How I Teach Vocabulary in Middle School English Classes


Since I don't have a vocabulary book or program that I HAVE to follow at my school, I used to always worry if I was doing enough vocabulary instruction. Even when I was theoretically following best practices or authentically investigating words as they came up in texts, I was concerned about if I was really helping my students become better readers. 

After a lot of trial and error, I'm now proud of what we do for middle school vocabulary, which falls into four main areas: 
  1. Specific Words for Texts and Units 
  2. Word of the Week Program (see this post)
  3. Vocabulary.com use for differentiation (see bottom of post)
  4. Greek & Latin roots instruction (see this blog post for details)

This mix of interaction, instruction, differentiation, and assessment is working for my students better than ever before (and is showing up in their reading scores). 

Today, I'm going to share the details of my Word of the Day/Week setup (also known as the Word Nerd Challenge), which is essentially doing deeper instruction of 40 words (10 words per quarter). 

Here's How it Works:

This is a photograph of a Word of the Week vocabulary instruction page.

Because I teach middle school, I need the materials to be age-appropriate and easy to read, so I've made my Word of the Week resources minimalist and without clutter -- print-and-go materials with no need to add extra, unnecessary information. I want my students to learn the vocabulary terms with the definitions, synonyms and antonyms, Greek or Latin roots, and so on. 

This is a photograph of Word of the Week worksheets for vocabulary instruction.

Here are the steps for how I carry out the Word of the Week program in my class:
  1. Pre-test: Check initial understanding of the 40 words
  2. Bell-ringer: Use the PowerPoint visual display (or just stick the guided notes packet under your document camera) while students record information into their guided notes journal
  3. Guided notes: Fill-in-the-blank graphic organizer customized for each word
  4. Flashcards: Pre-made Quizlet sets (for each 10-word set AND overall)
  5. Quizzes: Students take a quiz every 10 words
  6. Bulletin board: Display the cumulative list of words learned this year
  7. Post-test: Assess growth over time
This is a photograph of Word of the Week worksheets for vocabulary instruction.

I sometimes throw in some additional things, like these:
  • Skills test: An optional assessment with 10 NEW words to practice the skills taught through the guided notes journal
  • Certificates: Celebrate student victory from the post-test results
  • Journal cover and extras for the guided notes, like student directions, growth chart, etc.
This is a photograph of a Word Nerd certificate for vocabulary instruction.

Personally, the vocabulary terms that I use in my classroom are ACT/SAT level words, even though I teach middle school. This prepares them for high school and for those tests that they'll have to take eventually to help them gain admission to colleges and universities. 

Another benefit of using words at this level is that they commonly appears in real-world contexts, like the news!

This is a photograph of a vocabulary quiz in a Word of the Week resource.

If you'd like a ready-made vocabulary program that will take a task off your plate, then you can purchase my Word of the Week Program here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2) in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I've taken all of the work out of it for you and created a ready-to-use but editable vocabulary program!

How I use Vocabulary.com
This is a paid program that my school purchased after I requested it. Here's how we used it last year (our first year of the program):
  1. Every student had an account, and I set them up into their class periods. 
  2. Every student had a goal to "master" 10 words per quarter, at minimum. For some students, this was challenging (especially for those who struggle with reading or vocabulary and took a long time to get the several-questions-right-in-a-row needed to "master" a word). However, many students exceeded this goal - by the hundreds. 
  3. At the end of the quarter, students logged their statistics as well as writing down a short sample of words they mastered and words they're currently working on. (This gave me, and their parents, a view of the difficulty level of the words that the program had given them.)
I'm happy to say that the vocabulary.com program is their favorite online program (more than, say, IXL or CommonLit), and students were authentically choosing to play it in their downtime. 

(This review of vocabulary.com is not an ad and is my personal opinion.)

What are some of your favorite methods for teaching vocabulary? 
Let me know in the comments!

How to Host an Online Review Session (with Google Docs)


Maybe it's just me, but I hate when my email inbox explodes the night before a test with last-minute questions from students. Don't get me wrong - I love that students are studying at all and are asking questions. However, it bugs me that:

  • others could benefit from viewing my answer
  • the questions are so last-minute, a clear sign of what I call "Procrastinitis"
  • not all students even check their email in time to see my reply!
Thus, after watching a colleague do his own version successfully, I started doing online review sessions in the evenings before midterms and final exams, and it's brought a lot of positives for us.

Getting Started in Anti-Racist Self-Education (for Teachers)



It's June 2020, and I'm a white educator doing self-reflection on where I need to grow, what I need to learn, and what parts of my curriculum and classroom need to change. 

I'm not trying to position myself as an expert on anti-racist education in this post. In fact, at first I hesitated to write this post at all, because 1) I was afraid of being or seeming performative and 2) hesitation to take up space in this conversation. However, educators with any extent of an online community, including myself, cannot be silent - so I'm here to uplift some of the articles, videos, people, and blog posts that I have found most helpful this month, in the hopes that they may be helpful to some of you as well. 

The links in this post are not sponsored in any way; they range from having an anti-racism focus to ones that more generally help diversify and/or decolonize a curriculum or bookshelf. These are also merely a starting point for me, and this list is not intended to be comprehensive.

To be honest, I don't know what changes are coming to my classroom yet in response to what I'm learning - mainly because, as of the time of this posting, I do not have a clear picture of what funds my school has left for new books next year and what I can purchase or fundraise by myself. But the point is that I'm on the journey, and I hope you'll consider coming with me and/or furthering my education. 

Feel free to drop a suggested website or resource in the comments. 

Inside my Farmhouse Classroom Makeover (with links!)

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For many years, my classroom just didn't look or feel right. While I knew that the actions inside a classroom mattered more than what was on the walls, I also wanted it to look... well, at least clean and organized. 

Thus began a very gradual, years-long process of taking my room from a color-clashing mess to a comparatively calmer, semi farmhouse look. Some of the materials I bought, and some were reimbursed or bought by the school, but it did not happen overnight and was, again, a process of finding out what did and didn't work for seventh and eighth graders. 

15 Self Care and Healing Books for Teens


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As the whole world - including education and the publishing industry - grapples with how best to serve teens through mental health concerns, we teachers are often doing our best to help students find books that they can identify with and that they can see themselves in - or conversely, books to give them hope out of their current situations.

I recently asked several English teachers to share fiction OR nonfiction titles about mental health, self-care, and/or healing that are appropriate for a secondary classroom, and here are the results.

20 Picture Books for the Secondary English Classroom


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Picture books aren't just for early readers! Many fantastic picture books concisely teach a concept, portray a literary device, or fill in background knowledge in a way that can not only fit into one class period but also keep teenagers' attention.

I recently asked several English teachers to share worthwhile picture books for a middle or high school English class, and here are the results. Many of these would be great read-alouds!