Teaching Vocabulary with Mentor Texts

Teaching Vocabulary with Mentor Texts

Teaching vocabulary is essential for reading comprehension, and using mentor texts to model is a great idea. With mentor texts, we can work on so many skills. In this post, I’ll share how I teach vocabulary in upper elementary.

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 Using Mentor Texts

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.

Each Kindness Word Study Activities

Teaching Vocabulary Using 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!

Thanks for visiting, and have a great time using Each Kindness with your students. It is a phenomenal book. You can read more about it and other great mentor texts here.

See my Each Kindness book companion in action on YouTube.

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