Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog!

Classic Post: Building Vocabulary with Informational Texts

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Aug 7, 2014 8:16:00 AM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. It was originally published in September 2013. To see the other posts in her series, click here!

When I work with teachers who are hoping to boost their children’s exposure to informational text, sometimes they are concerned about the vocabulary in informational text being too challenging for their children. They are wise to anticipate that some children might not be familiar with some of the words used in some texts. At the same time, I encourage teachers to keep in mind that for some children it’s actually the vocabulary that draws them to informational text.

For example, almost all of us have worked with the child who loves dinosaurs enough to learn (and use correctly!) all those complicated names like diplodocus, pachycephalosaurus, and trachodon, and loves to tell you that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs but are flying reptiles! Those big words coming out of little mouths can be charming and entertaining but they should also reinforce for us that little children enjoy the power over those big scientific words. They love to show grown-ups what they know, and a rich vocabulary is one way to do it. Here are some ways to build children’s vocabularies and a love of words at the same time:

Use good quality informational text that doesn’t shy away from rich vocabulary.

When you select texts to reinforce classroom themes, make sure you select texts that have good, accurate language in them. If you were studying dinosaurs and the only terms were “meat eaters” and “plant eaters,” you’d miss out on some great learning with your children. The strategy of linking accurate language to bridging language such as “meat eaters, or carnivores” can help children understand new terms like “carnivores” or “herbivores.”

Embrace the new words yourself.

Create a classroom climate that loves words by talking about new words, praising children who ask “what does that mean” and excitedly sharing new words and their meanings with children. It’s also great to model not knowing a meaning and having to look it up—just be sure you do!

Look for ways for create categories so children start to sort the information.

When talking about dinosaurs, herbivores and carnivores are logical groups that you can start to sort other vocabulary into:

“Here is an Apatosaurus. He has a little head and small, rounded teeth. Do you think he’s a carnivore or an herbivore?”

“How about a velociraptor? Check out his sharp claws and teeth. What does that make you think about?”

Try using visual prompts so you use the vocabulary more yourself.

Try making a list of the words that you want to be sure children are picking up. If you’re talking about different kinds of trees, for example, your list might include conifer, deciduous, cone, flower, seed, leaf, trunk, and photosynthesis. Print out a sheet with those words on it, in a large enough font to see across the area, and post them around the room. When you see the words, you’re more likely to use them yourself. Additionally, the text adds to your print rich environment and children may start to interact with text as well.

Use graphic organizers to help children make connections and categories.

Venn Diagram Sharks and Whales

This photo demonstrates a Venn diagram activity done to sort similarities and differences between sharks and whales after a unit on "Under the Sea" that allowed children to learn about a variety of sea animals. Not only does this strategy give children a chance to make sense of the vocabulary, but becoming familiar with graphic organizers in the early years can assist them in using them in later grades and subject areas such as math and social studies.

Vocabulary games can be a blast.

Like using a Venn diagram, just sorting words into categories can be fun. Have a list of words from two different units you might have studied such as "Under the Sea" and "Trees." Give each child a word. Then have two pictures on the board, one of the sea and one of the forest. The children need to sort themselves into the groups based on their words. Where does “fish” go? Where does “conifer” go? If the child isn’t sure, he or she can ask a friend. Everyone’s vocabulary knowledge is strengthened by interacting around these words. To make it silly, put the words face down on the floor and have everyone pick one. How fast can they sort themselves? This is a great outside or gym game as well! You can also try games like twenty questions or I-Spy to have children guess your vocabulary words.

Word learning has gotten a bad rap but the learning of the words and the concepts that go with them can be easily incorporated into a play-based environment with just a little thought. Most importantly, by giving children access to a rich vocabulary, we give them the keys to much better comprehension, now and in years to come. The more words they know, the fewer times they’ll encounter words they don’t know…and when they do encounter an unknown word, they’ll have the confidence and strategies to make it their own.

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Vocabulary

The World of Words: Building Vocabulary with Informational Texts

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Sep 11, 2013 8:00:00 AM

describe the imageThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!

When I work with teachers who are hoping to boost their children’s exposure to informational text, sometimes they are concerned about the vocabulary in informational text being too challenging for their children. They are wise to anticipate that some children might not be familiar with some of the words used in some texts. At the same time, I encourage teachers to keep in mind that for some children it’s actually the vocabulary that draws them to informational text.

For example, almost all of us have worked with the child who loves dinosaurs enough to learn (and use correctly!) all those complicated names like diplodocus, pachycephalosaurus, and trachodon, and loves to tell you that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs but are flying reptiles! Those big words coming out of little mouths can be charming and entertaining but they should also reinforce for us that little children enjoy the power over those big scientific words. They love to show grown-ups what they know, and a rich vocabulary is one way to do it. Here are some ways to build children’s vocabularies and a love of words at the same time:

Use good quality informational text that doesn’t shy away from rich vocabulary.

