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Presentation for NYC Schools

Mar 31, 2015 in New York, NY

Freddy presents for the teachers of NYC Schools.


Building Knowledge Through Vocabulary Acquisition

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Building Knowledge Through Vocabulary Acquisition.  Presentation for the Office of Interschool Collaborative Learning, New York City Schools.


Vocabulary Matters: 5 Facts, Actions, and Resources

The building blocks of complex text are facility with words and their meanings and background knowledge. The way to ensure both word knowledge and world knowledge is to increase the amount of well-designed vocabulary instruction in classrooms as well as the amount that students read. This session provides the five most critical facts about vocabulary that can transform student learning. Each fact is accompanied by an action that educators can take right now and a link to an open-access resource on the web for supporting that action. 

Word Fact Word Action Open-Access Resource
1. Texts have more rare words than talk and English has more words than can be taught.  1. Teach students to expect new words in texts. 1.  Talking Points for Teachers:  New Words in New Texts
2. Small group of words does heavy lifting in text. 2. Expose students to many topics & increase reading volume.  2.  FYI for Kids, Talking Points for Kids, SummerReads
3. Words are part of networks—synonym sets in narratives and topically related words in informational texts 3. Teach networks of similar-meaning words (stories) and networks of concepts in topics (informational texts). 3.  •Synonym Clusters in Narratives:  Super Synonym Sets for Stories (S4) & Exceptional Expressions for Everyday Events (E4)•Topical Clusters in Informational Texts:  Word Pictures--Core Vocabulary & Content Areas
4. Words are part of families. 4. Teach words in families. 4. S4 & E4
5. Concrete words are learned faster than abstract ones. 5. When appropriate, teach new concepts with pictures. 5.  Word Pictures--Core Vocabulary, Literature Words, Content Areas

Increase Engagement

Engagement in reading is essential if students are to become proficient and lifelong readers. As teachers, we know the truth of this statement but results from national and international assessments also underscore the importance of engagement. In the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students who identified themselves as interested in reading had higher achievement levels and high-school grade-point averages than peers who identified themselves as less interested (Donahue, Daane, & Grigg, 2003).  On an assessment of ninth graders from 32 countries, engagement also predicted students' reading performances (Kirsch, De Jong, LaFontaine, McQueen, Mendelovits, & Monseur, 2003).

Often, we think of engagement as internal to students but recent work shows that the tasks of classrooms have a strong effect on engagement. The essential components of engaging tasks have been identified (Guthrie & Klauda, 2014):  (a) choice, (b) importance, (c) collaboration, and (d) competence.

These three tasks support features of choice, importance, collaboration, and competence:

  • Choice:  Even small choices, such as getting to pick one of two or three texts to read or one of two to three topics to write about, can increase students' engagement. Using texts on a topic, such as ReadWorks' paired texts (readworks.org), lets students choose which texts to read. Putting students in pairs, where each student has read a different text, adds the element of collaboration—another feature of engaging tasks.
  • Importance:  Devote a portion of a classroom library to the publications of current and past students. When students see that their work is valued, their engagement increases.
  • Competence:  Everyone has special skills and/or interests. Design occasions, such as poster fairs, where students share their areas of expertise. Everyone in a class doesn't have to share every time, but a handful of students sharing topics can stimulate their own engagement and that of their peers.

Donahue, P., Daane, M., & Grigg, W. (2003). The nation's report card: Reading highlights 2003 (NCES No. 2004452). Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Educational Statistics.

Guthrie, J. T., & Klauda, S. L. (2014). Effects of Classroom Practices on Reading Comprehension, Engagement, and Motivations for Adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(4), 387-416.

Kirsch, I., De Jong, J., LaFontaine, D., McQueen, J., Mendelovits, J., & Monseur, C. (2003). Reading for change: performance and engagement across countries: results of PISA 2000. Washington, DC:  OECD. 

Product Item

New Words in New Texts


Develop the understanding that every complex text has new, challenging vocabulary. Vocabulary instruction gives students the means for figuring out new words in text, not instruction in every single word that might appear in new texts.


Talks about the vocabulary of new texts need to occur across a school year (with extra doses prior to assessment periods).




Here are some of the talking points for a conversation between teachers and middle-school students about new vocabulary in complex texts:

  • "One of your goals as middle schoolers is to understand that any new text likely has words that you haven’t seen before."
  • "This is a text from one of the sample assessments for the new state test. This text might look like it is hard and it may even be on the first read. But I’ve studied the text and I  know that all of you know most of the words. Even most of the words that you don’t know (point to rusty and stunt) can be figured out with the word skills you have."
  • "Also remember that words that are capitalized inside sentences are usually names. The strategy with names is to do the best you can, knowing that names are often pronounced in unusual ways because they may come from different languages. In this case, the person’s last name is one that you can figure out with your knowledge of words (demonstrate with Ear  hart)."
  • "That leaves two words that are multisyllabic in the text and that you might not be able to read (point to exhibition and aviation). I want you to read this paragraph and see if you can figure out these words.