I have read some recent research which indicates that fifth graders benefit much more from good vocabulary instruction than from traditional weekly spelling words (Bringing Words to Life by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2013). Many students can memorize spelling words for a weekly test, but quickly forget them and rarely use the correct spellings in their actual writing.
Therefore, I developed a 5 step vocabulary teaching process described below -
Many people use 10, or even 20, words per week, but I find that if you have that many words, the meanings aren't as powerfully learned and readily called upon. Rather, they are forgotten quickly. In my class students learn 4 vocabulary words each week (one per day Monday-Thursday).
My initial problem was where to find the words. There are so many great words out there! I settled on Word-A-Day published by EvanMoor. It has a great list of words and oral test questions for each word. It is published for grades 1-6+
Our Classroom Process
1. Each day we begin by discussing the chosen vocabulary word. We spend about 10 minutes discussing examples, non-examples, and applications to real-life.
2. Each night the students choose one of several vocabulary practice tasks to complete for homework. These include activities such as creating a Wanted poster for the word or writing a haiku. Our homework choices board for 1st semester and 2nd semester.
3. The next morning I choose one very clear drawing of the word that was done by a student for homework the previous night. I show the chosen drawing to the class and we discuss why this drawing makes sense. The drawing is then placed on our classroom Vocab Board (left).
4. On Friday, students take a vocabulary test. This is a cumulative test containing the 4 words for the current week and 6-8 other words from previous weeks. I write the words on the board so that students can copy the correct spellings on their tests. Remember - meaning is what counts here, not spelling. The important thing is to spiral old words back into the tests, especially the tricky ones. This means that in March we might see words from January, November, and September.
5. In reading and writing lessons my students and I frequently find real-life uses of our vocabulary words. The students also enjoying finding uses of these words in TV shows, movies, songs, and at-home conversation.
I have been teaching vocabulary this way (more or less) for the last 3 years, and it has been an amazing journey. At the end of each year I give an assessment on all 120 vocabulary words, in which the students write definitions, sentences, or draw pictures to show their understanding of each word. So far, 95% of my students have successfully learned at least 110 words. Awesome!