“Stay” is a charming word in a friend’s vocabulary.
Louisa May Alcott

Who Are We Failing?

According to Hart and Risley (1995), 3 years old who come from low income households are already 600 words behind 3 year olds from other families.  The average 3 year old knows 900 – 1,000 words, so this deficit is huge! By second grade, the difference has increased to about 4,000 words.   Students, and especially struggling readers, generally begin to lose interest in reading by 4th grade (Applegate & Applegate 2010).  This shows that we must increase vocabulary instruction at the primary level in order to increase at-risk students’ motivations to read.

Vocabulary instruction cannot only include teaching words.  There must be instructional time showing students how to use context clues, letter sounds, related words, and outside resources in order to determine what a word means in its specific context.

“If our goal is to help students improve understanding … then words need to be pulled apart, put together, defined informally, practiced in writing, and played with regularly …” (Kelley 2010).

I especially like the “played with regularly” part. Children must also be given the chance to talk and the structure to make their words meaningful. Sentence starters are a great resource for successful conversation on a topic.

A significant amount of time must be spent on learning and using words in different ways and with varying shades of meaning for a student to truly understand a word and begin to use it correctly.  Vocabulary instruction time needs to happen not only during language arts periods. It is essential to the content areas as well.

I have added to my popular “Diamonds or Coal: A Context Clues Lesson”. It now includes a teaching resource and practice page for “Finding Restatements and Definitions” in sentences and a “Toolbox for Compare and Contrast Words”.

This lesson is free at my teacherspayteachers store:


Here’s a sample of its newest pages.

Word of the Day cards can present a chance for meaningful converstaion. Here’s another autumn word for you.


I just learned that baby teeth and antlers are also called deciduous! It is never to late to learn more about words. What will you learn today?


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