject-specific words. I'm talking about Tier 1 words--like chair, boil, broil, etc. (here is my previous post on Vocabulary Tiers)

Yes, about half of those I pull for OG do receive pull-out language support from a Speech-Language Pathologist.

The funny (or head-banging) thing about all their iReady Vocabulary score was the “can dos” all said to teach 5 words and all through read-aloud. (This is a great idea for classroom teachers; not so much for specialists.)

What Does the Research Say

The Science of Reading (SoR) is an evidence-based approach to teaching reading that is grounded in research from cognitive psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. It emphasizes the importance of systematically teaching foundational skills to help students become proficient readers. One crucial aspect is phonemic awareness, which involves recognizing and manipulating individual sounds in spoken words. 

By explicitly teaching students to understand the connection between letters and sounds through phonics instruction, they can decode words and read fluently. It's essential to provide activities that engage students in segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words to strengthen their phonemic awareness and phonics skills.

Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. It is a critical skill that helps students understand the connection between letters and sounds. Phonics instruction teaches students the relationship between letters and sounds, enabling them to decode words and read fluently. Teachers should provide explicit instruction in these skills, using activities that involve segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words.

Scarbourough's Reading Rope Model of Reading
Fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly, and with expression. It is developed through repeated practice and exposure to a wide range of texts. Teachers can support fluency by providing opportunities for independent reading, modeling fluent reading, and using strategies like echo reading or choral reading. Vocabulary instruction is also crucial for reading comprehension. Teachers should explicitly teach new words, provide context clues, and encourage students to use strategies like word analysis and context to understand unfamiliar words.

Comprehension involves understanding and making meaning from text. Teachers can support comprehension by explicitly teaching strategies such as predicting, questioning, summarizing, and making connections. These strategies help students engage with the text, monitor their understanding, and make inferences. It is also essential to promote metacognition, encouraging students to think about their thinking and monitor their comprehension. By incorporating these strategies into instruction, teachers can help students become active and proficient readers.

What Does this Mean

SoR and Scarborough's Rope Model of Reading bring a new light to an old question surrounding phonics and vocabulary. The question is how to layer something in that doesn’t take away from the gains students have made.

I don’t know why this group of students have a weak vocabulary. I could blame COVID–these students were remote and hybrid during COVID. It could be the lack of direct, explicit instruction surrounding Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary. Or it could be the lack of helping students make connections to previously taught vocabulary to new words.

Coming this semester, I’ll share how I plan to attack this and build students’ Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary. I hope to find actionable, tangible ways for students to make gains that don’t take tons of time to get the most bang for my buck as a special education teacher all while doing my job as their special education teacher. 

Chat soon-

Vocabulary Development Strategies

I’m not a Speech/Language Teacher. BUT I have many students how NEED way more language support than just a one-shot deal. Finding ways to embed extra language support without it taking up tons of extra that I just don’t have in groups is hard. This week I have collected a few ideas that I have helped me build more vocabulary and language support in my small groups.


The key weakness in all of these practices is the limited or rote interaction students have with the new word/concept. Here is a short list of these less effective approaches.

1) Look them up. Certainly, dictionaries have their place, especially during writing, but the act of looking up a word and copying a definition is not likely to result in vocabulary learning (especially if there are long lists of unrelated words to look up and for which to copy the definitions).
2) Use them in a sentence. Writing sentences with new vocabulary AFTER some understanding of the word is helpful; however to assign this task before the study of word meaning is of little value.
3) Use context. There is little research to suggest that context is a very reliable source of learning word meanings.
4) Memorize definitions. Rote learning of word meanings is likely to results, at best, in the ability to parrot back what is not clearly understood.

All of these less effective approaches is the lack of active student involvement in connecting the new concept/meaning to their existing knowledge base. Vocabulary learning must include active engagement in constructing understanding and not simply on passive learning of information from a text.


Reviewing the research literature on vocabulary instruction leads to the conclusion that there is no single best strategy to teach word meanings but that all effective strategies require students to go beyond the definitional and make connections between the new and the known. The research on effective vocabulary teaching as coming down to three critical notions:

Integration—connecting new vocabulary to prior knowledge
Repetition—encountering/using the word/concept many times
Meaningful use—multiple opportunities to use new words in reading, writing and soon discussion.

