Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teaching Vocabulary

When my kids were younger, I sat down to put together a curriculum plan.  When I came to Language Arts, I found that it was easier to break down the subject for me.  I didn't gravitate towards all in one curriculums like Sonlight or Abeka.  So, I identified the components I needed for my children:  Reading, Reading Comprehension, Spelling, Writing, and Vocabulary.  As my kids have grown, this breakdown has remained the same with a few minor tweaks.  For my fifth grader, reading instruction now focuses on reading strategies and fluency.  Vocabulary in younger grades came in the form of Explode the Code--connecting words with their spellings and meanings through sentences and pictures.  My kids finish Explode the Code at the end of 4th grade.  I have them complete both the whole numbered and half numbered books.  This year, I knew it was time for me to tweak Autumn's vocabulary component of her curriculum as she started 5th grade.  So, I started my search for a good solution.

I had always assumed that when they were done with Explode the Code, I would transition to using EPS' series Wordly Wise.  But, as I considered it this year, I wasn't sure I was ready to take on the cost of another workbook to purchase every year for all three of my kids.  So, I started looking for less expensive, but effective ways to teach my children vocabulary.

Two of the ways classroom teachers teach vocabulary are by teaching it in context within the literature component of language arts and by having children write down words they don't know from their silent sustained reading in a journal that they then look up afterwards in a dictionary.  But, I knew that both of these approaches weren't going to be enough for my voraciously reading kids.  So, I started comtemplating vocabulary instruction and how I could do it in a way that was doable for me and for my kids.  

What I needed to consider first was what approach I wanted to take to vocabulary instruction.  I could either focus on whole words the way Wordly Wise does.  Or, I could start by teaching prefixes/suffixes and then moving on to base roots.  Basically words are made up of multiple roots.  There are prefixes, roots a the beginning of words; core or base roots in the middle; and suffixes, roots that end words.  I have chosen the second.  I am choosing this approach for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted to help my children work on the skill of breaking apart words and developing their word attack skills.  Second, I felt it would help with their spelling and my second daughter's need for explicit instruction when she reaches fifth grade.  After making this decision, I needed to decide what I needed the format of the curriculum to be.

I want to spend time instructing them, but I have found that curriculum that is entirely teacher led doesn't work for me since my children are all working at different grade levels.  My kids like workbooks.  They like them for a couple of reasons.  #1 When Mommy is working with another child, they can go to the next page the read the directions and start to work.  Most workbooks give good directions and they scaffold little step by little step.  They don't typically make huge jumps that are hard for kids to grasp on their own.  #2  They like our system of working on a subject and then checking it off their assignment planner.  They feel like they are getting a lot done.  They have found that workbooks where they need to complete 2 pages per day are very doable and not overwhelming.  Even the writing workbooks I use vary the amount of writing each day, so it isn't overwhelming every day.  

I know that when I was a classroom teacher, the workbooks I now use would have been considered the worst thing ever.  Fill in the blank worksheets?  Oh, no!  It was considered busy work and mindless repetition.  

But, like many other ideas that I had when I taught public school, that belief has changed for me.  Now, I see workbooks very differently.  They are wonderful tools that help my children be independent learners.  They help guide my teaching so that I don't have to constantly use teacher's guides (which I have very few of in my house).  Teacher's guides take a lot of time to read.  And right now I don't have that time.  I make that time when I need to, but when I can teach from a workbook and later review with my children, it is easier.  

So, I knew I wanted to find an affordable, reproducible workbook that I could use to teach prefixes and suffixes.  I found two resources that I like.  One is entirely a workbook without a teaching guide.  The second is a set of two books that does give pointers and lesson plans.  

Teacher Created Resources has three books in their Practice Makes Perfect Series on Prefixes and Suffixes.  After looking around a lot, I decided to start with the third grade book even though my oldest daughter is in fifth grade.  It starts with the most basic of suffixes and prefixes and I didn't find some of these in any other workbooks.  I wanted her to have practice spelling and identifying even the simplest of these word roots.  The books are extremely affordable at a price of about $5.50 per workbook.  And they're reproducible!  She is going to also complete the second 4th grade book this year.  I am going to have her complete the 5th grade book next year in 6th grade.  There isn't a lot of instruction to these books, but it does familiarize my daughter with a group of words with the same prefix or suffix.  She likes these workbooks and I have since ordered the map skills books and dictionary skills book to supplement our curriculum as we finish out this school year.  

The other resource I found is also a solid teaching curriculum.  It costs more, but it has a lot more meat to it.  Shell Education has published two books--Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes and Practice with Prefixes.  When I looked online, there were no reviews or a preview on Amazon, so I went to the
company's website and found some sample pages there.  I liked what I saw then, and still do.  The lessons are clustered for each prefix or suffix.  The first book begins by explaining (in great simple language) what to point out to your students about word roots.  They start with identifying two and three syllable compound words, breaking them apart.  There are quick teaching tips that quickly summarize what you need to know.  If your child is auditory, there are quick teaching discussion ideas.  The pages are very well formatted and not filled with extra gobbildy gook that you have to sift out in order to get to the meat as many teacher's guides are.  Then after two teaching pages, there are four worksheets that you can use with your student.  I like the worksheets a lot.  You can either copy from the book or use the cd-rom at the back of the book.  The cd-rom is the only thing I'm not crazy about with this curriculum and it is the reason this book makes it harder for me to use.  They have put the files on the disk separately in alphabetical order.  At the back of the book, there is an index that tells you the file name correlating to what page it is in the book.  I would suggest if you want to use this book to a) copy all the worksheets from the book first and assemble before you start using it or b) open and print all the files first.  Then, the worksheets would be ready to use when you're ready to teach them, instead of you having to go find them when you need them on the fly.  This was my mistake.  Because I didn't have it ready for my daughter, she got tired of waiting and frustrated with this book.  She recognized that she had to wait every day for me to copy her vocabulary.  

This second curriculum is more expensive (at about $22 per book), but that is understandable.  The book is several times thicker, includes a cd-rom, and most importantly gives instruction on "how" to teach prefixes and suffixes.  It is reproducible and most reproducible resources like this one cost about $20.  I like these books and will look at more curriculum from Shell Education in the future.

For my older daughter, a lot of the instruction in the practice makes perfect sense because much of the teaching is implicit.  She gets it by completing the worksheets and seeing the patterns in the words.  My second daughter needs a great deal of explicit teaching though.  So, I am sure the second series will be a better fit for her.  She needs me to interact and discuss with the material with her.    When she is spelling, I orally help her connect words to other words when learning to spell a new word.  I love how easy the teacher pages are to navigate in Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes.  BUT, I will be sure to copy all of the worksheets prior to embarking on use of this curriculum with her.  It will make her life easier--and mine.  

I am thankful to have found these resources.  They are good, solid learning tools that will lay a foundation to help my children begin building their knowledge of word roots!  

Please note that I did receive complimentary copies of Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes and Practice with Prefixes from Shell Education for review.  

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