Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary’

The Difference Between It’s and Its, and There, Their, and They’re



Some of the most common grammar mistakes concern it’s and its and there, their, and they’re. It may not be fair, but when these mistakes appear in your writing it will indicate either a lack of grammar knowledge or sloppiness in proofreading. Not to mention that there is always a question about each on the ACT, so it’s best to go in to that test with them committed to memory or you will lose easy points.

There really isn’t a good mnemonic device to know the difference. so you’ll have to commit them to memory.

It’s vs. its

It’s = it is. Its is a contraction.

Its is possessive.

The confusion is understandable. It’s looks like a possessive, but it is actually a contraction. Therefore, the dog wags its tail while it’s waiting for dinner.

There, their, and they’re

There is an adverb indicating a place.

Their is possessive.

They’re = they are.

The most common mistake with these three is to use there for all three: They checked there books out of the library. Now there going to read them. However, their is the possessive (their books) and they’re is a contraction.

Happy writing!

For more comics to use as overheads and handouts, check out Grammar Comics: Sentence Problems.

The author of this article is David Rickert, who has never mixed up these five words his entire life. When not creating comics out of thin air, David actively teaches high school English Language Arts in Columbus, Ohio. His witty and engaging cartoons turn abstract and complicated concepts into concrete and concise images to embed content into our long term memories. Let’s face it: he makes boring topics entertaining. Check out his Grammar Comics and more resources to bring life to your ELA instruction: Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics.



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Why Vocabulary Word Lists Don’t Work

Most of us would agree with reading researchers that vocabulary development is critically important to improving reading comprehension (e.g., Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Baumann, Kame‘enui, & Ash, 2003). However, not all vocabulary instruction is effective or efficient.

The Weekly Vocabulary Word List

In many classrooms the predominant means of vocabulary instruction is weekly vocabulary word list. Pass it out on Monday; have students look up and write down definitions, make flashcards, do a crossword puzzle, do a word sort, write context clue sentences, etc. Then test on Friday. The problem is that this approach does not work. It’s ineffective and inefficient.

It’s ineffective.

Students memorize the list for the Friday test and forget half of them by the next week. “Rote memorization of words and definitions is the least effective instructional method resulting in little long-term effect (Kameenui, Dixon, Carine 1987).”

It’s inefficient.

Even if students were to remember all of the, say 20 words, on the weekly vocabulary word list for the entire school year, they would only have mastered 600 words. But, the American lexicon is over 800,000 words. The SAT® word bank is over 30,000. 600 words won’t make a dent in those numbers.

According to reading research, students need to learn 3,000 new words per year just to make year-to-year grade level progress (Honig 1983). So learning only 600 words is a very small drop in a very big bucket. But it is a bucket we desperately need to fill-especially for educationally disadvantaged students, whose “word poverty” (Louisa C. Moats) dooms them to the “Matthew Effect” (Keith Stanovich) in which the poorer tend to get poorer.

To teach students 3,000 words a year, students would have to learn 17 words each school day (3,000 words over 178 school days). However, classroom intervention studies suggest that only 8 to 10 words can be retained through direct instruction in one week (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). That works out to about 300 words per year-hardly enough.

So, if vocabulary word lists are ineffective and inefficient. What does work to teach those 3,000 words per year?

Three Effective and Efficient Methods of Vocabulary Instruction

1. Independent Reading

Let’s use Luis as our example. Reading 30 minutes per day for homework at a rate of 200 words per minute, for a total of 132 days (4 days per week in a typical school year), means that Luis would be exposed to 792,000 words (30 x 200 x 132). If Luis reads text at the recommended 5% unknown words* level of word recognition recommended by reading researchers (Stahl, 1999), this means that he would be exposed to 39,600 unfamiliar words per year (792,000 x .05). Because students learn between 5 and 10 percent of previously unknown words in a single reading (Stahl, 1999), Luis will have learned between 1,980 and 3,960 new words at home! Not to mention reading in class.

*That 5% unknown words level is critically important. If students read texts below their current reading levels, even lots of reading won’t result in measurable vocabulary growth (Carver, 1994).

