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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 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 Share on Twitter , with the majority in kindergarten and first grade. If you want the words now, get these printables 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. These words are found in 85% of standardized tests, as well as common core state standards. The 55 critical verbs and nouns are divided between grade levels, starting with 8 in kindergarten that are to be taught. First grade has 10 words! K-1 needs to learn practically half of the entire list. That makes for a lot of vocabulary for primary students…and some big words too.
I started looking online for resources. There were very few at the time when I started searching back in 2013. There was a buzz of interest 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. It felt like I had a puzzle with many missing pieces.
Big words, bigger challenge
The words for K-1 seemed so challenging. Most of the vocabulary for primary students taught in classrooms are found in reading series adopted by school districts. I know that I had taught compare and contrast from the current reading series, but other words? Well, I didn’t have a clue how I was going to make them developmentally appropriate. It boggled my mind to think of teaching the word distinguish to small kindergarteners, let alone reviewing to mastery with my first graders.
Developmentally appropriate learning
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. Then, I created anchor charts for all the K-1 critical vocabulary. After that, I developed printables and recording sheets for teachers to assess students’ knowledge of the words.
I wanted to include other resources so that all teachers would have more choices in teaching and reviewing the vocabulary.
- anchor charts
- interactive notebook printables
- sentence frames to display in the classrooms
- sticky note printables to take notes and use in interactive read alouds
- “emergent readers” to encourage discussions using the words
After teaching, now what?
We teachers were finding that we would teach the words with the very engaging readers and activities, which was great! 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. Because of that, we are trying to make sure we get everything in that is on our curriculum map for the entire year. But, where would we find the time to review and revisit all those words in first grade? Let alone the ones taught in the previous kindergarten year.
Making vocabulary stick
What good was it to only teach the vocabulary if the students weren’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. Looking up the word in the dictionary and writing a sentence is not 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.
How do I make sure that students get 20 exposures to internalize vocabulary? I can’t remember when a change in the daily schedule, so how can I constantly remember to keep reviewing words? The word wall helped 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.
Keep it in front of them
Whatever is on my lanyard, students notice it right away: my new photo ID for the new school year, our smiles and frowns tallies. Whatever I have hanging from my lanyard, it’s in front of my students’ faces all..day…long. That’s all I needed to help me AND my students remember, use, and truly know the vocabulary for primary students.
I started with a printable anchor chart and then created badge size and brag size tags for each chart. Now, I display the chart on my classroom bulletin board or give each student their own tag of a miniature anchor chart.
The Game Plan
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 in the classroom.
- Wear a vocabulary badge on your school lanyard to have it in front of the teacher and students all day long.
- Have students wear and use the word.
- Students can switch lanyards with other students. Make it into a fun game.
- Reward students with a brag tag in bright cardstock colors.
- Assign a word and have specials teachers and the principal wear the badge throughout the week!
- Easily review words. Just keep all the badges on a hook by the door. Grab one of the badges 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!