Vocab activities for your classroom

Vocabulary and the New Common Core Standards

After years of fine-tuning individual state standards for education, the tide has turned. No longer will many administrators and teachers turn to their state standards to determine what to teach and when; they will instead look to the Common Core Standards as the new "gold standard" of standards. As of today, the Common Core State Standards Initiative — brainchild of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) — has successfully wooed at least thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia.

Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core Standards Initiative, we think you should be aware of vocabulary's place within the CCS. Yes, "Vocabulary Acquisition and Use" gets its very own section in the Language Standards — a greater subsection of the English Language Arts and Literacy Standards. Vocabulary Acquisition and Use standards outline a multi-step process teachers and students can follow in their word learning. To put it simply: students encounter unfamiliar words in their reading; they use context clues and morphology to try to deduce meaning; they consult references to verify meaning, and eventually — if the stars align — they end up using those words in a meaningful way.

If you are wondering how Visual Thesaurus word maps and VocabGrabber can support you in meeting these Vocabulary standards, let us break it down for you.

Common Core Vocabulary Standards

Visual Thesaurus
and VocabGrabber

4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade X reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

a. Use context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

b. Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., audience, auditory, audible).

c. Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.

d. Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

VocabGrabber is an ideal one-size-fits-all tool for this standard. You can start with any text that your students are reading, copy and paste it into VocabGrabber and then let VG provide you with all the contextual clues and background knowledge your students will need for figuring out how particular words are being used in their reading.

As soon as students click "Grab Vocabulary" under the text box, they will have access to an interactive vocabulary list for their reading — complete with context clues, dictionary definitions, word maps, and audible pronunciations.

Here's how VocabGrabber illustrates the use of the word "bizarre" in The Great Gatsby:

5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. a. Interpret figures of speech in context.

b. Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.

c. Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions).

Visual Thesaurus word maps display the relationships between words your students are learning and other words — synonyms, antonyms, hypernyms, and hyponyms. For example, when looking at a word map for square, you can scroll around and see that it's a synonym of second power, an antonym of round, and a type of shape.

6. Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

If you read the rationale for the Common Core Vocabulary Standards, you will notice an emphasis on teaching general academic (Tier Two) and domain-specific (Tier Three) words. Luckily, VocabGrabbing a reading passage can give teachers a head start in prioritizing those types of words in their students' reading. When you click "Grab Vocabulary," VocabGrabber shifts those domain-specific and academic words to the top of your vocabulary list, while letting the more common Tier One words settle to the bottom of the list.

Of course, teacher discretion is key here, and that is why teachers can customize vocabulary lists and save them to their profiles. Once you have grabbed a text's vocabulary, save to your profile those Tier Two and Tier Three words you deem most vital in understanding the text and those words students will most likely reencounter in future readings.

For additional Visual Thesaurus resources supporting the teaching of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards, please consult this PDF.

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Georgia Scurletis is Director of Curriculum for the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Before coming to Thinkmap, she spent 18 years as a curriculum writer and classroom teacher. Georgia has written curriculum materials for a variety of Web sites (WGBH, The New York Times Learning Network, Edsitement) and various school districts. While teaching high school English in Brooklyn, she was a recipient of the New York State English Council's Educators of Excellence Award, the Brooklyn High Schools' Recognition Award, and The New York Times' Teachers Who Make a Difference Award. Click here to read more articles by Georgia Scurletis.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday October 27th 2010, 11:02 AM
Comment by: Anonymous
This is a powerful instructional strategy!

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