2. Greek and Latin Word Parts

Reading researchers suggest that learning Greek and Latin word parts is an effective and efficient method for acquiring vocabulary (e.g., Anglin, 1993; Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). Over 50% of all academic vocabulary contains one or more Greek or Latin prefix, root, or suffix. Unlike memorizing vocabulary word lists, memorizing word parts produces enormous pay-offs because one prefix, root, or suffix may be a component of hundreds of words. Learning these word families provides significant utility for the reader, especially those word parts with the highest utility.

Just 9 prefixes constitute 75% of words with prefixes (White, Sowell, & Yanigihara, 1989). Comprehensive frequency studies have not been completed on roots; however, there is general consensus as to utility of a few hundred roots. There is less agreement on the value of teaching suffixes. Suffixes can often have vague meanings such as “the state of”; suffixes are often merely inflectional forms; they also tend to vary spellings. However, some study of suffixes that have specific meanings is certainly warranted. Check out a great list of Greek and Latin word parts for instruction here.

3. Tier One, Two, and Three Words (Beck et al., 2002)

Some words do not need to be taught. Tier One Words are high utility words that will become part of a student’s lexicon incidentally through oral language or reading. Tier Three Words are rare, specific-to-the-subject words that can sometimes be learned through effective application of context clues.

But some words do need to be taught. When reading a literature selection, certain words that are important to building comprehension or understanding of the text are essential to learn, especially if these words are used in a variety of forms, in other contexts or subjects of study, or are precise uses of generally-understood concepts. These are Tier Two Words.

For example, examine this sentence: The happy child was fortunate to have such a sunny disposition.

Tier One Words: happy, child, sunny

Tier Two Word: fortunate

Tier Three Word: disposition

The approach would be to assume that the reader knows the Tier One Words and leave the reader to use context clues to derive a basic understanding of the Tier Three Word. The Tier Two Word would be the word that deserves the instructional attention.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice reading assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. 364 pages

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How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

Every teacher knows that word parts are the building blocks of words. Most teachers know that learning individual word parts and how they fit together to form multi-syllabic words is the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition, second only to that of widespread reading at the student’s independent reading level. These word parts that are, indeed, the keys to academic vocabulary—the types of words that students especially need to succeed in school. However, most teachers do not know the best instructional methods to teach these important word parts.

How Most Teachers Teach Prefixes

The Test Method: “Here is your list of ten prefixes with flashcards to memorize this week. Test on Friday.” No instruction + no practice = no success.

The Literature-based Method: “Notice the prefix pre in the author’s word preamble? That means before. Let’s look for other ones.

The Word Sort Method: “Here is a list of 20 big words. Sort all of the words that start with pre in the first box.”

The Intensive Vocabulary Study Methods: “Let’s use our Four Square vocabulary chart to study the prefix pre. Who knows an antonym? Who knows an example word? Who knows a synonym? Who knows an inflection that can be added to the word? Who knows…? Spend at least 15 minutes “studying” this one prefix.” How inefficient can you get?

The Modality Methods (VAK): “Let’s draw the prefix pre in the word preamble. Then draw a symbol of the word that will help you remember the word. Use at least three colors. If you prefer, design a Lego® model of the prefix.” Check out this relevant article on Don’t Teach to Learning Styles or Multiple Intelligences.

Better Ways to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

Choose the Right Word Parts

Teaching the high utility Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes is a very efficient tool to acquire academic vocabulary. These morphological (meaning-based) word parts that form the basis of English academic vocabulary are primarily Greek and Latinates. Prefixes and roots carry the bulk of important word meanings; however, some key suffixes are important, as well. Over 50% of multi-syllabic words beyond the most frequently used 10,000 words contain a Greek or Latin word part. Since Greek and Latinates are so common in our academic language, it makes sense to memorize the highest frequency word parts. See the attached list of High Frequency Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots for reference.

Teach by Analogy

Word part clues are highly memorable because readers have frequent exposure to and practice with the high frequency word parts. Additionally, they are memorable because the simple to understand use of the word part can be applied to more complex usages. For example, bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped. Analogy is a powerful learning aid and its application in academic vocabulary is of paramount importance.

One of the most effective strategies for learning and practicing word parts by analogy is to have students build upon their previous knowledge of words that use the targeted word parts. Building student vocabularies based upon their own prior knowledge ensures that your example words will more likely be within their grade-level experience, rather than arbitrarily providing examples beyond their reading and listening experience.

