The first strand of this standard for Grades 3-5 (L.3.4a, L.4.4a, and L.5.4a) deals with finding word meaning from context. To tackle this concept, kids need to look at other words in the text for clues. This could be in the form of synonyms or antonyms, definitions or explanations, descriptions or examples. Students' past experiences and knowledge of the subject matter also comes into play. Here are some resources, listed from easy to difficult:
- Rags to Riches from Quia is a fun little game students can play online to practice substituting possible meanings into a sentence.
- Englishlinx.com offers a nice collection of free worksheets on context clues.
- Learning Words from Context Clues provides multiple strategies (examples, definitions, descriptive words, and opposites), as well as opportunities for practice.
- This PowerPoint presentation can provide good discussion of context clues in your classroom as well.
For the second part of the standard (L.3.4b, L.3.4c, L.4.4b, and L.5.4b), students need to find word meaning using prefixes, suffixes, and roots. In third grade, students work with known affixes and roots to find word meaning. Fourth and fifth graders begin learning and using Greek and Latin word parts.
When the Common Core State Standards were first unveiled, finding materials on Greek and Latin word parts was difficult. Now, however, they are more plentiful. I especially like the simplicity of the free one-page reference guides on Root Words, Roots and Affixes, a webpage offered by Reading Rockets.
How should these be taught? In any and all ways! My colleagues and I decided to add one Greek or Latin word family to our vocabulary and spelling list each week. Instruction varied. Sometimes we used worksheets; other times we did projects. One of my favorite activities was to copy a shape that represented the root, pair the students, assign one related word, and have them make mini posters by breaking the words into its parts and defining. For example, when we studied -ped and -pod, my students wrote on foot shapes (both left and right). When the posters were finished, we hung them to look like footprints walking across the wall.
A few years ago I was messing around on Prezi and made this simple presentation on therm.
Although online games do not necessarily correlate with the roots we are studying, they can be fun. (And didn't I just say that we should teach these word parts any way we can?) Here are a few to try:
- Rooting Out Words by FunBrain
- It's Greek to Me from Scholastic
- Rags to Riches from Quia (different version from the one listed above)
- Latin/Greek Roots Matching from Study Stack
Dictionary skills take practice! The first challenge is simply navigating the dictionary. In searching for ways to help kids with this, I found 8 Fun Dictionary Skills from Minds in Bloom by Rachel Lynette. The classroom ideas, task cards, and worksheets will all be great for introducing my students to dictionary use this year. I'm planning on using it all!
The second challenge is finding the exact meaning. Have you ever looked up a word and found 27 different definitions? That's overwhelming! To practice this skill, my students use context clues to choose the exact meaning from a limited number of choices. Here's an example from the novel unit I'm currently creating based on The Black Stallion.
Through direct instruction, we can provide our students with strategies for finding meanings of words in context, words used figuratively, and words in dictionaries. What other factors come into play? The University of Oregon has synthesized some eye-opening research on vocabulary. Did you know, for example, that due to differences in students' independent reading habits, middle grade students can be exposed to a range of 8,000 to 4,733,000 words per year? Obviously, students who read a lot on their own will acquire a much, much, much larger vocabulary. In addition to teaching vocabulary, it is essential that we get our students reading as much as possible!
Words, they're essential!