08 October 2015

Building Vocabulary through a "CCD"

Before I tell you what a CCD is, let me tell you where it originates. It's one of the many strategies used in Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design). I was lucky enough to be GLAD trained a few years ago. I quickly used these strategies with my 3rd and 4th graders in a unit called, Biomes of the World. The whole process and unit revolves around language acquisition with ELL students. However, as a bonus, it also works with your entire population of students. Project GLAD uses a ton of real photographs, books, vocabulary skills, total physical responses, interactive journals, and tons of input charts for students to gain a personal and deep learning experience with the content. 

A photo posted by Alexis (@laugheatlearn) on

Here is an example of an input chart we used while studying the Biomes unit. There is a ton of vocabulary in this chart that we segmented and learned prior to me teaching and doing this chart with my students. As a ELL teacher now, my focus is around language acquisition in all of my lessons. How do I get my students to understand and use academic vocabulary to better their transitions through the stages of language acquisition? One answers to that is the use of a CCD. Have you heard of a CCD before? Well, it's stands for Cognitive Content Dictionary (say that ten times fast). It's a process of learning new vocabulary using critical thinking, cooperation and total body responses. 

Examples taken from various sites including Google, Pinterest and Photobucket. Thank you for sharing your work! 

If you been GLAD trained, never heard of it, or just can't find the time to get trained in it, you can at least use this strategy to build vocabulary IN ANY SUBJECT with each and every one of your students. For those are intimidated, allow me to take you through the step by step process of a CCD. 

Photo found through Google search for CCD Charts. Thank you for sharing your work! 

Prior to step one, you want to create a space in your classroom that your CCD can be viewed by all the students at any time of the day. It should be somewhere they feel comfortable to go and look at past words and somewhere you can comfortable stand during the entire process of introducing a new word. You will need a huge chart segmented into 4 sections, each labeled: New Work, Prediction, Final Meaning, Oral Sentence. These labels need to be in black marker. You will need multiple markers available in various colors for the rest of your words. You don't want to use the same color in a row. This process is called color-chunking and it helps students to focus on chunks of information visually. Lastly, prepare a list of vocabulary words you would like students to know about a unit you are working on. My students are currently learning the parts of speech, so I would use these words (or related vocabulary) to teach them these words. Keep in mind the process takes about two days for you to get through a whole new word. 

Alright, day one! You can either try this whole group, with a partner they sit close enough to to discuss with or you can build teams of students to work and put their heads together. This step is completely up to you and is determined how you students can handle and process information. 

  1. Introduce the word: write the word in a colored marker on the chart. 
  2. Say the word: have students repeat saying the word in multiple ways. For example, say it to the ceiling, say it to the floor, say it to your partner, whisper the word. You can example to them that saying the word multiple times (60-80 times, says scientists) helps the word stick in your brain. 
  3. Heard/not heard: ask the students who have heard this word to raise their hand, label this under the word. Then ask students who has not heard this word (hopefully they will be honest at first, but you can remind them to be!), jot that down. 
  4. Parts of speech: label and explain the parts of speech (My example is a little tricky because I'm teaching them parts of speech) .

Continuing on day one, you will next work on predictions with your students. They will stay with the partner or team they were originally with. Remind them what a prediction is before beginning. Most important thing, we are not looking for perfect examples of what the word is. We want students to learn these words (they should be words they haven't heard of), so having predictions that are way off base is encouraged. 

  1. Make predictions: students will turn and talk and/or put their heads together within their group to come up with a prediction of the word. If you are GLAD trained, and doing a full GLAD unit, you would have a ton of chants (poems about the subject your teaching) around the room for students to hopefully look for the words in while they are discussing with partners. If you don't have these resources, that's okay too! 
  2. Transcribe predictions: choose a few students, or groups, and transcribe their prediction word for word on the chart, write their name near it. 
  3. Re-read the predictions: as a group. 

The last thing you will do on day one is link a synonym to the word with a Total Physical Response (TPR). A TPR is a movement you will do around the word that will help them remember it. For example, if you are doing a unit on angles, you might say "Obtuse... Very Large" and hold your arms out in a wide angle. 

