April 1, 2017

TRSB - Goal #11: Understanding Vocabulary and Figurative Language

I would like to give a warm welcome to Brittany, our guest host today, who will be presenting you with Goal #11 from The Reading Strategies Book. Enjoy!

I am thrilled to be writing this blog post about the Reading Strategies book.  I am so passionate about Literacy and absolutely love teaching it. A little background on me: I am a teacher in Charlotte, NC where they have been implementing balanced literacy for the last 5-7 years.  I have taught first grade and now teach second.  It has been so fun to see the transition the readers go through in these grades! I received my Masters from Teachers College at Columbia University and feel truly inspired by the Reading and Writing Project.

Goal 11: Improving Comprehension in Fiction and Nonfiction: Understanding Vocabulary and Figurative Language.  I love this topic and feel it is so important to explicitly teach.  Something I notice frequently when tutoring upper grade students, is the difficulty they have with tackling tricky vocabulary and figurative language.  I love the idea that language is playful and can have multiple meanings when given different contexts.  One of my favorite lessons from the Lucy Calkins 2nd Grade Reading Units is all about teaching idioms. My kids go crazy once they understand that language has more than one meaning! They love trying to figure out what they mean and coming up with their own.  While that lesson was taught way back in October, the kids STILL listen for a point out idioms in their books and our read alouds!

Here were some of my favorite strategies from this section of the book!

11.3 Insert a Synonym (Levels H and above)
This strategy is so versatile! It can be used with almost any reading level and asks students to really make sense of what they are reading.  This strategy asks students to find a word that they can substitute for the word in the text that would make sense.  I love that it forces kids to think about “what makes sense” as they read.  Modeling for students that it may take more than 1 or 2 tries is also so important.  I especially love using non examples to get them to really pay attention!

11.7 Picture It! (Levels J and above)
I love this goal because so often students understand what’s happening in the text, but a word in isolation can be tough to figure out! When students visualize what is happening in the text, they are more likely to understand what the word means. Not only does it help with vocabulary, but students comprehension of the text instantly increases as they picture what is happening.  As a second grade teacher, there is a big jump between reading picture books and transitioning to chapter books.  As they start to read harder books, the text offers less and less picture support and more and more complex vocabulary and figurative language.  We use this strategy often to help make the transition and better understand the text.  Sometimes I will even ask students to close their eyes and actually “see” the movie in their minds!

11.16 Be Word Conscious (Levels M and above)
How wonderful would it be if our students actually paid attention to the words they didn’t know in a text? How many times have I asked my students for the meaning of what I thought was an “easy” word and heard crickets? This strategy pushes kids to self monitor.  Once they are fluent readers with strong comprehension skills, they should be able to stop and ask themselves, “do I know this word?” However, I do feel like sometimes kids are not comfortable admitting when they don’t know something and frequently speed passed important vocabulary as they read.  I would love this to be a goal for many of my students! I loved these prompts that went with the strategy and plan to use them with my students!

  • Do you know all the words?
  • What strategy can you try here to figure out a word?
  • Do you think you are reading too fast to notice words that you don’t know?
  • Great job! You realized that there is a word you don’t know.

Here is a great video I found of Jennifer Saravallo teaching a strategy group about understanding vocabulary using text features in nonfiction!

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear more about the vocabulary strategies you find helpful when working with your students!


  1. I agree with you Brittany. This section of TRSB is amazing. My favorite quote in the intro of this goal is, "Vocabulary is one of the five core components of reading instruction that are essential for successfully teaching children to read." I have never thought about it this way before. Love it! I need to put more effort into teaching vocab and these strategies are perfect. Thank you for your post!

    Crofts' Classroom

  2. I always feel like I need to be doing more for vocabulary. Last year I used "Word Nerds" methods. It was great! But too much for my younger class this year. I'm going to look at this section more closely and consider how I can add more vocab instruction to my GR groups.

    1. Nerd Words is the best! I have been using those strategies too, but I feel like I need a bit more. When you figure out how to incorporate vocab in your GR groups, please share!

      Crofts' Classroom

  3. I use "insert a synonym" a lot with my students, though I didn't first discover this strategy in this book. When I first teach this strategy, I slow it down a lot and ask kids to think about three possible words they can substitute for the unknown word based on what they've read so far in the book. This is usually very revealing about kids' thought processes. It is a very effective strategy and allows kids to see how comprehension plays into reading. In fact, comprehension = reading!