Increase the Amount of Independent Reading

The largest influence on students' vocabulary is the sheer volume of reading they do, especially wide reading that includes a rich variety of texts. The following strategies can help motivate reluctant readers:

  • Matching text difficulty to student reading level and personal interests (e.g. using the Lexile system)
  • Reading incentive programs that include taking quizzes on books read (e.g., Accelerated Reader, Reading Counts)
  • Regular discussion, such as literature circles, book clubs, quick reviews, of what students are reading
  • Setting weekly/individual goals for reading volume
  • Adding more structure to Sustained Silent Reading by including a 5-minute quick-write at the end of the reading period, then randomly selecting three or four papers to read/grade to increase student accountability.
  • Select the Most Important Words to Teach
  • Students with weak reading skills are likely to view all new words as equally challenging and important, so it is imperative for the teacher to point out those words that are truly important to a student's academic vocabulary base. (THINK--picture walk) 
  • Teaching vocabulary is teaching new labels or finer descriptions for familiar concepts. In contrast, teaching concepts involves introducing students to new ideas/notions/theories and so on that require significantly more instruction to build real understanding. 

Teachers can get more out of direct vocabulary work by selecting words carefully. More time-consuming and complex strategies are best saved for conceptually challenging words, while relatively expedient strategies can assist students in learning new labels or drawing finer-grained distinctions around known concepts. Making wise choices about which words to teach directly, how much time to take, and when enough is enough is essential to vocabulary building.

Tips for Selecting Words:
  • Distinguish between words that simply label concepts students know and new words that represent new concepts.
  • Ask yourself, "Is this concept/word generative? Will knowing it lead to important learning in other lessons/texts/units?"
  • Be cautious to not "accessorize" vocabulary (e.g., spend too much time going over many clever adjectives that are very story specific and not likely to occur frequently). Rather, focus attention on critical academic vocabulary that is essential to understanding the big ideas in a text (e.g., prejudicial: As students learn the meanings of pre- and judge, they can connect to other concepts they know, such as "unfair.")
  • Using State and Common Core Standards to see what is taught
  • Use Tiered Vocabulary
    • Tier 1 Academic Vocabulary: Basic words that commonly appear in the spoken language. Because they are heard frequently in numerous contexts and with nonverbal communication, Tier 1 words rarely require explicit instruction.Examples of Tier 1 words are clock, baby, happy and walk.

An Example:
I have a student who picks her own tough or challenging vocabulary as she reads.
She currently is an Instructional DRA K/20 and is a second language learning.
One task she has to complete while she reads is creating a list of 5 to 8 words she felt were hard.
She often has more than that but when I conference with her we talk about the words she found.
She then takes her 5 words, finds the pictures from Google or Bing, and creates a video to support
what she has learned.

Picture Walk Idea
“I Spy”: This activity is similar to reading books with your child. Label and point to pictures on the
pages of an “I Spy” book. Make it a game and see who can find the most objects on the page! Make
it more challenging by assigning specific items to you and your child that incorporate basic concepts
(“You find a small key and I’ll find a big one!”) You can also play “I Spy” without the book and find objects around the house or in your community.

Want to more ideas on Designing Effective Vocabulary Development Instruction Grab your Freebie
here. Click the image.

I’d love to hear what you do in your small groups to build in more language support in your groups.

Until Next Time,

Building Vocabulary and Oral Language Skills

The good news about building vocabulary and oral language skills in for young children over the summer is it's really fun and easy! Two of the best things you can do are to allow time for free play and to spend time talking and reading with your child.

Play-based Learning

Children build vocabulary and oral language skills doing many of the things they love to do: drawing, playing with dolls and stuffed animals, playing with cars, building with blocks, dressing up, and playing pretend in a kitchen or home center. The language and conversation kids use during these play times provide a strong literacy base for a child entering kindergarten. The type of dialog that children use while playing in a home center will be very different from the language they use while building with blocks, so having a variety of activities for your child to choose from will encourage a broad range of vocabulary words incorporated into their daily play. As you are playing with your child, or observing their play, use language and vocabulary that will help them grow. Identify and explain the uses for different objects in the kitchen and use interesting language when playing with stuffed animals and dolls. Young children are like sponges, ready to soak up the language around them!

