Increase Student Success with Academic Vocabulary

In order to succeed in academic tasks, students need to master the vocabulary they'll encounter.  That's why teaching this academic vocabulary is vital for each student's success.

We spend countless hours teaching the reading, writing, language, and math skills our students need.  Then, we give them hours and hours of practice, reteaching, and review.  We're confident they've mastered the skills, yet many of them don't perform well on academic tests.  The reason might be the vocabulary used on these standardized tests.  

 Studies have shown that the size of a child’s vocabulary is an accurate predictor of academic achievement (Hirsch, 2013). However, academic vocabulary is more specific. It is the words used in an academic setting, including textbooks, class discussions, and standardized tests. These words are not learned through casual conversations in our daily lives. Students need direct instruction and focused lessons to master the words they encounter in an academic setting.

How many times did you wonder if your students truly understood what the question on a standardized was asking?  Did you ever say to yourself, "If only I could explain the question differently, I'm sure my students would understand?"  They may know the information, but the vocabulary in the question may have confused them.  And we all know that if you don't understand what a question is asking, then how can you answer it. This is why teaching these essential words is important and making them part of your students’ everyday classroom vocabulary.

What are the most essential academic vocabulary words? Experts have said there are about 300 academic words that should be taught through direct instruction. Of course, you don’t teach them all at once. But these words should be taught over the course of a child’s school career through different content areas. Many schools have developed lists for each grade level and/or subject area. Check to see if your school has such a list.

Most kids get stuck on the verbs in test questions more often than the content nouns. So, this is a good place to start your academic vocabulary lessons. The resource I used the most to kick-start my vocabulary instruction is by Marilee Sprenger. Her wonderful book, Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core (2013), gives definitions, examples, and suggested activities for 55 (verbs and nouns) of the most commonly used words in the Common Core Standards.   I liked the first book so much that I bought her second book, 101 Strategies to Make Academic Vocabulary Stick.


No matter what your opinion is on standardized or objective-based tests, they seem to be here to stay for a while. So, we must ensure our students have the vocabulary skills to perform their best on these tests.  

One of my goals is to incorporate these verbs into my daily lessons.  I wanted my kids to hear, see, and use these words as frequently as possible.  That way, when they encountered them on the "big test" at the end of the year these verbs wouldn't cause any confusion.  I wanted my students to be able to answer the content of the question without getting hung up on what the question was asking.

I decided to introduce each word with a short PowerPoint presentation.  In the presentation, the word is defined, a sample question is answered, the word is applied to an everyday situation for a partner talk, and a short activity or printable that can be used in a class lesson.  

Here's how I introduce the essential 29 verbs:
1.  On the first day, I show just the first two slides (definition and sample question).  We talk about the word and definition and answer the sample question.  The sample questions I created go with well-known fairy tales.  I wanted to ensure I used a text familiar to all my students.  You could ask questions about your current read-aloud text.
2.  On day two we review a couple of the verbs from previous lessons and then do the third slide for the new word (small group or partner talk).  For the group or partner talk, they have three questions that use the verb in an everyday context.  They can answer one, two, or all three of the questions.  We also take time to share some of their discussions.
3. The next day would begin with a review, and then the fourth slide would be presented.   The fourth slide is an activity that can be incorporated into a content lesson.  The activity is usually a written task or thinking organizer.
4.  On the last day of the week, we would add the word to our Word Jar journals. (See the link to this freebie below.)

At the end of the week, we add the word to our class display.  These academic vocabulary words remain on display throughout the school year.  The kids are often the first to point out that one of these words was on a test or academic task.  Leaving them on display also reminds me to use those words in my directions and class discussions.  

By taking the time to give my students this direct and focused instruction on academic vocabulary, I know they'll be better prepared for all academic tasks and standardized tests.  Now, I'm much more confident my students won't be confused by what a test question is asking them to do.  They'll be able to focus on the task and apply the skills they've mastered.

Would you like to try this in your classroom? Click on the image below to download a free sample of the Academic Vocabulary PowerPoint and printable resource I've described in this blog post.
Check out this free sample to see how you can help your students master the academic vocabulary they need to be successful on academic tasks and tests.

Another great way to help your students master these words is to start a special journal, a journal just for words.  At the beginning of the year, I love reading Donavan's Word Jar.   It's a great book about a young boy who starts collecting words, and it inspires my kids to become word collectors themselves.

 I created this freebie so you can also turn your class into word collectors!  Word Jar: A Word Collection Journal  


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Digital Task Cards, A Must for Every Classroom!

Have you tried digital task cards?  Kids love them, and so will you.  Find out why teachers are falling in love with these task cards.

Task cards-- love them!  They're great for individualizing, class scoot games and for learning centers.  And have you heard about digital task cards!   Boom Learning™ has digital cards for every subject and every age. 

With technology becoming a bigger part of our classrooms and home schools it's time to look at the benefits of using digital task cards. 

If you're tired of all the laminating, cutting, organizing and storing of task cards, it may be time to switch to digital.First off, there's less prep.  You don't have to print, cut, and laminate the cards.  That also means less $$$!  Plus you don't have to come up with a way to store them and you never lose them!  No more little baskets, boxes, rings, and files cluttering up your shelves and cabinets.  Digital task cards are always within reach with your device. Kids can log in to Boom Learning™ and access their cards anytime. Boom Cards™ can be used on laptops, desktops, tablets, iPads and even cell phones!

Instant feedback    With the digital cards kids know right away if they're correct or not.  No more turning in their recording sheet for the teacher to check and get back to them.  This is so much better than letting kids check their own task cards with an answer key or QR code.  With some students, I was never sure if they used the answer key before or after they wrote their answer!

