Monthly Archives: October 2013

Family Words by “The Word Lady”

*Here is another post by “The Word Lady” highlighting how teachers can meaningfully teach vocabulary to students. Today’s topic is family words. Click on Jill Negrete’s lesson plan at the bottom of this post to find out more!

As teachers of beginning readers, we have our hands full at times. We are trying to open up a new world to our students (a language based, print rich world). A child’s background knowledge plays a large role in identifying words, while reading, at this early age because they rely upon what makes sense when they read words. Sometimes students make sense as they read. Sometimes they do not.

What happens if they don’t? How can I help my students be successful? A good friend, and reading recovery teacher, taught me to carefully select books as I plan my reading lessons. Students with language issues can experience a lot of frustration as they read if the language the author uses is unusual and does not make sense to them.

The Word Lady is also teaching me to deliberately teach vocabulary. When the vocabulary component of our new reading program focussed on family words, Jill Negrete ran with it. She made the abstract come to life!

Students dressed up to illustrate the concept of parents. (The father wore a hat and the mother wore a necklace.) Their children held a ball to show that they were in fact children. When the children grew up they put on a hat or a necklace to signal that they were now adults. In the end, we had a real life family tree with grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, cousins, nieces and nephews!

Acting out a Family Tree
Lesson Plan for Family Words

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Numbers Numbers are Everywhere!

*This is a third installment in a series of posts about vocabulary and language learning from Speech/Language Pathologist, Jill Negrete, from the Grantsburg School District.

Numbers are Everywhere Lesson Plan

All math teachers can relate to teaching a new concept and later finding that students didn’t really “get it.” Learning by rote memorization does not stay with a student and they soon forget what it was that you tried to teach them. Sometimes concepts are abstract from the start and students need something to connect their new learning to for it to sink in.

The Word Lady teaches number words in a dynamic way. As teachers, we may describe objects with words such as “pair,” “few,” “several,” and “many.” If we look at it from a student’s perspective, what do these words really mean anyways? It is possible that students with language difficulties are sitting through our math lessons feeling dazed and confused.

Jill Negrete has shared her lesson plan for teaching number words. It is a must read for any elementary math teacher to see how you can take real world objects and put them in the hands of children to help them truly understand numbers.

Laney Sammons talks about helping students make “math-to-self,” “math-to-math” and “math-to-world” connections in her book “Guided Math.” Speaking from experience, I have found that students do not automatically see how one math concept is similar to another. Students also tend to view these concepts in isolation and do not see how the concepts are similar to things in the world around them or in their own lives. Children first need to be taught that these connections exist, and then need guidance making connections before making them independently.

As you look at Jill’s above lesson plan, you will see that she helps kids make connections naturally. She holds up a boxed cake mix (a familiar sight to many students) and goes on to talk about how numbers are used to measure both time and temperature to cook it. Kids listening immediately make a “math-to-self” connection since many of them have cooked with a loved one at home.

After The Word Lady’s lesson on numbers, my students spent the week working on “Numbers are Everywhere” book using Book Creator on the iPad. These books are not only bursting with six year old personalities, but they are chock full of mathematical connections. The end result is a deeper mathematical understanding.

*For more information on the different types of mathematical connections, please read my previous post “Have you Chirped Today?” from December 11, 2012.

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5 Minute Vocabulary Game from “The Word Lady”

We are busy teachers, right? Of course. Despite our many responsibilities, it is not impossible to build in a little vocabulary building throughout the day. Here is a great, “quick,” vocabulary game from Jill Negrete, Speech Language Therapist from the Grantsburg School District.

Five Minute Vocabulary Game – #1 (I’ll try and post one weekly –) Just remember I am not the authority – everything I know I learned from watching and modeling a teacher. So feel free to share a quick vocab game that you have used – you are the masters!

What we know! Words are thinking. There is a give and take relationship between reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. Children who are good readers are picking up new vocabulary words as they read, children learn between two thousand and three thousand words a year – that’s about 7 a day. There is a gap between the good reader with strong vocabulary and poor readers with weak vocabularies and the gap widens.