Conversations Count

Spending time engaged in conversation during your shared experiences will also help build vocabulary and oral language. Taking walks, going for bike rides, heading to the park, flying a kite, cooking together, visiting a farm or petting zoo, and even raising pets at home can all be terrific experiences for kids and give you lots to talk about. Be sure to talk to your child throughout these day-to-day experiences, using language that helps them grow in their vocabulary development. Too often parents, teachers, and caregivers will use simple words with kids. While it’s important to explain things to your child, using words within their developmental level, it’s also important to remember that kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. When you’re cooking with your child, ask them to get the measuring cup instead of calling it a scooper. They may have never heard that term before, but suddenly it becomes part of their vocabulary.

Thematic Explorations

Exploring passion topics such as gardening, studying rocks, planets, trees or animals can be incredibly engaging for young children. By simply finding something they are interested in, and setting up some learning experiences, children may be naturally drawn to explore and learn more. Do the birds come back to your yard when the weather warms up? Set up a basket with binoculars, books about birds, and pictures of birds that live in your area. If your child is truly interested in this topic, the questions will start flowing and it becomes another great opportunity for vocabulary development.

Poetry & Rhyme

Poetry, nursery rhymes and songs are fun and engaging for young children, but they also contribute to the foundational skills young children need in their oral language development. They will begin to hear rhyming words and be able to predict the words that are coming next in a song. When singing songs, children will learn how to articulate words and will practice pronouncing words over and over while having fun. Nursery Rhymes also provide a great opportunity for conversation with your child. Talk about how Jack and Jill might have been feeling and ask what they think happened after Jack and Jill tumbled down the hill. Spending time acting out different songs and rhymes will also help children internalize the meanings of different words they are hearing. While a child may be new to the word tumbled, they will certainly remember the meaning after playing around and tumbling across some pillows (an imaginary hill) in their living room.

Have a great 4th of July weekend!

Currently, April

Spring Break is over. In those two weeks I came an Auntie to a very cute EJ--he will be a lady killer when he's older:)

The weather has been great in Colorado post Blizzard, warm with the sun shining meaning lots of time outside at the dog park to make two greyhounds very happen. With nine weeks left in the year, its going to be over before I know it.

I have been thinking about how to grow my students vocabulary without losing the little instructional time I have left. I'm hoping my two ideas of Errorless Writing Prompts and Building Number Sense with an ebook (no print) will help without taking up tons of time.

I'm forward to having my students create their own ebook and play with the possibles of having these guys lead their own conferences with them. I hope you had a great Spring Break. (click on the pictures to go to my store.)

February Pinterest Pick 3 with Vocabulary in Mind

 The last couple of weeks, I've had some problems moving pre-readers into solid DRA 1s. When I went back to look at there running records, I noticed that it was the vocabulary they were getting tripped up on. That got me looking for some new ways to build and strengthen their academic vocabulary knowledge. Plus, it had to be something that would give me great bang for my buck as I only see them for 30 minutes. (Click on Image to View Original Pinterest Link)

Who doesn't love games. I don't have a word wall but I do have time for word cards and games. With a group of boys, I have to learn to watch my fingers. They love anything with fly swatters. I loved the fact that these games increased the number of times they saw words. Some of them I used pictures as well as the words but these are among the games I'm asked for each day. I love I can change out the words depending on running records or the text they are going to read. Love that pre-teaching!

This uses environment print but I see it as an opportunity to create a visual word wall to match any book vocabulary for students. As pre-readers, pictures rule! For them to understand what the beginning letter and sound is for vocabulary is just as important for getting them to write. Tying their reading with writing makes things easier-then they know where to find the word.

Games that build language and vocabulary are a wonderful addition to small group time. This one is super simple but requires some planing to pull the pieces together. Oral language is a strong predictor of future literacy success. Children say the word way before they can read the word. Therefore, if they do not have the proper language, particularly ELLs and pre-readers, reading success may be limited. By stating the name of an object and the context in which it is used in, provides students with the word and use of the object. A fun little game to promote the student's oral language! 

 To help my pre-readers learn and practice with new vocabulary I created four interactive books. I did this because these students spend most of there time in class and these books give them something special to read in class and share with their peers. Enjoy--click on the picture to get your freebie.

Pinterest April Pick 3 Linky

This is one of my favorite times for year. I LOVE tulips--this is the only time of year in Colorado where they don't cost an arm and a leg. But I also start thinking about next year of things I want to change. For this months Pick 3 is in that idea. 