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions (I suggest a combination of prefixes, roots, and suffixes), ask students to brainstorm words that they already know that use each of the word parts. Give students two minutes to quick-write all the words that they know that use the selected prefix, root, or suffix. Then, ask students to share their words in class discussion. Quickly write down and define each word that clearly uses the definition that you have provided. Ignore those words that use the word part, but do not clearly exemplify the definition that you have provided. Require students to write down each word that you have written in their Vocabulary Journals. Award points for all student contributions.

Teach through Word Play

Effective vocabulary study involves practice. One of the best ways to practice prefixes is through vocabulary games. A terrific list of word play games with clear instructions is found in Vocabulary Review Games.

Teach through Association

Memorization through association places learning into the long-term memory. Connection to other word parts helps students memorize important prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

Fifteen Power Words

These fifteen words have prefixes or roots that are part of over 15,000 words. That is as many words as most student dictionaries! Memorize these words and the meanings of their prefixes and roots and you have significantly improved your vocabulary.

1. inaudible     (not, hear)

2. dismiss        (away from, send)

3. transport      (across, carry)

4. unsubscribe (not, under, write)

5. predict         (before, say)

6. remit            (again, send)

7. encounter    (in, against)

8. offer              (against, carry)

9. inspect         (in, see)

10. epilogue     (upon, word)

11. antigen      (against, people

12. empathy    (in, feeling)

13. intermediate (between, middle)

14. destruction    (apart from, build)

15. superimpose (over, in, put)


Have students spread out vocabulary word part cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups on their desks. Business card size works best. The object of the game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

1 point for each prefix—root combination

1 point for each root—suffix combination

2 points for a prefix—root combination that no one else in the group has

2 points for a root—suffix combination that no one else in the group has

3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination

5 points for a prefix—root—suffix combination that no one else has.

Game can be played timed or untimed.

Teach through Syllabication

Teaching basic syllabication skills helps students understand and apply how syllable patterns fit in with decodable word parts. The Transformers activity teaches the basic syllables skills through inductive examples.

In addition to the basics, the Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules provide the guidelines for correct pronunciation and writing.

Teaching the Ten Accent Rules, including the schwa, will assist students in accurate pronunciation and spelling.

Teach through Spelling

Using a comprehensive spelling pattern spelling program will teach how prefixes absorb and assimilate with connected roots, how roots change spellings to accommodate pronunciation and suffix spelling, and how suffixes determine the grammar, verb tense, and limit the meaning of preceding prefixes and roots. Beyond primary sound-spellings, spelling and vocabulary have an important relationship in the structure of academic vocabulary. Only recently has spelling been relegated to the elementary classroom. Check out Differentiated Spelling Instruction to see how a grade-level spelling program can effectively incorporate advanced vocabulary development.

Context Clues Reading

Even knowing just one word part will provide a clue to meaning of an unknown word. For example, a reader may not understand the meaning of the word bicameral. However, knowing that the prefix bi means two certainly helps the reader gain a sense of the word, especially when combined with other context clues such as synonyms, antonyms, logic-based, and example clues. For example, let’s look at the following sentence:

The bicameral legislative system of the House and Senate provide important checks and balances.

Identifying the context example clues, “House and Senate” and “checks and balances,” combines with the reader’s knowledge of the word part, bi and help the reader problem-solve the meaning of the unknown word: bicameral.

Context Clues Writing

Similarly, having students develop their own context clue sentences, in which they suggest the meaning of the word parts and words with surrounding synonyms, antonyms, logic-based, and example clues is excellent practice.