  1. Introduce a synonym: you should have come up with a synonym prior to the lesson beginning that works with the word, but doesn't give away the "final meaning" completely to students (you want them to figure out the final meaning during the day). Say the synonym. 
  2. Introduce a TPR: Say the synonym and do the TPR at the same time, making a connection between the two. For plural nouns, I might say "Plural Nouns.... Multiples" and make a fist with my hands and move them around to show more than one. 
  3. Practice together: you, the teacher, will say the new word you introduced. Students will repeat the word, say the synonym and do the action. Anytime you say the word, they should automatically go through the process. 
  4. Continue practice during the day: this new word has officially become your word of the day. During transitions, when you need their attention, or you just want to have a refresher, you will do the practice together, going through the whole process of saying the word, synonym and doing the movement. 
This ends day one. You will practice the word throughout the day. You will do your lesson from the unit you planned on doing, and the word may pop up within your lesson, giving the students a chance to understand it even more. You want to do this part prior to teaching your lesson from the unit. I also started my day with CCD. 

Day two begins back in groups or partners, near the CCD chart. The teacher will review the new word, parts of speech and predictions made before beginning the Final Meaning column. Students should have been able to learn the new word through your studies/activity, or at least have a closer understanding of the word. 

  1. Students talk: before giving the final meaning, you have them turn and talk about what they think the final meaning is. No need to jot down any of their responses, just listen in on the conversations. 
  2. Final meaning: in kid friendly language, explain and write what the final meaning is. You want to draw and explain your drawing of the word while you are doing it, labeling if necessary. 

Oral sentences are used for students to remember and use the word properly in a sentence. They help wrap up the use of this word. 

  1. Teacher example: you will first give an example of the correct way to use the word in a sentence. For plural noun, I might say, "A plural noun means more than one pencils in a drawer."
  2. Student practice together: students will turn and talk with their groups/partners, and come up together with a sentence that uses the word correctly. Give them enough time to do this, walking around and checking in with students who might be struggling. 
  3. Students share sentences orally: You will choose a handful of students to share their sentences orally. They can earn points for getting their sentences too, but that's up to your classroom management style. 
  4. Check it off: Once students partners/groups have shared their oral sentences, you check it off to signify that we successful completed a word in our CCD. 

Now that you completed one whole word (remember it took you two days to get through it), your going to begin your next vocabulary word by beginning the process over steps 1-3. Each day you will begin by finishing the word the day before, and starting the process for your new word.

As you first begin, it's going to take some time to get through the entire lesson. But once your students and you understand the whole system a little better, the time will fly by. I would set aside maybe 30-35 minutes when you first begin, but then you will be able to drop it down to 15-20 minutes each day.

Now that you've got through the chart a few times. Students can have their own personal CCD to add words they find throughout their day to their own chart. Their process is going to be a little different. Students will determine how to chunk the learning of the new word, and they determine the TPR. You can decide if you want students to work as groups, partners or individually. The personal CCD can easily be used in guided reading groups while they are doing their instruction reading with you. There are multiple ways to use the personal CCD with students to continue their vocabulary growth. 

There are multiple ways to use the personal CCD with students to continue their vocabulary growth. I’ve provided two versions of the personal CCD. One with guided questions for each title. This is perfect for any student who still needs a little guided support during their vocabulary practice. Additionally, I’ve added one version that doesn’t have the guiding questions on there. Students can build up to using the one without the questions. Both are provided for FREE by clicking below! 

I would like to thank my good friends Elyse from Proud to be Primary and Ashley from One Sharp Bunch for creating this wonderful linky called Teacher Talk. This month's focus is all about building vocabulary, which sparked this whole blog post and really got me thinking about academic language! How do you build vocabulary in your classroom? Make sure you check the link up this month to get some great ideas! 

28 September 2015

Classroom Newsletters & Their Importance

I remember when I first started my teaching program and all the conversations revolved around parent communication and connections. I heard phrases like "home to school connection" and "parent involvement" without really knowing, at the time, what that truly meant. When we talked about newsletters within my college courses, I would always think "it sounds like a great, but who has the time? What parents are going to take the time to read through these?" When I began to do my practicum, I noticed in my cooperating classroom that the teacher I shadowed would send home weekly newsletters that included spelling lists, events for the week, homework notifications, and any other information that was must have for the parents. Again I thought otherwise, as I was more focused on the extra time it took and not the outcome of them. What can I say, I was naive and I was proved wrong (isn't that the point of student teaching, to learn through mistakes or misconceptions?). Parents would connect with me and reference the newsletter directly in the conversations, proving my original theory incorrect. Parents would send in notes requesting notes for additional copies so they could have one in the car for when they are traveling or a "fridge copy." I started to learn through that class that they do hold a great importance within and outside of the classroom. 