We must give vocabulary opportunities to narrow the gap. The best way to teach vocabulary – The MUSTS! 1) We continue to teach inferred meaning of words through reading. 2) We must “hook” new word to what students know. 3) We must actively and purposefully teach new words. 4) We must give students repeated exposure to new words. 5) We must get our students to be curious or excited about new words.

SURE! Piece of CAKE! Now do it in 5 minutes that you have open in your day!

Ok – This is how much time we have so we will make it “Word Time”. I am going to give you some five minute vocabulary activities that can be used during transition times as lining up, waiting for others to join a group, everyone finished early and there is a few minutes – not enough to start something new….. Or just build it into your day as “Brain Warm-Ups!”

1) The MYSTERY TIN ( Open ended – you can select the words)
Place an object, picture card or word in a can / tin. The students are going to guess what is in the tin! You can work on 1) general vocabulary or a specific skill. Always expand -thinking function, parts of whole, categories. Listen to these five clues and raise your hand if you think you know what is in the tin. ( This will give students who need more clues the opportunity 1) an animal 2) large animal 3) lives in Africa / zoo 4) vegetarian 5) eats leaves from top of trees. When you bring out the Giraffe – discuss parts – hooves, spots, similarities to other animals, etc.
giraffe picture *image credit: http://www.animalcorner.co.uk.wildlife/giraffes/giraffe_anatomy
Open ended can fit any unit!

The 3rd grade class is working on adverbs – Give clues in adverb language 1) flies quickly 2) pollinates carefully 3) photographs colorfully yellow – black 4) stings painfully 5) buzzes loudly
bee picture *image credit: http://bee-magic.blogspot.com

Will add more 5 minute Vocab as we go. MS JILL – AKA THE WORD LADY!

Vocabulary Comes Alive With “The Word Lady!”

*This post is the second installment in a series of posts dedicated to helping young learners grow and develop their vocabularies. Jill Negrete, a Speech and Language Therapist from the Grantsburg School District has offered to partner with me and show how to help my students understand language better. In return for her guidance and teaching, I am sharing information with teachers.


Our new reading program has a great vocabulary component. A few weeks ago, our first graders learned about the parts of a house while reading “Dee and Me” by Lois Bick. Students looked at the illustrations and identified the living room, the bathroom, etc. The Word Lady took the concept to a new level and made it come alive. She brought in a doll house and gave students pictures of objects found in a house. Together, the class discussed where each item would go. One student’s card was a fireplace. Miss Jill planted the vocabulary word “chimney” first and then the class discussed which room a fireplace would be found in.

That was fun and meaningful, but then Miss Jill took out a large canner. When she removed the lid, each child sat with excitement as they waited for her to unveil the mysteries inside. Some of the items included a turkey baster, a frying pan, a sauce pan, a rolling pin, and even a tea kettle. She taught kids to connect the new objects to things they already knew and when possible she used actions to cement a concept. (Ex. Sinks and tea kettles have spouts and each time Jill said “spout” to the class, she made a motion with her hand a formed a spout.)

Debbie Miller, the author of “Reading with Meaning”, talks about how our schemas grow and change. As teachers, we instruct our students to activate their schemas and think about how what they are learning reminds them of something they already know. These connections come in various forms (text-to-self, text-to-text, and even text-to-world connections.) Making helpful connections facilitates comprehension. Real reading happens when students read the words and understand their reading.

How do you help students generalize their learning to real world contexts? Have you ever thought of taking your iPad to a store and creating your own video to bring back to your students? Miss Jill did to help students add the term “appliance” to their schemas. She explained that appliances are found all around us wherever we go. She helped students understand that an appliance is a machine that you plug in and it does work for us. AS Miss Jill created her video of vacuum cleaners, she described their parts and what type of work the appliance does. She illustrated the vast number of different types of appliances through the use of video. It was amazing!

I have a better understanding now of how I can help students add new information to their schemas and how I can bring the world right inside our classroom! As a token to remember this dynamic vocabulary lesson, students created “Parts of Houses” e-books using “Book Creator” on the iPad. It is something they are sure to never forget.

Students create e-books about the different "gadgets" found inside a house.
Students create e-books about the different “gadgets” found inside a house.

