What is the most critical vocabulary for primary students and beyond? Well, I found the list! Yes, I sure did. And for some reason, not everyone is familiar with how to get the lists. Not only that, but I know there are 55 words that K-12 students should learn, review and use before graduating. The shocking truth is that almost half of these words need to be learned before the end of 2nd grade, with the majority in kindergarten and first grade. Get these word wall printables for the K-2 critical vocabulary words by clicking the image below.
How were the lists compiled? There are books written by educational experts in the field of vocabulary development and brain-based learning who have developed lists of tier 2 vocabulary words that are found in 85% of standardized tests, as well as in common core state standards. There are critical verbs and nouns in the list of 55 words, and they are also divided between grade levels, starting with 8 in kindergarten that are to be taught and mastered. First grade has 10 words! K-1 had to learn practically half of the entire list!
When I read the lists for my grade level, I started looking online for resources. There were very few at the time when I started searching back in 2013. I had noticed that there was a buzz when the books written by Marzano and Sprenger came out around 2011, but seem to have died down or not really gotten any momentum in the teaching community. When I thought about it, I'd not even known of this research until 2 years after publication. I felt like I had a puzzle with many missing pieces.
The words for K-1 seemed so difficult! I know that I had taught compare and contrast from the current reading series, but other words...well, I had not a clue how I was going to make them developmentally appropriate to primary students! It boggled my mind to think of teaching the word distinguish to small kinders, let alone reviewing to mastery with my first graders.
Our mission was to incorporate these critical words into all grade levels, no matter what! I started with a well-known fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and created anchor charts for all the K-1 critical vocabulary. I developed printables and recording sheets for teachers to assess students knowledge of the words.
I wanted to include other resources so that all our teachers would have more choices in teaching and reviewing the vocabulary. I developed anchor charts, interactive notebook printables, sentence frames to display in the classrooms, sticky note printables to take notes and use in interactive read alouds, and even what I call "emergent readers" to encourage discussions using the words. So, all of these were helping to teach the vocabulary. It seemed to be going very well, but we were missing a very important part.
We teachers found that we would teach the words with the very engaging readers and activities we had planned for our own words, but rarely did we revisit the words on a continual basis. We were doing what we don't want our students doing; we were teaching to learn the words for one week and then moving on, not mentioning the words again. Why? Well, there always seemed to be something else more important to move on to teaching. We teachers are always on the time clock, trying to make sure we get everything in that is on our curriculum map for the entire year. We didn't know where we would find the time to review and revisit all those words in first grade, let alone the ones taught in the previous kindergarten year.
During my 2017 summer break, I kept thinking about this problem. What good was it to only teach the vocabulary if the students aren't internalizing it? What does it take for students to truly know that they know that they really know the words? After doing some of my own research, I found the key to students really knowing vocabulary. Catherine Snow, PhD is an expert on language and literacy development in children and a Harvard education professor. She found that students need about 15-20 exposures to a word to really know and understand that word. Now, I refuse to think that looking up the word in the dictionary and writing a sentence is the best use of "exposure". To me exposure means seeing and using over and over in different contexts, mostly familiar but also unfamiliar to students.
So now that I know that students need about 20 exposures to internalize vocabulary, how do I make sure to do that? I can't always remember when a change in the schedule means we go to lunch 15 minutes early, how can I constantly remember to keep reviewing words? The word wall helps some, but not always. I had to think of something else. Something I would be willing to use that was quick and easy. It came to me in the most interesting way. My lanyard badge.
Whatever is on my lanyard, students notice it right away. My new photo ID for the new school year, our smiles and frowns tallies I keep on a laminated card all throughout the day, a pin I hang on it for red ribbon week. Whatever I have hanging from my lanyard, it is in front of my students' faces all..day...long. That's all I need to know what I was going to use to help me AND my students remember, use, and truly know these critical vocabularies! I started with a printable anchor chart and then I created badge size and brag tag sizes for each chart. Now, if I want to display the chart on my classroom bulletin board or if I want to give each student their own brag tag of a miniature anchor chart, I have those too!
This is next level, after teaching the words! All you need is some bright paper and print out the anchor chart posters, lanyard badges and brag tags. Here are some ways I plan to use these this year:
☞ Post the anchor chart on the classroom door, wall, cupboards, or board.
☞ Cut out a badge to add to the school lanyard to have it in front of teacher and students all day long!
☞ Get a few lanyards and challenge students to wear and use the word while they have them on, and then have them switch with other students. Make it into a fun game!
☞ If students seem to be catching on and using the word fluently in conversation, reward them with a brag tag in bright cardstock colors!
☞ Assign a word and have specials teachers and even the principal wear the badge throughout the week!
☞ Keep reviewing by keeping all the badges on a hook by the door to grab one before walking down the halls, through the school and on the playground.
You can go here to see this resource for yourself. I will definitely be using these in my classroom this year, and I'm excited to see how much my students will start internalizing these critical vocabulary words with all the exposure they'll get!