Friday, January 6, 2012

Literacy CAFE Lesson: Tune In To Interesting Words

Since my class is just returning from a two week winter break, it's always helpful to review some of the strategies that were introduced earlier in the school year.  Under the goal for Expanding Vocabulary (that's what the E in CAFE stands for) is the strategy, Tune In To Interesting Words.  I first introduced this strategy to my first graders in the beginning of the school year, around October.  I think the beginning of a new calendar year is a great time for revisiting this strategy.  Why?  First, because my first graders are much better readers than they were in October.  Secondly, because this is one of the most engaging strategies I know for building/expanding vocabulary.  The focus lesson for Tune In To Interesting Words, took place over a two day period.  Our read aloud text was, Into the A, B, Sea by Deborah Lee Rose.  I love this book because there are a number of skills you can teach with it.  For example, the word "Sea" in the title is a play on the letter "C", and it's a great lead for exposing them to the subject of homophones.  You can see the light bulb turn on when you explain the words see and sea (to "see" with our eyes, and how a "sea" is an ocean) and how they sound alike but have different spellings and different meanings. This book has tons of interesting words and phrases like-"Swim the ocean waves with me and dive into the A, B, Sea where Anemones sting and Barnacles cling"- I love the text patterns, the rhyming words, and word choice in this book.

While reading the book, I asked my first graders to put one of their hands to their ears whenever they heard an interesting word they were tuning into.  After reading each page, I stopped and recorded the words they suggested.  When I finished reading the book, we ended up with a chart crammed with interesting words.  I must admit, some words were more interesting than others.  What can I say, they're first graders!  Next, I gave them each a sticky note.  I instructed them to record two or three interesting words while they read independently. This was during our Daily 5, Read to Self round.  For our first round everyone does Read to Self.  Some students wrote more than three words, some wrote less than three words, and some didn't write any words at all (which tells me a lot too, but that's another subject).  At the end of the round, we returned to the meeting area for our group share time.  To save time, I had my students turn and talk to a neighbor about the words they wrote on their sticky notes.  Afterwards, I invited my students to "Tune In To Interesting Words" whenever they are reading.

In previous years that would have been the end of this lesson.  However, the article, It's How You Use a Strategy by Robert Marzano has caused me to take a closer look at how I'm teaching the strategies I introduce to my students, and how I can work at the Applying, or the Innovative Level.  According to Marzano, "Strategies are more or less effective depending on how they're applied.  He identifies four levels of teacher facility with strategies:
  • At the Beginning Level, teachers have little fluency and are prone to errors in using it.
  • At the Developing Level, teachers are fluent with the strategy but use it in a limited way.
  • At the Applying Level, teachers constantly monitor the strategy's effect on student learning, and extend student understanding by building questions and analysis off of the knowledge gleaned from the strategy.
  • At the Innovating Level, teachers are so fluent with a strategy, they can identify new uses or adaptations that meet specific student needs.
With each of these levels, says Marzano, the strategy becomes more effective at maximizing student learning.  While research can point teachers toward types of strategies to try, their impact rests in how teachers use them.  Marzano says strategy use at the Developing Level is the most common." (Marzano, December 20, 2011)

This brings me to day 2 of my focus lesson on "Tune In To Interesting Words".  I began the lesson by rereading parts of the book, Into the A, B, Sea.  We talked about the interesting words we wrote on the chart the day before.  Then I showed them another chart where I listed some of the words they collected on their sticky notes from the day before using the books they were reading.  Next, I asked two questions-"Why are these words important?" and "What should we do with these words now that we have collected them?"  In response to the first question, we talked about how this strategy and all of the other strategies help us to become better readers.  The second question was the one that I feel helps students to extend their understanding of why we do the strategy work we do and where authentic learning takes place.  I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at their answers.   E.E. said, "We should use them to help us with spelling."  I like this response.  It sounds obvious, but it's a suggestion that makes me think about our word wall and word collectors (which we haven't used much lately).  I want my first graders to use these visual reminders to support their learning.  M.M. said, "We should use them in a sentence."  They really do get it.  If my students can use these words in sentences, that means they really know these words and are expanding their vocabulary.  S.M. said, "We should use them in our writing to make it more interesting."  I really wasn't expecting this response, but I love the way it shows the connection between reading and writing.  I love how this lesson went from a lesson that demonstrates facility at the Developing Level to one that demonstrates facility at the Applying Level.  All it took was one question (When research reports that the same strategy has varying effects, what's the take-away for teachers?) to get me thinking and reflecting.

How do you move to more advanced levels of strategy use?  Please leave a comment.  I would love to hear your thoughts about this.


  1. I love this! I don't teach elementary anymore, but have a first grader that would benefit from this!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Roz Linder

  2. Val, a great post which reminds me of how important it is to look at the vocabulary in our stories shared. In my classroom we are often talking about making our writing "juicier" by adding more details. I need to remind them that we can also make our writing "juicier" by really looking at our word choices. Thanks for getting me thinking and reminding me how important this is. Karen @lirenmanlearns

  3. Thanks Roz and Karen for your thoughtful comments. My first graders are amazing. I love it when they stretch their reading and thinking muscles in various ways.


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