Inventive Writing

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions (I suggest two prefixes, three roots, and two suffixes per week), ask students to invent words that use each word part in a sentence, that uses context clues to show the meaning of each nonsense word. Encourage students to use “real” word parts to combine with each targeted word part to form multi-syllabic words. Award extra points for words used from prior week’s words. For variety, require students to write in different genre. Examples: brief narratives, classified ads, game directions, how-to paragraphs, dialogs, journals, classroom rules, advice columns

Don’t want to reinvent the wheel? Find every resource you need to teach spelling and vocabulary including individual sound-spelling worksheets that correspond with the comprehensive TSV Spelling Assessmentspelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, syllable practice, spelling gamesvocabulary games, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, in Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

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Free Instructional Vocabulary Resources

Vocabulary instruction is vitally important to advanced reading comprehension and writing. Words are the foundations of our language. Students learn the words they need to converse, read, and write in three key ways. First, students learn academic vocabulary through wide reading in a variety of genre at their instructional level. Simply lots of reading does not improve vocabulary. What is read determines what is learned. It may be that most teachers need to increase the textual complexity of class novels and assigned independent reading to maximize vocabulary growth. Second, students improve their vocabulary from becoming more efficient in recognizing context clues and applying the context clue categories to making educated guesses as to the meanings of unknown words. Looking up every word in the dictionary is not advisable. Third, learning high frequency Greek and Latin roots/affixes builds academic vocabulary. Greek and Latinates are found in 50% of all English dictionary entries.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach vocabulary in the intermediate, middle, and high school grades from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Oh, and don’t forget to copy down the 10% discount code found only on this blog to purchase the quality curricula and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.


Common Core Academic Language Words

Yes, the Common Core authors view literacy development as a mutual responsibility of all educational stakeholders. Yes, history, science, and technology teachers need to teach domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, there is a difference between academic language and academic vocabulary. The latter is subject/content specific; the former is not. Reading more challenging expository novels, articles, documents, reports, etc. will certainly help students implicitly learn much academic language; however, academic language word lists coupled with meaningful instruction do have their place. So, which word lists make sense?

Common Core Greek and Latinates

The bulk of Vocabulary Standards are now included in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and roots are key components of five of the grade level Standards: Grades 4-8. Which Greek and Latin affixes and roots should we teach? How many should we teach? How should we teach them?

Teaching the Language Strand

Teaching the Language Strand (of the Common Core State Standards) is part of a comprehensive Grades 4-8 language program, designed to address each Standard in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards in 60-90 weekly instructional minutes. This full-year curriculum provides interactive grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling lessons, a complete spelling patterns program, language application openers, and vocabulary instruction. The program has all the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets, each with a formative assessment. Progress monitoring matrices allow teachers to track student progress. Each instructional resource is carefully designed to minimize teacher preparation, correction, and paperwork. Appendices have extensive instructional resources, including the Pennington Manual of Style and downloadable essay-comments. A student workbook accompanies this program.

Overview of the Common Core Language Strand

English-language arts teachers have long been accustomed to the four-fold division of our “content” area into Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. These divisions have been widely accepted and promoted by the NCTE, publishers, and other organizations. In a nod to the fearsome foursome, the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts maintains these divisions (now called strands) with two notable revisions: Speaking and Listening are combined and Language now has its own seat at the table. So who exactly is this new dinner guest? For those just beginning to explore the CCSS Language Strand, an overview may be helpful.

How to Teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

What most teachers notice after careful reading of the Common Core Vocabulary Standards is the expected breadth, complexity, and depth of instruction across the grade levels. These vocabulary words require direct, deep-level instruction and practice in a variety of contexts to transfer to our students’ long-term memories. So which instructional strategies make sense to teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards? And what is the right amount of direct, deep-level vocabulary instruction that will faithfully teach the Common Core Vocabulary Standards without consuming inordinate amounts of class time? Following is a weekly instructional plan to teach the L.4, 5, and 6 Vocabulary Standards.

Why Vocabulary Lists Don’t Work

Teaching vocabulary word lists does not work. The strategy of giving twenty words on Monday and testing on Friday is both inefficient and ineffective. However, three instructional strategies do make sense to help students improve their vocabularies.

How to Improve Your Vocabulary

Knowing common Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes will significantly improve one’s vocabulary. In fact, over half of the words in any dictionary contain a Greek or Latin word part. Academic language especially relies on Greek and Latin. This article gives the high frequency word parts to improve anyone’s vocabulary.

How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

Prefixes, roots, and suffixes: These word parts that are, indeed, the keys to academic vocabulary—the types of words that students especially need to succeed in school. However, most teachers do not know the best instructional methods to teach these important word parts. Learn the techniques that work best.

