Teaching Vocabulary with Mentor Texts

August 11, 2022 No Comments
Great Books Develop Vocabulary

Word Study

We’ve all heard about the science of reading, right? If you haven’t, you should probably start reading up right away so you can be prepared to implement some of the strategies ASAP. “Isn’t that just for beginning readers?” you might ask. No. Absolutely not. Word study is for everyone and will benefit every reader. I’ve seen it firsthand as an upper elementary teacher. 

Nine or ten years ago, my principal paid for every teacher in our school to receive Orton-Gillingham training. The training was a week long and very intense. About midway through the week, I raised my hand and said, “I’m a 5th grade teacher and all of my students are good readers. How will this help them?” The trainer responded, “This approach will help them be better spellers,” and, sure enough, it did! By the time I taught the 5th graders who started OG in 2nd grade, they were not only excellent readers, they were excellent spellers. It certainly made MY job easier and parents were THRILLED.

I can’t go into detail about the components of OG, because I didn’t invent it nor do I own it, but I will say that there is a scope and sequence for teaching affixes that starts with the prefix “pre-” and the suffix “-ed” and continues with Latin and Greek affixes, stems, roots, and combining forms. Not only will these exercises help your students become better readers and decoders, it will improve their spelling and vocabulary.

Now, it’s absolutely fine to teach word analysis skills in isolation during small groups or in self-correcting centers, but I also think it’s important to study words in the context of the books we read. That’s why I always include some word analysis activities in all of my book companions. Not only do I focus on affixes, but I also have students study homonyms, homographs, and homophones, synonyms and antonyms, parts-of-speech, and words with multiple meanings.

Activities for Word Study

So, how do I do that? Well, I study the book companion books I choose, pull out words that fit into those categories, then create the activities. I create a variety of graphic organizers (including Frayer models), puzzles, color-by-code pages, word sorts, etc. to go with each book companion.

The book I’m featuring today is Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s such a fantastic book for any time of the year, but especially for back-to-school, Kindness Week, or any time your class needs a reminder about being kind to each other. Jacqueline Woodson is a wordsmith. The language in Each Kindness is concise, yet there is much to study.

With Each Kindness, I start our word study by front-loading vocabulary. Providing students with a fun word search is the perfect way to do that. There are no spoilers. They can just have fun exploring the vocabulary before you even read the book. After that, I ask students to pick one word that they find interesting and have them complete a Frayer model. Students can share their words with partners, in small groups, or in whole group.

After our first vocabulary activity, we will explore affixes, compound words, and parts-of-speech. Students will engage in a color-by-code activity (Maya’s jump rope) to explore parts of speech and a cut-and-paste (or drag-and-drop, if you prefer paperless) activity to sort words into the categories of words with prefixes, words with suffixes, and compound words.

Book Companions

When students have fully explored the vocabulary, they’re ready to read the book and discuss the topics, themes, and other aspects of the book. Each Kindness* is an ideal mentor text to use at the beginning of the year because you can explicitly teach your students ways to be kind and to recognize kindness. The full book companion includes narrative and letter writing prompts and paper, graphic organizers, interactive notebook pages, and more to provide multi-sensory activities for students to complete to deepen understanding of the text. If you’re interested in more vocabulary activities to use with mentor texts throughout the year, you’ll want to check out this bundle. It includes a variety of vocabulary activities and much more!

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Each Kindness Book Companion
Fiction Book Companions Bundle


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Currently, I teach fifth grade and have taught fifth grade since 2011. Before teaching fifth grade, I taught third grade, first grade, kindergarten, preschool, baby and toddler music, college, and graduate school. I am a mom of two daughters, a Maltese dog, and a tuxedo cat.

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The letters of my first name inspired the name of this blog and the names of my other business ventures, so when you think of me, just remember AM4Y. I started my teaching journey in 1987 and have taught every age from babies to fifth grade as well as college and graduate school in Tennessee, Florida, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Virginia. I have a B.A. in English and Psychology from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville and an M.A.T. in curriculum and instruction from The University of Memphis. In addition, I have completed more graduate work at The University of Maryland and The University of Colorado, Denver. I am a mom of two young adult daughters and a cute Maltese dog. When I am not teaching, you can find me traveling, reading, hiking, or cooking. Read More

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