When you select texts to reinforce classroom themes, make sure you select texts that have good, accurate language in them. If you were studying dinosaurs and the only terms were “meat eaters” and “plant eaters,” you’d miss out on some great learning with your children. The strategy of linking accurate language to bridging language such as “meat eaters, or carnivores” can help children understand new terms like “carnivores” or “herbivores.”

Embrace the new words yourself.

Create a classroom climate that loves words by talking about new words, praising children who ask “what does that mean” and excitedly sharing new words and their meanings with children. It’s also great to model not knowing a meaning and having to look it up—just be sure you do!

Look for ways for create categories so children start to sort the information.

When talking about dinosaurs, herbivores and carnivores are logical groups that you can start to sort other vocabulary into:

“Here is an Apatosaurus. He has a little head and small, rounded teeth. Do you think he’s a carnivore or an herbivore?”

“How about a velociraptor? Check out his sharp claws and teeth. What does that make you think about?”

Try using visual prompts so you use the vocabulary more yourself.

Try making a list of the words that you want to be sure children are picking up. If you’re talking about different kinds of trees, for example, your list might include conifer, deciduous, cone, flower, seed, leaf, trunk, and photosynthesis. Print out a sheet with those words on it, in a large enough font to see across the area, and post them around the room. When you see the words, you’re more likely to use them yourself. Additionally, the text adds to your print rich environment and children may start to interact with text as well.

Use graphic organizers to help children make connections and categories.

Venn Diagram Sharks and Whales

This photo demonstrates a Venn diagram activity done to sort similarities and differences between sharks and whales after a unit on "Under the Sea" that allowed children to learn about a variety of sea animals. Not only does this strategy give children a chance to make sense of the vocabulary, but becoming familiar with graphic organizers in the early years can assist them in using them in later grades and subject areas such as math and social studies.

Vocabulary games can be a blast.

Like using a Venn diagram, just sorting words into categories can be fun. Have a list of words from two different units you might have studied such as "Under the Sea" and "Trees." Give each child a word. Then have two pictures on the board, one of the sea and one of the forest. The children need to sort themselves into the groups based on their words. Where does “fish” go? Where does “conifer” go? If the child isn’t sure, he or she can ask a friend. Everyone’s vocabulary knowledge is strengthened by interacting around these words. To make it silly, put the words face down on the floor and have everyone pick one. How fast can they sort themselves? This is a great outside or gym game as well! You can also try games like twenty questions or I-Spy to have children guess your vocabulary words.

Word learning has gotten a bad rap but the learning of the words and the concepts that go with them can be easily incorporated into a play-based environment with just a little thought. Most importantly, by giving children access to a rich vocabulary, we give them the keys to much better comprehension, now and in years to come. The more words they know, the fewer times they’ll encounter words they don’t know…and when they do encounter an unknown word, they’ll have the confidence and strategies to make it their own.

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Vocabulary

Building World Knowledge: Helping Parents Help Teachers

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Aug 27, 2013 8:02:00 AM

susan bennett armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is part of an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!

As early educators, we enjoy relationships with parents that some of our colleagues who teach in older grades miss out on. We are often their children’s first teachers, and we set the tone for how that family will view and work with school. Let’s get off on the right foot and enter the relationship as collaborating experts, with us being the experts on children in groups and the parents being the experts on their own children. With that in mind, this post is focused on helping parents maximize their unique position in promoting their children’s developing world knowledge.

Most parents want their children to do well in school and to succeed in life. Not all parents are hip to the ways that they can support that, however. While the message of “Read to Your Child” has been sung loud and proud for a couple of decades now, many parents may be unsure of what to read, when to start to read,  how much to read, or even how to read to their children to maximize their literacy development. By sharing with parents some of the following tips, through conversations or newsletters, you can help them to help us lay an important foundation for literacy success in our youngest children.

father children reading 200Literacy begins early. Some parents believe that literacy starts when children enter kindergarten or first grade. It’s crucial to children’s literacy success that we move away from a “readiness” discussion and help families understand that literacy is ongoing and emergent, and it starts as soon as children are processing language. If families are waiting to think about literacy until kindergarten, they’ve missed five years of building skills and understandings that their little one will need to draw on when they are in school. Help your families understand the key role they play in building their child’s literacy skills by engaging in literacy activities in the early years. Offer suggestions for read aloud, songs, and games in your newsletters.