I came across this link on Pinterest that has tons of free PECS. I love Boardmarker and have created many things for my students through the years with it. This year I'm using PECS for vocabulary words and story vocabulary for students. I don't keep them. I'm not sure I want too but having a place where I can go find other pictures before I go to Google would be a big help. Plus its makes a great place for me to send teachers who don't have Boardmarker or are just wanting to dabble in adding pictures to things.
These guys have free PECS too but I love how they have stored them. I like said above I don't tend to hang on to my pictures but this would be an easy way to keep them and a place where I can send teachers who are looking for one or two things without having to do it for them.

I use PECS for more than creating schedules for students. I also create games, books, and activities for them because some have such large language deficits it helps them out. I like this mat because its simple and an easy way for students to build vocabulary around a words with out me having to do tons of prep.

I hope I have inspired you to try something new or started the wheels moving on tweaking something that you do all ready. Have a great weekend and check the out posts.

Tag Galaxy

I was at a training last week that highlighted different Gifted and Talented strategies for classroom teachers to use in their classrooms and Tag Galaxy has become my new best friend. Like many teachers, we knew that anytime you can tie pictures to words even the simple ones, students are more likely to make meaning and connect it to themselves. Plus, to  move words from short term to long term memory students have to build personal relevance with the words. Pictures do that. I have for the longest time used Google Images to do this. But Tag Galaxy is even better than that.

 First when you put in any word, Tag Galaxy creates a sun and satellites. You will want to stick with the sun. the satellites are smaller pictures that tie to your word search but they are not as effective at getting at what you are looking for.

In my search, I used Italian Greyhound. the sun is all the pictures out there and the satellites are everything from dog, puppy, sight hounds, and Italian. If you click on the sun, it will enlarge and you can surf the sun for the picture you are looking for. (Like with all picture searches, I would go out first and make sure that they are clean if you have students using it.)

Once you pick a picture, it will take you to the original picture source. You cannot save from the Sun or print.

Going back to the G/T presentation and what you could do with students--I have a group of 5th graders that I could see using this to pull pictures for their weekly spelling words instead of me doing it or having them draw the pictures. I have always tried to find ways for my students build their own personal relevance with words.  Not only to help their reading and writing but to increase their own vocabularies so they have a greater background knowledge to pull from.

Until next time.

Ideas to To Spice Up Vocabulary Work

Moving school districts means that this year I have had to create new ways for my students
to work with the vocabulary. One thing with Storytown I have come to love is the Intervention series vocabulary matches the grade level vocabulary. The teachers have also requested that I run one week ahead of them. This is nice because students work through the vocabulary with me before they have to do it in class. I can help students understand with word with examples but also they can practice how to apply the word using the story as a background. I also have to make sure that I give real life or real world examples of the word—in most cases these are words that they will come across in middle school but will never use with writing or in a conversation. (Which doesn't help them with text access.)

  • Tally-Ho!-Display the vocabulary word card. Add a tally mark beside the word each time a student uses the vocabulary word in conversation.
  • May I Have Your Autograph?-Display an enlarged print vocabulary word card. Allow students to autograph the card each time they use the vocabulary word in conversation.
  • Vocabulary String-Scan and print the cover of each book from which vocabulary words are pulled. Attach a kite “tail” of string, yarn, ribbon, etc. to the cover. Print out vocabulary word cards and glue each card on the tail. Allow student to write their name on a clothespin and clip it to the word card each time they use the word in conversation.
  • Don’t Lose Your Marbles!-Display the vocabulary word on the outside of a small jar. Add a marble to the jar each time a student uses the vocabulary word in conversation.
  • Stick With It!-Display the vocabulary word card. Each time a student uses the vocabulary word in conversation, have him add a small sticker to the card.
  • Just Scrolling Along!-On a computer that is visible to students, set the screensaver to scrolling text and type in the vocabulary words and/or definitions. Set the screensaver to come on after 5 minutes or so.
  • Rock On!-Make a vocabulary jar by gluing a vocabulary word card to the outside of a jar. Allow students to drop a rock in the jar each time they use the vocabulary word in conversation.
  • Vocabulary Vine-Make a crepe paper vine to wind across the walls in your classroom. Cut out leaves and write a vocabulary word on each leaf. Attach the leaves to your vine and watch students’ vocabulary grow!
  • Word Wizard-Purchase clear name badges. Write the vocabulary word on a card. Slide the card into the badge holder. Allow a student to be the “Word Wizard”. He will wear the vocabulary word and should use the word throughout the day.
  • Chain, Chain, Chain!-Cut out construction paper chain links. Each time a student uses a vocabulary word in conversation, have him write the vocabulary word on the link and add it to the chain. The chain will hang straight down from the ceiling. Display this poem:
For all the vocabulary words you say,
You’ll add another link today.
And when the chain and floor do meet,
(Teacher’s Name) will bring us each a treat!

