Word Nerds, Part Three.

If you’ve come across this entry without reading the others on explicit vocabulary instruction, please start here for the first entry on this subject.

It’s week 5 and my class and I are now in a routine with our explicit vocabulary instruction.

Monday: word introduction with a ‘guess the missing word’ cloze on the board, followed by a reveal of the 5 words of the week and a discussion of which goes where. This takes about 20 minutes.

Tuesday: filling in the week’s entries in our vocabulary books and discussing synonyms and examples, and antonyms and non examples. Students write a 7+ word sentence and I mark their vocabulary books overnight so that alterations can be made promptly. This activity takes about 30 minutes and includes discussions of parts of speech, prefixes, suffixes, plurals, etc.

Wednesday: group cloze activity that includes words from previous weeks. Students work in pairs to discuss their answers while they work. This takes about 20 minutes.

Thursday and Friday: word games whenever we can fit them in.

In Word Nerds the authors finish each week with a ‘party’ that has a theme (pirate, Hawaiian, etc that relate to given activities) and involves students walking around and talking to other students or doing particular activities as a given word. They also have students wear lanyards in class with a focus word on each so that the teacher can use the words throughout the day – for example, they might ask for the person with a synonym for ‘flood’ to do a particular task. I don’t feel quite ready for parties and lanyards yet, but I thought I would devote this week’s entry to games we’ve played so far and ideas I’ve had for activities.

Articulate: a game where students are divided into two teams and have to explain a word without using any of the synonyms or antonyms on the word’s anchor chart. Their team have a limited amount of time to guess the word then the listening team also gets a guess.

Pac Man: as discussed in the last entry, a game where everyone spreads out around the room and if students answer a question correctly they get to take a step. If they can touch another student, that student is out, unless they can answer a question that has stumped all the standing players. Questions can be anything to do with vocabulary – giving synonyms, antonyms, spelling, cloze questions, etc.

Memory: I make up pairs of cards using words from our lists and their synonyms then the class play. Sometimes I include synonyms that are new and this raises discussion.


I’ve been very much enjoying the routine of this program and the students seem to be genuinely excited about learning new words. No part of the instruction is laborious – once the students had a little practice drawing up the frames for their vocabulary books it all flowed very smoothly. Last week I chose words from the comprehension text we’d be using in our literacy groups and the students couldn’t wait to tell me when they found some of the words from the current list – they were excited about it!

Aside from Word Nerds I’ve also been studying Bringing Words To Life, by Beck, McKeown and Kucan, which gives a more academic insight into explicit vocabulary instruction.

In their book, Beck, McKeown and Kucan write:

Less than interesting instruction is not a concern of merely wanting students to enjoy classroom activities. Rather, students need to develop an interest in and awareness of words in order to adequately build their vocabulary repertoires. Among what needs to occur is that students keep using new words so that they come to ‘own’ the words. Students need to notice words in their environment whose meanings they do not know. They need to become aware of and explore relationships among words in order to refine and fully develop word meanings. Indeed, being curious about the meaning of an unknown word that one encounters and intrigued by how it relates to other words is a hallmark of those who develop large vocabularies.

bringing words to life

I’ve ordered a couple of books that I’ve found on websites about vocabulary instruction and asked for my school’s Literacy Leader to order a number of books that were recommended in Word Nerds (thanks Glenda!). I’m very much looking forward to reading these and I hope they instigate more of the fantastic discussion my class has enjoyed so far this term.

Next week I am going to do a ‘quick write’ with the class using a photo of submerged cars in a flooded street as the stimulus and hopefully the work we’ve done so far will be reflected in the students’ writing. The other Grade 5 classes, who have not been doing the same activities, will be doing the quick write also. Hopefully there’ll be a noticeable difference in the quality of vocabulary. Fingers crossed!


edit: here’s a link to a short and interesting article by Robert Marzano, one of the leading researchers in the field of explicit (sometimes ‘enriched’) vocabulary instruction. Worth a read if you’re thinking of following this process.