Tim Rasinski is a renowned professor of literacy education whose research on reading fluency and word study has made him a literacy hero to many. Below, he shares his thoughts on vocabulary instruction.
More often than not, vocabulary instruction is characterized by teaching words that the instructor has pre-selected, or words that are featured in a reading or vocabulary program. What would happen if we gave students a say in the words they would like to learn and use in their own language? In my time as an educator, I have seen that when given this option, students take greater ownership of their word learning, make a greater investment in learning words, and become word connoisseurs.
One easy way to do this is through an activity I have come to call word harvesting. Simply put, word harvesting invites students to notice interesting words wherever they may find them. One of the best places to find interesting words as a class is during the teacher read-aloud time.
As you read to your students, ask them to listen for any interesting words that the author has used. Students may want to have a pencil and paper handy in order to jot down any interesting words that they hear. Then, at the end of the read aloud, discuss the story with your students, and ask them to call out (harvest) the interesting words that they heard. As a member of the classroom community, you are allowed to harvest your own interesting word or two. Write and display the words on a chart in your room. Talk about and clarify the meanings of the words as you write them. Students can also write down words using the complimentary VocabularySpellingCity Word Harvest Graphic Organizer.
Once the words are on display, challenge your students to use the words in their own written and oral language over the next several days. Of course, as a member of the classroom community, that challenge also applies to you as well! You might, for example, ask students to use one or two words in their end-of-day journals. Each day add a new chart of words and start each day by spending a few minutes reading the most recent 50 words or so that were harvested. If you read to your students daily (which I hope you do), and you harvest, say, 10 words each day, your students will have gained ownership of 1,800 words over the course of a school year (10 words per day x 180 school days).
Recently I read Peggy Rathman’s Caldecott Award-winning book, Officer Buckle and Gloria, to a group of second and third graders. After reading this picture book and talking about the importance of always sticking “with your buddy!” we harvested the following words: swivel, snoring, announced, commands, stared, attention, audience, enormous, auditorium. applauded, popped out. We read the words, talked about the words, and tried using the words in our regular language. “My eyes just about popped out of my head when you gave that great answer, Drew!”
This activity will, of course, improve students’ reading comprehension, as they are learning colorful and often unusual words that authors use to make their texts more interesting. It will also improve students’ writing as they begin to include these wonderful words in their own compositions. Most importantly, though, I think that what word harvesting develops in students is a fascination with interesting words that will last them a lifetime. Truly, they will indeed become word connoisseurs!
Tim Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University. His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, and the Journal of Educational Research. Read more about Rasinski here, or connect with him on Twitter @timrasinski1.
For more from Tim Rasinski, continue to follow us for his exclusive VocabularySpellingCity blog series and be sure to watch a video recording of his webinar “Automaticity (Fluency) in Word Learning Improves Comprehension”
Rasinski’s research on word fluency is cited in the report, “Applying Best Practices For Effective Vocabulary Instruction,” written by VocabularySpellingCity in partnership with McREL International.