BY ALLY HAUPTMAN
Why do we teach vocabulary? At its core increasing a student’s vocabulary gives that student power. The power to express ideas, opinions, and feelings. The power to find the right words to persuade, inform, or to bring joy to readers. The power to build knowledge and understand complex concepts across disciplines.
To effectively teach vocabulary and empower our students, teachers must provide rich and varied language experiences, learning experiences that connect words within a context, and opportunities to develop word consciousness (Allen, 2014). Students need opportunities to read, write, and talk in authentic ways. Teachers can model how to use words in context, and immerse students in the language of different disciplines. We need to show students how powerful words are in helping us communicate our ideas. We have to show them how to become “word collectors.” We need to teach vocabulary within context, and intentionally put students in situations where they make connections between words and concepts.
One of the most effective ways for students to make connections and construct meaning is to make sure new vocabulary is presented within a meaningful context. This is where excellent children’s literature comes into play. There are so many brilliantly written non-fiction picture books that can be used to teach vocabulary within a context. With students, I refer to these non-fiction books that are accessible to young readers and use text features in interesting ways, as jazzy non-fiction. Students are drawn to these texts because they make the subject fascinating for readers.
One author whose jazzy nonfiction I often use is Jess Keating. She is an author, artist, and zoologist who creates texts that spark curiosity about animals and women in science. In her World of Weird Animals series, she uses photographs, cartoons, and text features in unique and engaging ways. This is what makes her books so appealing to young readers, but as a teacher I am drawn to the complex vocabulary she uses in her writing. Jess Keating books can be used as mentor texts for writing, sparking a myriad of writing possibilities for students as they begin to see creative ways to write nonfiction. Jess Keating books are perfect for modeling a rich array of metacognitive comprehension strategies like determining importance. Jess Keating books are the best for teaching science concepts and related vocabulary within an authentic context.
Cute As an Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals
In this text, Jess Keating and David DeGrand present a combination of stunning animal photographs, cartoon animals, and text features that invite readers to learn about some seriously cute creatures. For each animal, Keating lists facts like species name, size, diet, habitat, predators and threats. She also tells the reader strange, interesting facts that leave you wanting to do more research on these adorable creatures.
Learning Experience Using Cute As an Axolotl
Determine the standards, learning goals, and outcomes for an instructional unit.
Begin with your curriculum to integrate content.
Determine areas of the curriculum or unit that require additional resources for students to build conceptual knowledge.
Gather texts based on the topic.
Use texts to build a bridge between students' lived experiences and the school curriculum.
Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1998). What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22, 8-17.
Fleming, J., Catapano, S., Thompson, C. M., & Ruvalcaba Carrillo, S. (2015). More mirrors in the classroom: Using urban children’s literature to increase literacy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Guthrie, J.T., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation in reading. In M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research: Volume III (pp. 403-422). New York: Erlbaum.
Reynolds, R.E., Taylor, M.A., Steffensen, M.S., Shirey, L.L., & Anderson, R.C. (1982). Cultural schemata and reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 353-366.
Margaret Osgood Opatz is a doctoral student at the University of Utah in Educational Psychology. Her studies include reading, literacy, and linguistics. She is a past recipient of the CLA Bonnie Campbell Hill National Literacy Leader Award.
Supporting PreK-12 and university teachers as they share children’s literature with their students in all classroom contexts.
The opinions and ideas posted in the individual entries are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of CLA or the Blog Editors.
Liz Thackeray Nelson
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