Context Clues Vocabulary Review Game

This context clues vocabulary review game helps students apply the five major context clues categories to informed word guessing. Using the Pictionary® game, students drawing context clues according to the five categories.

Vocabulary Word Part Games

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary word part review games.

Vocabulary Review Games

Students are more likely to use study and practice procedures that are “game-like” and less boring than simple rote memorization. Here are some fun and effective vocabulary review games.

Top 40 Vocabulary Pet Peeves

Here is the list of the Top 40 Vocabulary Pet Peeves that make Americans see read. Read, laugh, and cringe over mistakes that you or your friends make when abusing these words.

How to Memorize Vocabulary

Many people want to improve their vocabularies, but memorization and retention are the key roadblocks. Not everyone has a natural ability to memorize. However, memorization is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with commitment and practice.

How to Teach and Learn Precise Vocabulary

Memorizing words with precise denotative and connotative definitions is important. Sloppy use of our language inhibits effective communication and leads to misunderstandings. Learn the techniques to teach vocabulary with precise meanings.

The Problem with Most Vocabulary Instruction Part I

Most teachers teach vocabulary inefficiently. Learn the common mistakes that teachers make in vocabulary instruction and how to re-orient vocabulary instruction to help students make real gains in vocabulary acquisition.

How We Learn Vocabulary from Reading Part II

Most vocabulary beyond the first ten thousand words comes from independent reading. Wide reading of challenging academic text produces the greatest net vocabulary gain.

How to Double Vocabulary Acquisition from Reading Part III

Refining the skills of context clues strategies will help readers increase vocabulary. Wide reading of challenging academic text is the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog


Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary is the comprehensive curriculum that integrates spelling and vocabulary instruction. Perfect for RtI and intervention classes, the resources teach the standards-based conventional spelling rules with spelling tests, word sorts, and memorable spelling songs. Also get 64 remedial vowel-sound spelling worksheets that correspond with the comprehensive TSV Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to enable the teacher to truly differentiate spelling instruction. Vocabulary instruction is provided through weekly Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, syllable and accent pattern worksheets, context clues worksheets, and syllable transformers. Additional resources include spelling games, vocabulary games, spelling and vocabulary flashcards, extensive word lists, and more. No other spelling-vocabulary program matches the comprehensive resources of this curriculum.  Truly differentiate instruction with the resources found in this large three-ring binder. 377 pages

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How to Teach Reading Intervention

Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. According to reading research, these chances are not good betting odds. Only one out of six middle schoolers who are below grade level in reading will ever catch up to grade level.

I have written elsewhere regarding the characteristics of remedial readers. Sufficed to say, knowing their developmental characteristics is just as important as knowing their specific reading deficiencies. Effective reading intervention instruction depends on addressing both components.

But, knowing the specific reading deficiencies is crucial. Using prescriptive diagnostic assessments that will produce the data needed to inform instruction is the one non-negotiable prerequisite. Teachers need to know exactly where their students are to take them to where they want them to be. Once administered, the reading intervention teacher is confronted with the “snowflake phenomena.” No two remedial readers are exactly alike. One has no phonemic awareness; one does not know phonics; one does not know how to blend; one lacks fluency; one is vocabulary deficient; one has poor reading comprehension; and one has poor reading retention.

Of necessity, an effective reading intervention program must be based upon differentiated instruction. A cookie-cutter program starting all students at the same level or having all students use the same workbooks or receive the same direct instruction will address some needs of some students, but not all the needs of all students. Anything less than the latter is nothing less than professional malpractice. Would a medical patient who sets a doctor’s appointment to treat a variety of maladies be satisfied with receiving the same course of treatment as every patient—ignoring some issues and being treated for issues that do not require treatment? Even the staunchest advocates of the current health care system would find this brand of medical practice unacceptable.

Regarding student placement in reading intervention, a number of factors must be considered. Chief of these must be the reductive consideration. First, if the student is placed in a special intervention class, what class is replaced? Removing a child from a literature class seems much like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Poor readers require compensatory instruction, not just different instruction. Second, multiple measures are needed to ensure that a student needs reading intervention and that the student has a reasonable chance of success in the reading intervention class. Standardized tests can provide an initial sort; however, the student history in the cumulative records and the diagnostic assessments detailed above must be analyzed to refine the sort. Behavioral considerations are legitimate concerns; many students who read poorly tend to compensate with inattentive and disruptive behavior. These students need an intervention with a behavioral specialist that will also teach to their reading deficiencies. These students do not need another platform in a typical reading intervention class to prevent the learning of their peers.