  • Vocabulary Pop!-Set a large jar on the counter. Each time a student uses a vocabulary word, drop a small handful of popcorn kernels in the jar. When the jar is full, have a popcorn party.
  • Movin’ On!-Take a piece of yarn the width of your classroom and hang it above you. The yarn should start on one side of the room and stretch across it horizontally to attach to the other side of the classroom. On the far side, attach a blown up balloon. (Before blowing up the balloon, slip a piece of paper inside with the treat to be given written on it—class homework pass, 5 minutes extra recess, etc.) Attach a sign that says “Our vocabulary is moving on!” with a gym clip. Each time a student uses a vocabulary word, move the sign a bit toward the balloon. When the sign reaches the balloon, pop the balloon and read the prize. You can then start over with a new balloon and a new secret prize.

Here some ideas that I have used with my students that are more aligned with their learning styles. Most of these I have students do at home for practice. This gives them the chance to pick how they want to practice the words. It works great with spelling as well.

  • Backwards Words- Write your words forwards, then backwards.
  • Silly sentences -Use all your words in ten sentences.
  • Picture words – Draw a picture and write your words in the picture.
  • Words without Vowels – Write your words replacing all vowels with a line.
  • Words without Consonants – Write your words replacing all consonants with a line.
  • Story words – Write a short story using all your words.
  • Scrambled words –Write your words, then write them again with the letters mixed up.
  • Ransom words – Write your words by cutting out letters in a newspaper or magazine and glue them on a paper.
  • Pyramid Words – Write your words adding or subtracting one letter at a time. The result will be a pyramid shape of words.
  • Words-in-words – Write your word and then write at least 2 words made from each.
  • Good Clean Words –Write your words in shaving cream on a counter or some other surface that can be cleaned safely.
  • Etch-A-Word – Use an Etch- A-Sketch to write your words.
  • Secret Agent Words – Number the alphabet from 1 to 26, then convert your words to a number code.
  • Popsicles – Make words using popsicle sticks.
  • Newspaper Words – Search a newspaper page from top to bottom, circling each letter of a word as you find it.
  • Silly String – With a long length of string, “write” words using the string to shape the letters.
  • Backwriting – Using your finger, draw each letter on a partners’ back, having the partner say the word when completed.
  • Choo-Choo Words – Write the entire list end-to-end as one long word, using different colors of crayon or ink for different words.
  • Other Handed – If you are right-handed, write with your left, or vice versa.
  • Cheer your words – Pretend you are a cheerleader and call out your words! Sometimes you’ll yell, sometimes you’ll whisper.
  • Reversed words – Write your words in ABC order - backwards!
  • ABC order- Write your words in alphabetical order.
  • Puzzle words – Use a blank puzzle form. Write your words on the form, making sure that the words cross over the pieces. Then cut them out (color if you wish) and put them in a baggie with your name on it.
  • Pasta Words – Write your words by arranging alphabet pasta or Alphabits.
  • Sound Words – Use a tape recorder and record your words and their spelling. Then listen to your tape, checking to see that you spelled all the words correctly.
  • 3D words – Use modeling clay rolled thinly to make your words. Bring a note if done at home.
  • Dirty Words – Write your words in mud or sand.
Have a great week with your family. I hope these ideas help are we are looking for new ways to spice up vocabulary work.


Vocabulary is tough to teach; let alone to student with exceptional needs. It doesn't seem to matter how many times I go over the term or have them tell it to me. They never seem to get to a place of mastery with it. Using Thinking Maps has been a tremendous help to them this year--they are USING them. OMG!!! This has never happened before. As I'm reviewing at the beginning of a lesson and ask "What's the formula for perimeter?" and someone might start guessing, while someone will get up and walk over to where the map is and come back with a  hand up. For my guessing students, I tell them to go check the resource as I wait for the student. They come back and tell me the answer. But these can't stay up for state testing. I've been racking my brain to find ways to get students to remember terms. I've been using iPads for retelling and storytelling--what about to reinforce vocabulary. I began to think of ways to bring in technology to work on vocab but not take more than one 30 minute lesson period to do it. I think I've figured it out but I'm still playing.