Families are ALREADY doing good things for their children’s literacy development. You may be working with some families who feel like they have nothing to offer their child…except to turn him over the “the experts.” One of the best things we can do in building relationships with families is letting them in on fact that they are already supporting their children’s success. Could they do more? Sure, we all can—but by letting parents know that talking with their child, reading to their child, telling stories about when they, themselves, were little, and generally engaging with their little one all make a difference in their child’s connectedness to language and literacy…not to mention building a positive relationship with their parents!

boys sugaring 200Families are uniquely positioned to build world knowledge. It’s pretty challenging for us, as teachers, to get a group of children to the park for a field trip. (Shoot, some days, it’s pretty challenging even to get everyone dressed to go outside!) How much easier is it for a family to go to the park, the grocery store, the post office, etc.? Let families in on the fact that those little excursions that can seem like a hassle with children are really wonderful ways for their child to learn about the world around them. Just talking about what they’re seeing and doing can help their child make connections, build vocabulary, and understand their world. All of this information will be useful when they encounter those ideas or vocabulary in books later.

5252 Gingerbread Kids Cover 355Families can build connections to text better than teachers can. When we read Gingerbread Kids and ask, “Have you ever baked cookies at your house?” We really don’t know who has and who hasn’t. Families reading to their children know what their previous experiences are and can help them connect to the text, making it their own, by offering nudges like, “Remember that time you and Grammy made sugar cookies? You put sprinkles on yours. If you were making a gingerbread kid, how would you decorate him?” Encourage your families to talk about what their children have seen or done that relates to the book they’re reading. Asking questions that connect the children to the text can maximize their comprehension as well as helping them start to ask questions themselves.

Families know the child’s interests better than we do.  If you have a child in your class who is crazy about trains (or sharks or princesses or horses…), chances are, her family knew that before you did. Encourage families to use their child’s interest in a topic to build their knowledge of literacy. Let the family know that checking out every book on dinosaurs from the library and reading all about dinosaurs is helping their child in several ways:

  • building their child’s knowledge of dinosaurs
  • building their knowledge of how to learn things
  • creating a foundation for learning about other animals (there are plant eaters and meat eaters alive today!)
  • creating a foundation for categorizing new information
  • learning about informational text
  • learning how informational text about dinosaurs is different from stories about dinosaurs
  • linking information read in books to information learned on a field trip to a museum, and being critical of information that doesn’t “match”

child in water 200One of my brothers, who is a veterinary surgeon, went through waves of interests (presidents, dinosaurs, Egypt, Beethoven, etc.) that helped him learn all about many things in his early years. He doesn’t particularly care about any of those topics now, but his ability to learn, and learn well, has helped him a great deal. My other brother, a restaurateur and chef, identified early that he loved cooking and history and never wavered. Using children’s interests can be a passing thing or a permanent tool to build both their knowledge about the topic and their knowledge about learning. Families can capitalize on those interests well.

Families are our best partners in promoting children’s literacy and learning success. No one cares more about that child than his or her family. By encouraging families to capitalize on their special knowledge of their child and sharing the strategies here, we can promote learning for all our children.

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet. Also check out our Story World Real World series to see some more informational texts, including Gingerbread Kids.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Family Literacy

Critter Corner: It's Puffin Time!

Posted by Tara Rodriquez on Aug 22, 2013 8:00:00 AM


describe the image

describe the imageIt's the time of year when baby puffins start leaving the nest! Puffins living in Canada get a little help from the Puffin and Petrel Patrol.

"The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Newfoundland and Labrador (CPAWS-NL) chapter launched the annual Puffin and Petrel Patrol Tuesday night," reports Andrew Robinson in the St. John's Telegram. St. John's is the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, where the puffins live.

“One of the main reasons we’re finding young, juvenile puffins on our highways, roads, and yards is because they’re attracted to artificial light,” said Suzanne Dooley, co-executive director for CPAWS-NL.

“They use the moon for guidance, so on nights (where) the moon isn’t clear, when they leave their boroughs at night ... they end up coming towards street lights, business lights, (and) homeowner lights on the land.”

The Patrol searches for and rescues the baby puffins before they have a chance to come to harm on the road and releases them into a safe area of the wilderness.

Because Puffin Patrol season coincides with the beginning of the school year, it's a great chance to kick off the year by teaching children about volunteering, conservationism, and their favorite topic: animals!

You can introduce them to the puffin through our Zoozoo Animal World book Puffin, which is part of the Arctic Habitat Set. Click the image below to learn more about the book.

Arctic Puffin Cover

Photo credit of puffin (right): CPS Photos

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Topics: Making Learning Fun, K-2 Literacy, Zoozoo Animals, Critter Corner, World Knowledge, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World

Building World Knowledge with Informational Texts: Susan Bennett-Armistead

Posted by Susan Bennett-Armistead on Aug 14, 2013 8:00:00 AM

susan bennett armisteadThis guest post by Susan Bennett-Armistead, author of our My World informational texts, is the first in an ongoing series in which she discusses informational text and its benefits and uses. Check back regularly to catch her next post!