The greatest variable that will determine the success of a reading intervention class is the teacher. A well-trained teacher with superior management skills, sufficient reading training, and a commitment to diagnostic and formative assessments to inform differentiated instruction are the keys to success. The teacher must be the “best and brightest” on campus, not the new teacher fresh out of the teacher credential program. Reading intervention is the hardest subject to teach and requires a special teacher. The students for whom our educational system has most failed deserve no less.

So, what to teach? The task is daunting. Remedial reading is not just skills instruction or extra reading practice. Effective reading intervention involves both content and process. Reading is both the what and the how. The short answer is that the students themselves determine the what via their diagnostic assessments. The teacher decides the how through differentiated instruction. Beyond this cryptic, albeit accurate, response, certain components will no doubt require attention in a reading intervention class for any age student. Following is an instructional template that will provide a proper balance between the what and how with a brief description of the instructional component and a percentage of the class that the component will necessitate:

  • Small ability group fluency practice (emphasizing repeated readings within the group’s zone of proximal development (15%)
  • Small ability group phonemic awareness practice (10%)
  • Small ability group phonics practice (10%)
  • Individual sight word and syllabication practice (10%)
  • Guided reading, using self-questioning comprehension strategies (15%)
  • Direct instruction and whole group vocabulary development (10%)
  • Small ability group spelling practice (10%)
  • Small ability group blending practice (10%)
  • Independent reading at the individual student’s instructional reading level (10%) and for homework

Every component described above is needed to ensure a successful reading intervention program for students of all ages. All of these instructional components with support resources can be found in these two comprehensive curricula:

1. Find multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, games, and more to differentiate reading instruction in the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies.

2. For individual sound-spelling worksheets that correspond with the comprehensive TSV Spelling Assessmentspelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, syllable practice, spelling gamesvocabulary games, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

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Top 40 Vocabulary Pet Peeves

Everyone misuses a word now and then. Correct word choice is determined not only by denotation (Websters says…), but also by connotation. Connotation refers to common usage which influences degree, slant, or feeling of a word. For example, the words march and amble each denotatively mean “to walk.” However, most of us would agree that marching down a road would be less enjoyable than ambling down that same road.

Many times we get close to using the right word, verbally or in print, but not close enough. Words with similar sounds are often confused. For example, affect and effect sound similar and even have related meanings. Affect means to influence; while effect is to produce as a result.

Of course, in addition to misused vocabulary words, there are also grammatical abuses, such as nouns used as verbs, e.g., loan instead of lend [Will you loan me some money?] We also use redundancies, such as irregardless or ATM machine. We misapply expressions, such as for all intensive purposes or idioms, such as waiting on. We create our own words, such as flusticated or conversate. We also change the meaning of words through common consensus. Who would have thought that bad can now mean something good?

Although Americans tolerate some vocabulary abuse, they are righteously indignant about the misuse of other words. Here, in no particular order, are the Top 40 Vocabulary Pet Peeves that surely constitute the greatest pet peeves among American wordsmiths. Also, make sure to check out the Top 40 Pronunciation Pet Peeves and the Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves. Find out everything you mispronounce and your grammatical mistakes before “You-Know-Who” points them out to you.