When I started my student teaching, my amazing cooperating teacher also had newsletters. Shocker! At this time, I begin to believe in them a little more, seeing the effects of the classroom dynamic from my practicum, but still I thought, "weekly newsletters?!" I quickly had a conversation about the newsletters with my co-teacher, asking about everything she does. She explained in detail about her newsletter, bringing up the key phrases I heard at the beginning of my program, "home to school connection" and "parent involvement." At this point, I was on board with the newsletter because I knew these were keys I needed to incorporate into my teaching, regardless of the time involved. Additionally, my co-teacher did not do weekly newsletters, she did monthly ones. This was already more manageable for me. As my student teaching continued, I practiced with her format and again saw the benefits I saw earlier with the parents and their more willing and wanting to be involved in my classroom. 

As I started my first year in my own classroom, I knew there was no way around it: find a format that worked for me and get to work. I've kept the same simple newsletter for 5 years now. It works for me. Now I have a collection of finished newsletter for Kindergarten, 3rd, and 4th grade, that I can pull out at any time, change a few things around, add student birthdays, and print off. So in reality, it was a lot of work up front, sitting at the computer, and going through events and subjects, but now I've got a great library to pull from and it really takes no time at all. The most important thing I took away from my cooperating teacher about newsletters is the priority made on the subjects taught in the classroom, and giving parents ideas each month on how they can help at home. It's like a sneak peek into your classroom, and you know there are families who LOVE and strive to continue learning at home.

My snippets on the backside for parents are usually easy stuff they can do driving around or even using a computer program provided by the school district. I think the key was what I was teaching that month. This kept me accountable for my students because the parents knew exactly what was happening. This also helped me with grading. Everything I listed in the newsletter was reflected in my grade book in some way.

Overall, this is how I came to my simple yet informative newsletter format. It's easy enough for me to pull up, edit and print out for my student's families. I always make two copies, one copy is on blue paper and is stored in their STAR folder for quick use, the other one is on white paper and is considered the "fridge copy". I've put together my template for other teachers to use as you see above.

I'm made multiple choices available to fit the needs of your classroom. Most importantly, it includes the back side on how to connect with families in the different subjects you teach in the classroom. Regardless if you use my template or not, make sure you are reaching out to parents in some way either weekly, monthly or even bi-monthly. I'd love to know, What do you use in your classroom to communicate with parents and inform them on special events and subjects being taught?

08 September 2015

The Marshmallow Challenge

Last week was my first week in my new school teaching 6th-8th ELL students. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I never thought I would ever teach in middle but I'm actually loving it. I'm very happy about my hard decision I made at the end of last year. But all in all, I feel like it was the right one for me at the time. I've been welcomed into this new tribe of passionate teachers and feel right at home already!

I don't know if they do this in other middle schools but we were actually given our lesson plans for the first 3 days of school which we were to follow to teach the procedures and rules of our school. Although it doesn't seem like fun, it's great that everyone is on the same page in every classroom from the start of the year. Within the lesson plans, there are spaces that simply state "Team Building". I struggled with this idea for a while, trying to find something that was age/grade level appropriate for my new students but finally remembered a challenge we did as a staff at my old school: The Marshmallow Challenge

The challenge is pretty simple. You have a certain amount of materials that you must build into a freestanding structure with your team. Students have 18 minutes to communicate, plan and create before the teacher comes around to measure. The marshmallow is the most important piece to the structure because it must be at the very top in it's original form. Students are encouraged to collaborate as a team to accomplish this goal.

My students quickly came up with a plan, some jotted and sketched the idea out and began to build. While they were building, I roamed around and checked in on teams, making sure everyone had a job and that they were not just sitting there silently working on their own. This was also a great time for me to chat with them and see how they worked as a team. It was a learning experience for me too!

Overall, most (I say most because my 7th graders were not really into it!) of them finished in the 18 minutes and afterwards we had a great discussion about what worked as a team and what didn't. I've done this challenge before in other grade levels, and the outcome is never the same, they all experience and come up with ideas to better their teams for next time.

Have you done this challenge in your classroom or want to give it a shot? I whipped up this helpful direction and sketch sheet for my kiddos to use as they worked in their teams. Grab it for free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

How do you build teamwork in your classroom? If you do this challenge, I would love to know what your students discussed about about team work afterwards, so please share! :]