Record Keeping at your fingertips!   The Boom Learning site keeps track of your students for you!  You can see what decks they've completed and how they did on each card.  You can't get any easier than that.  The system lets you assign decks to your whole class or to the individual student.  Super easy way to individualize.

Use in a variety of setting.   Just like printed task cards, digital cards can be used for individual students, in learning centers, and with your whole class.  If you have literacy or math centers, set up your tablet, iPad or computer to access the Boom Learning™ site, kids will have their own login and they're all set to begin working on the assigned decks.  Now, you can also use the task card decks with your whole class with a feature called Fast Play.  You can get a Fast Play code for any of your decks.  Simply input that Fast Pass web address into your computer and project it onto your whiteboard. This makes it a great way to introduce a new concept or review a skill. 

Finally, it's fun!  Kids love technology.  They're more motivated to work through 25 math problems when they get instant feedback and earn little rewards.  

Do you still want to hang on to your paper task cards?  Don't worry, you can have both!  I've been converting some of my print task cards to digital, which are available in my Boom store. (Crockett's Classroom on Boom)

But now, some of the task cards in my TpT store have companion digital sets on Boom.  When you purchase the set from Crockett's classroom on TpT you'll get the printable task cards and a code to access the deck on Boom Learning™.  How amazing is that! 

Verb task cards.  Try out the print and digital versions!

I've created a special category in my TpT store called Boom Cards. This category will soon be filled with sets of printable/digital task cards.  I'm starting with a set of free task cards for Verbs (action, helping and linking)

Disclosure:  I am receiving renewal of my Boom membership for writing and publishing this blog post about Boom Learning and Boom cards.


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The KWL Chart -- New and Improved!

It's time to get rid of that old KWL chart!  Check out these versions that reflect what student learning really looks like.

      KWL charts have been around since the early 80’s.  Chances are you’ve used them either as a student or as a teacher,  maybe both. I remember thinking the traditional chart with three columns were wonderful.  I used them for so many of my science and social studies lessons and thought they really helped my students organize their thoughts and learning.  They guided a lot of our informative research and writing. 

    Well, it’s time to bring the KWL chart up-to-date.  I’ve found several really interesting ways this chart has been adapted.  Some are still simple and adaptable to many lessons, but others are more specific and may not fit with a wide range of activities.  Here’s what I found---

Traditional KWL
Let’s start with the oldie, but goodie.  The three columns stand for What I Know, What I Want to Know and What I Learned.  This is pretty straight forward and kids easily understand them.  After only a little whole class practice, students are able to use this chart on their own.  What I love about this chart is the versatility.  It can be used for almost any lesson or activity. (Click on image to download this organizer.)
Traditional KWL chart, simple and easy way to organize information for both literary and informative text

With the traditional KWL chart, it's simple and easy to organize information for both literary and informative text  
Literary Text--
K:  background knowledge    Students list what they know about the topic, characters, or setting.  Students can even list what they know about the genre.
W:  Want to find out.     Students can make predictions of what they think will happen. Predictions can be added or adjusted as they continue to read. Questions they want to have answered as they read the story can also be written here.  Then if the question is answered it can be moved over to the Learned column.
L:  Learned from the story.    Students can write a summary of the story, or the lesson learned in the story.  Their predictions can be checked and their questions can be answered.

Informative Text,  video or movie, science experiment --
K:  Previous knowledge     What knowledge do students already have about this topic.  This could come from previous experiences, books they’ve read, movies or TV shows they’ve seen.  It can also come from previous lessons or activities.
W:  Want to learn     What do the students hope or want to learn about the topic.  Questions are best for this column because they easily lead to searching for answers.

L:  Learned from the text       Any facts and information that students learn from the text can be written in this column. The facts do not have to pertain to what they wrote in the W column. But, if they do answer one of the questions from the W column, it can be moved over to the L column as they write the answer.

Thinking KWL Chart
I really, really like this KWL chart.  It values the knowledge that students already have about a topic but requires them to find evidence to support their ideas.  Let’s face it, kids know a lot, but it isn’t always accurate.  I also like the fluidity of this chart.  Instead of writing on the chart, I like to have kids write on small sticky notes.  These notes can then be moved from column to column as they read and research.  
This thinking KWL charts adds extra accountability to the traditional KWL chart.

Here’s how the three columns work;

K: What I Think I Know-  The first column is the biggest change from the traditional KWL chart.  Kids can write down any facts, background knowledge or information they think they know about the topic.  The emphasis, though, is that this “knowledge” may change once they begin researching or reading the text.  Perhaps they write “bears hibernate” in the first column. But, from their research, they find out that they don’t truly hibernate.  They go into a torpor or a deep sleep.  Bears can be woken up quickly and easily from this torpor state, unlike hibernating animals. The note about bears hibernating can now be updated and moved to the last column- What I know I Learned column.
W:  What I want to Know-  In this column students write notes about what they'd like to learn, or questions they have about the topic or story.  As they read and research, they can update these notes with their new knowledge and move the note to the last column.
L:  What I know I learned-  The last column is where all the notes from their research are collected.  Only notes that have text-based evidence can be placed in this column.   Notes from the first and second column are moved here as soon as they are proved by the research and reading.

The next KWL chart comes from an article I read on the NSTA blog.  It describes a KLEW chart.  

KLEW chart from a third grade science lesson, One type of KWL chart reviewed in this blog post.
I like how this chart guides students through their research.  The first column lists what students think they know, just like in my Thinking KWL chart.  In the second column, they record what they are learning, followed by the third column which lists supporting evidence.  The last column lists questions for future research.  To read how a third-grade teacher used this in her science lesson you can read the full article here:  Evidence Helps the KWL Get a KLEW.

Is your KWL chart up to date?  Check out new ways to use this organizational chart with your students as they read literary and informational text.


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