  1. Anxious means to worry, not to be eager. [So, you probably are not anxious to go on vacation.]
  2. Exaggerate means to magnify, not to go beyond. [So, you can’t exaggerate how little your pay is.]
  3. Imply means to suggest, not to conclude as with infer. [So, you don’t imply what the author says.]
  4. Between means in the place separating two objects, not three or more objects as with among. [So, you won’t choose between oranges, apples, and watermelons.]
  5. Unique means being the only one of its kind, not something that is special. [So, you don’t describe the sunset as unique.]
  6. Relevant means pertinent, not popular. [So, a movie is not relevant and fun.]
  7. Allot means to distribute, not a lot of something. [So, you don’t eat allot of ice cream, but you could allot me a scoop or two.]
  8. Literally means exactly what the word means or how the author intends; it does not mean truthfully. [So, your mother-in-law is probably not literally crazy.]
  9. Unbelievable means something that cannot be trusted, not something that is amazing. [So, the unbelievable savings really should be believable, if you intend to buy.]
  10. Awesome means something that is revered or dreaded, not something that is good. [So, the pumpkin pie really isn’t awesome, unless you worship Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin.]
  11. Reticent means silent or reserved, not unwilling. [So, you probably are not reticent to go out to dinner with a client.]
  12. Accept means to receive willingly, not except, which means to exclude. [So, you wouldn’t say “I would like him, accept for his body odor.]
  13. Already means having done before; it does not mean all ready. [So, your friends could be already all ready to leave.]
  14. Capitol means the legislative building, not an upper case letter or an amount of money to invest. [So, you don’t declare your capitol gains.]
  15. Complement means something that completes, not something that goes along with or provides praise. [So, your striped shirt does not complement your polka dotted pants.]
  16. Principal means the highest rank, not principle, which means a rule or standard. [So, you want the principal of your child’s school to hold to the highest principles.]
  17. Stationary means fixed in position, not stationery, which means writing supplies. [So, you won’t write a letter on your new stationary.]
  18. Than means compared to, not then [So, you don’t go to dinner than a show.]
  19. Whether means if it is so, not because of or anything having to do with the weather. [So, you might like the weather, whether it snows or rains.]
  20. Occur means an action taking place that is accidental or unforeseen, at least from the point of view of the observers; it does not mean something that is expected to happen. [So, you wouldn’t say that noon occurs at 12:00 p.m. every day.]
  21. Illicit means illegal, not elicit, which means to draw forth. [So, you wouldn’t illicit information from a police officer.]
  22. Possible means something capable of happening or being true, not something that is according to chance. [So, anything is not really possible.]
  23. Irony means an unexpected contrast between apparent and intended meanings or events, not a coincidence. [So, it isn’t ironic that you and your boyfriend both like oatmeal cookies.]
  24. Anniversary means the celebration of a year, not just any period of time. [So, you don’t celebrate your two-month anniversary of a relationship.]
  25. Foundered means to struggle, not floundered which means to sink. [So, your cruise ship did not founder to the depths of the Caribbean Sea.]
  26. Flout means to openly disregard laws or the way things are done, not flaunt which means to display something ostentatiously. [So, you wouldn’t flout your four carat diamond ring in front of your girlfriends.]
  27. i.e. means that is, or the same as, not for example. [So, you wouldn’t say “I like vacations, i.e., backpacking, going to the beach, and sightseeing.]
  28. e.g. means for example, not the same as, or in place of. [So, you wouldn’t say “I like vacations, e.g., time off work.”]
  29. et al means with all others, not and so forth. [So, you wouldn’t say “I like tropical islands, ski resorts, the high desert, et al.
  30. Et cetera (etc.) means and so forth within the same class; it does not mean and all others. [So, you wouldn’t say “I like Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, etc.”]
  31. Eminent means prominent, not imminent which means something expected to happen soon. [So, your graduation next week is not eminent.]
  32. Proverbial means according to a wise saying, not something that is well known. [So, you wouldn’t refer to the proverbial hatred of paying taxes.]
  33. Oxymoron means when two objects are joined that do not fit, not something that is an opposite. [So, it’s not an oxymoron to like both sugar and bitters.]
  34. Contact means to communicate through touch, not to simply respond. [So, you probably don’t mean “Contact me at your earliest convenience.”]
  35. Enormity means something grotesquely beyond its intended boundaries, not something that is very large. [So, you don’t refer to the enormity of the hot fudge sundae.]
  36. Travesty means to ridicule by imitation, not tragedy which means a disastrous event. [So, the sinking of the ship was not a travesty.]
  37. Decimate means to ruin or reduce by tenths, not to gain victory. [So, you probably don’t really hope to decimate your fellow poker players in the game tonight.]
  38. Random means to have no causal relationship; it is not something that is unexpected. [So, a joke that is unexpected is not a random one.]
  39. Allude means to refer to indirectly, not elude which means to escape from. [So, you don’t allude your boss by hiding behind the file cabinet.]
  40. Attain means to reach or achieve, not obtain, which means to possess or acquire. [So, you won’t attain a collection of baseball cards from the neighborhood garage sale.]