So began this idea of finding ways to bring in apps and websites, so students can create definitions for  vocabulary. My goal is to have students work weekly on expanding their vocabulary with various tools. (And not taking forever.) My hope is that they will begin to rely less on the Thinking Maps and begin to demonstrate mastery for the term they need to know. As they create examples I will share them. I have a one to get to the ideas flowing. You'll find a for some apps and websites, to support our vocabulary work. Have a great week!!

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Choosing Vocabulary Words

Selecting Vocabulary Words to Teach

When I plan my lessons, vocabulary becomes a top priority. I know that a student’s maximum reading comprehension is determined by their word knowledge. Their progress through reading levels is determined by their knowledge of words. They need to a strong word base comprehend text. I make sure that when I’m teaching new vocabulary words I want them to know how to define the word, recognize when to use that word, know its multiple meaning (if any), and read/spell the word.

So, with all those words out there, how do you choose?

When I’m planning, I group my words into three tiers.

Tier 1 words

Tier 1 words are words that students typically know. For example, a Tier 1 word might be butterfly. Another Tier 1 word might be march (move like a soldier). A word like march can be easily instructed during text discussion by marching in place. But because this word has multiple meanings, it also merits further instruction. This can be accomplished through oral language activities that follow the text discussion.

Tier 2 words

Tier 2 words are more complex than Tier 1 words. They usually are ones that students need to understand that are all over the core curriculum. Words like area, perimeter, rivers, mountains are important for them know.  These are the words I spend my time on; making sure they know these words.

Tier 3 words

These are low-frequency words that are found mostly in content books in the upper grades or words that students need a brief working knowledge of but don’t need to understand the word at a great depth. I tend to think of these words as nice to know but not critical to students understanding the text a great depth of knowledge; like metric system or time zone. These words I usually tell the group when we are doing our picture walk. Something short and sweet-just enough for them to get the jest and move on. 

I'm always on the hunt for new ways to teach vocabulary. What are your favorite ways to teach students vocabulary? 

Mighty Vocabulary

"When we say word study is developmental, we mean that the study of word features must match the level of  the learner. Word study is not a one-size-fits-all program of instruction that begins in one place for all students within a grade level. One unique quality of word study as we describe it lies in what we believe is the critical role of differentiating instruction for levels of word knowledge." (Bear at all, 2004 from Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction.)

What does research tell us about vocabulary?
  • Vocabulary assists students in expanding their knowledge to raise achievement.
  • Vocabulary development increases when students have visual images of word meaning and when the words are categorized into groups.  
  • In order to understand  spoken or written words a student must know 95% of the words.
  • The creation of labels is a tool for fostering new perceptions and increasing learning.
  • It takes a minimum of 15 encounters with a new word for a student to understand and apply the word independently.  
What are effective vocabulary strategies?

  • Awareness of words
  • Wide reading and extensive writing
  • Strategies for independently inferring word meanings from context
  • Direct instruction of vocabulary and vocabulary related skills  
In a standards based world, where students have trouble understanding what words mean from the context, you have to directly teach them. There are so many words that I could teach with so little time remember I have to pick those words wisely.  Taking the time to provide direct vocabulary instruction is important for my students because I know that they don't do a whole lot of reading at home and it will strength their decoding and comprehension. Plus vocabulary is not one of their strengths.

One of my favorite ways to teach new vocabulary, is using Robert Marzano's 6 Steps to teach vocabulary.  His WIKIillustrates the six steps. I love this because I can use his 6 steps as an assessment it also gets students talking about words. It engages my students in vocabulary (an area that is not a strength) and they have fun with it. My students love activities at allow them to draw and not get busted for it. Marzano's 6 Steps take time so it forces you to choose you words very carefully.

Another powerful thing to include when teaching is non-linguistic representations. This can be pictures, graphic organizers, Thinking Maps, etc. The students make connections that make sense to them. I always have to use a timer or they think they have forever. Its meant to be quick.

A favorite of my students is Draw it!.  You'll find that Draw it! relies on students non-linguistic representations of words and not their ability to explain what the words mean to play the game. I use it more as a review game but you'll find one below for First grade math terms. I'll be talking more about vocabulary throughout the summer. 

Drop me a comment about how you teach vocabulary in your room.

Who am I?

Wordle creates  “word clouds” from the words you use. We will use Wordle throughout the year.

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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