Making the Most of Brain Breaks


Students and teachers alike have well over a month of school under their belts. With so much of our beginning of the year testing behind us, it is now when we teachers feel like real learning is happening in our classrooms. With a new set of students each year, we feel like we are starting from scratch on many levels. This can be exciting because each child is like an empty canvas waiting to be painted on. It can also be a daunting time of year because so many students need to relearn how to listen. It takes time to teach, but it cannot be overlooked. Good listening is the groundwork for a year’s worth of learning. An amazing lady at my school, Jill Negrete, (aka “The Word Lady”) has shown me how you can take simple listening exercises and turn them into a brain break during the day. The authors of “The Daily 5” and “The CAFE Book” talk about the brain research behind the concept of brain breaks. In this video, Miss Jill gets kids up and moving to help them understand the importance of waiting/listening to the end so that they don’t get something wrong in school. In the video, she plays a type of “Simon Says” game and teaches concepts such as high, low, far, and near. She starts off with one step directions in the beginning and moves on to three steps shortly. The class is having fun, yet they are learning to “tune in” rather than sit passively while the teacher is talking.

Growing Vocabularies

As a first grade teacher and mother, I try to immerse my students and children in a language rich environment. I love reading and I love words. The only thing I may love more is watching a child light up with excitement as they discover this love for themselves.

Nearly half of all the students in the Elementary school where I teach qualify for free and reduced lunch. Over the past few years, I have noticed more students in my class with limited vocabularies. I explicitly teach word solving and comprehension strategies to help my students become proficient readers. One of the beginning accuracy strategies I teach is for students to think to themselves “Does it look right?” “Does it sound right?” “Does it make sense?” The authors of “The Daily 5” and “The CAFE Book” coined the term “cross checking.” Those students that have limited vocabularies have difficulty cross checking because they do not have the vocabulary words for many of the words I am trying to teach them to read. The result is frustrating both for me and my students.

I began to wonder what I was missing. “What am I not teaching?” I would ask myself over and over. There were many nights where I went to bed feeling a bit depressed only to wake up feeling more depressed. That was until I met “The Word Lady” at my school. Jill Negrete is the Speech and Langusge Pathologist in my school and she listened politely as I told her my frustrations after one of our back to school in services. It turns out she has noticed the same thing. Children are coming in to school with limited vocabularies. One of the contributing factors is TV. Children are exposed to a lot because of it, but it lacks interaction. The TV doesn’t rival the give and take conversations (teachable moments) between a parent and child.

After talking to Jill, I learned that all is not lost. There is hope. There are things that I can do as a teacher during those empty moments in school (such as waiting in line). To give me a better understanding, Jill has been visiting my class each Monday morning during breakfast to provide language rich opportunities for my students. Eventually I will be applying these strategies in natural ways throughout the day.

Jill has taught me a lot since meeting her one short month ago. It is my privilege to be able to pass some of this knowledge on to you.

Here is where you can begin. Students need to know the parts of a whole. What this means is that they might know what a car is, but they don’t necessarily know the different, smaller parts, that go together to make up the car.

Here is a great example from Jill. The first time my students met her, she came in to the class with a box. Hidden inside the box was a mystery. She gave clues and allowed students to try to guess what it was. It ended up being a piece of corn on the cob complete with the silk and. In the hallway, she had an actual stalk of corn and she ended the lesson by teaching the kids the different parts of it (ex. the tassel, stalk, corn cob, and roots).

The next week, Jill brought a plethora of strange, unusual, and awesome vegetables from her garden. She told about each one and talked about how the new vegetables were similar to ones that they already knew. She included little tricks to help them remember some of the weird names like artichoke and okra.

When she left my room, my table was overflowing with the bountiful harvest. She placed 2 butter knives on the table. “Cut them open” she said. “Let the kids not only see them, but let them feel them and smell them as well.” It has been a great week as my class has been following her directions. We ended up having our reading groups on the floor so as not to disturb the wonderful gifts she gave us.

I am indebted to Miss Jill in many ways. She not only has begun to unlock the mystery for me as to how I can help my students with language issues, but she has planted a seed, a love of words, in the hearts of my students. A seed that is growing right before my eyes and putting a smile on my face.

Thank you Jill!

*Watch the video below to see the word lady in action!