Definitions adapted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. 2008.

Many of the vocabulary  errors described above are made by people with poor decoding, syllabication, or word part skills. Mark Pennington’s comprehensive curricula: Teaching Reading Strategies and Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary are wonderful resources to teach reading, spelling, vocabulary, and proper pronunciation.

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How to Memorize Vocabulary

There is just no doubt about it. Society judges us by the words we use. Vocabulary is the key linguistic measure of intelligence on IQ tests. It is the most statistically significant correlation on the SAT 1 sentence completions and passage-based reading components. It identifies a well-educated man or woman perhaps more that any other characteristic.

Many people want to improve their vocabularies, but memorization and retention are the key roadblocks. Not everyone has a natural ability to memorize. However, memorization is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with commitment and practice.

Let’s begin by understanding how we learn vocabulary. We learn most of our first 10,000 survival words through oral language. Beyond this number, most words are learned through reading, by using surrounding context clues to figure out the meanings of unknown words. Readers who read challenging text with academic language and unfamiliar words learn much more vocabulary than readers who stick with the T.V. Guide and People magazines. Good readers have good vocabularies. It’s as simple as that.

We also learn vocabulary through the structural components of our words. Many teachers do a wonderful job of teaching the building bocks of our academic words. Memorizing the common Greek and Latin word parts significantly increases word recognition.

Finally, we do learn vocabulary by making a conscious effort to learn and retain the meanings of new words. Becoming a word sleuth works. However, detectives have to investigate; they can’t just wait for the evidence to show up on their doorsteps. Those who want to learn new vocabulary have to intentionally expose themselves to new words. How? Read more challenging text, improve your ability to use context clues, learn the common Greek and Latinates, and use resources to practice “word play,” such as crosswords.

Practical Tips to Memorize Vocabulary

1. People start forgetting immediately after learning, so make a conscious effort to practice new words when you are exposed to them. Don’t wait. Information that is practiced immediately is retained. After the first few hours, the “forgetting cycle” kicks in.
2. People remember events or information that is rehearsed frequently. Frequent recitation improves retention. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Practice. Practice. Practice. Then repeat. Short study periods and small amounts of information divided by periods of rest produces better retention than cramming. Periodic practice of new vocabulary will keep the words stored in the long term memory. Use the words in your everyday speech. Talk to yourself and you won’t sound pretentious.
3. People remember information best when that information is organized in a structured manner.
Key a simple vocabulary journal or use index cards to keep track of new words. Write down the word, the definition (in your own words), and a context clue sentence that shows the meaning of the word.
4. People remember information that has clear multi-sensory connections. Practice new words out loud and in writing. Make a conscious effort to visualize a connection between new words and their meanings through concrete images. For example, precocious means someone who is ahead of his or her time. Picture a toddler you know, dressing up in a tuxedo, saying “I am precocious.”
5. Use vivid imagery. Make the effort to associate a new word with something else that produces memorable imagery. For example, a stunning rainbow connected with the new word spectrum is much more memorable than a simple definition. Use brief illustrations in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards to reinforce the images.
6. Connect what we naturally remember to newly acquired vocabulary. People remember events and information that are made exciting, interesting, or even embarrassing. Connect the discovery of a piece of spinach between your teeth to a new word, such as mortifying.
7. People remember information best that is personalized. Place yourself front and center into your memory association to better retain word meanings.
8. Learn it right the first time. The better a word is originally learned, the better is the retention. Define new words with precision. If possible, write down antonyms and synonyms in your vocabulary journal or on your index cards.
9. Key words prompt recall of larger amounts of information. Learn the base words well and commonly added inflections will be simple to add to your memory bank. For example, the base word parse (to figure out or analyze), if learned well, leads to understanding a whole host of related words, such as parsing or parsimonious.
10. Practice your vocabulary by visualizing the word, looking up and left. Hemispheric brain research has led to some interesting correlations. Good memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes up and left. Poor memorizers tend to recall images by shifting their eyes downward.
For Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, spelling-vocabulary games, vocabulary lists, vocabulary flashcards, spelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, syllable practice, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

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