Building World Knowledge in Early Childhood Settings

A couple of years ago, I was invited to a preschool classroom to do a read aloud. I planned to read To Market, To Market, so I asked the children to think about a time they went to the grocery store. To my surprise, of the twelve children in the class, four of them told me they had never been in a grocery store. You can imagine that my read-aloud choice didn’t work so well with people that had no idea what was supposed to go on in a grocery store. They didn’t get the visual jokes included by the illustrator, and they had no way of knowing how to answer any of my carefully prepared comprehension questions.

FUN OUTSIDE coverThat experience helped me reflect on a chat that I’d had with an exasperated colleague years ago when she announced, “I’ve got a kid with no prior knowledge! How am I supposed to activate that?!” It was true. He had very little prior knowledge about picnics and playing in the park. He knew an awful lot about staying safe in a dangerous city, though. When we talk about activating children’s prior knowledge, we usually mean about school-related topics. Some children have the advantage of lots of experiences that they can draw upon while others may have narrower or less school-relevant experiences. Building world knowledge can help level that playing field.

So what is world knowledge, and why should we care? For our purposes, world knowledge is awareness of the world around us, both the natural world and the social world. When we talk about building world knowledge, we’re addressing the fact that the more we know, the more we can comprehend. For example, if you have a child in your group that has spent the last four years of her life watching cartoons, she many know an awful lot about Spongebob and his friends, but very little about actual sea life. As we are increasingly encouraging children to interact with and produce informational text, per the Common Core State Standards, we know that having a broader understanding of the world will help children be good consumers and producers of that kind of text.  Here are some strategies that you can try right away as you work to build children’s world knowledge:

Butterfly Cover1) Plan to include an informational text read aloud in your day. My colleague Nell Duke found that very little time is spent in classrooms actually reading informational text with and to children (Duke, 1999). If we’re not exposing children to fact-based texts, their knowledge of the world will be constructed through stories and other input that may not be factually accurate (For example, in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the caterpillar comes out of a cocoon and is a butterfly. This is factually incorrect; moths come out of cocoons and butterflies come out of a chrysalis.) There are some excellent wordless, low-level, and advanced informational texts available in both book and children’s magazine format.

2) When reading informational text, take the time to talk about the vocabulary in the text. This will not only help your children understand this particular text, but it will give them information they can draw on in other readings and situations.

3) Include opportunities for children to freely interact with informational text in each activity center in your classroom (block area = books on construction, transportation, or homes; dress up area = theme related books such as cookbooks, books about the fire station, or taking care of pets; science corner = books on the materials present, such as books about birds if you have Our New House Coverfeathers on display, plant books with seeds to sort, etc.)

4) Consider linking your informational text reading to a theme or project topic. Theme-based teaching encourages children to make connections to topics within the theme (e.g., transportation includes cars, trucks and boats) but also across themes (people live in homes, and animals do too!). Think about how you are actively assisting children to make connections to content through your exposure to texts that discuss your topic.

5) Design primary experiences for children to make sense of the learning themselves. (A primary experience is something that happens to you personally.) Children (and adults!) learn best when information is repeated, relevant to them, and real. Our brains move information from short-term memory to long-term memory (learning) when they get the message through multiple inputs (smell, touch, taste, excitement) that a thing is worth remembering. When we want children to learn about apples, we can read to them about how  apples grow, read a story about making a pie, or we can talk about apples while children explore actual apples. By combining all three (informational text, story, and apple exploration), we increase the likelihood that children will retain what we’re talking about. If we link apples to something personal to them, like the time they made pie with Grandma, we can make the learning even more powerful.

STORES coverEach of these strategies is a way to build world knowledge and lay a foundation for activating prior knowledge later. One more important strategy is to honor what your children already know. Every child knows about something. Make connections to their own interests and knowledge. My colleague with the student who had little knowledge of picnics got him to share a great deal about life in the city when they were talking about communities. Always start with the known and build to the new.

So what happened with my failed read aloud? After muddling through, I encouraged the teacher to set up a dramatic-play grocery store so the children could act out grocery store play and talk about how stores work. The children that had been to actual grocery stores guided the children that hadn’t. The teacher put out a number of books about grocery stores, both fact-books and stories, and let the children make the content their own. My failure turned into a rich learning experience for that class and for me!

~~~

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for 14 years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush.

~~~

For more information on the My World series by this author, you can click here to visit the series page on our website or click the image below to download an information sheet. Other informational text books pictured in this article were from Zoozoo Animal World and Story World Real World.

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Topics: K-2 Literacy, Informational Text, Susan Bennett-Armistead, World Knowledge, Background Information, My World

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