Context Clues, Literacy Stations, vocabulary

How to Easily Fit Vocabulary Instruction and Practice into Each Day

How to Easily Fit Vocabulary Instruction and Practice into Each Day

Vocabulary instruction is crucial to helping our students increase their reading comprehension and become better writers. That’s why I think it’s so important to make time for vocabulary instruction every day. Here’s an easy to follow weekly schedule of ideas to help you fit quick, simple, and meaningful vocabulary instruction and practice into each day.

Monday – Introduce the words

I introduce each word in three steps at the beginning of every week to make sure the students are really understanding their meanings.

  1. I start by showing the students the written word on a card/sentence strip and telling them the definition. I always word the definition in a “kid-friendly” way to make sure they understand it.
  2. I then use a picture to help them visually understand the word’s meaning. I usually do this by holding up two picture cards and asking the students which picture shows the meaning of the word. Then we discuss how/why that picture illustrates the meaning of the word. However, life happens and sometimes there isn’t enough time for this. Then I just show the correct picture and discuss how it shows the meaning. I was lucky enough to be at a school that had a vocabulary adoption that supplied picture cards for each vocabulary word. If you don’t have that you can use a quick Google image search (ahead of time) or a simple sketch. Keep your vocabulary words and their pictures displayed on the wall throughout the week.
  3. Then I use a “Mirrors with Words,” a Whole Brain Teaching strategy that has the students mirroring your gestures and words. I say, “Mirrors with Words” and put my hands up in front of my shoulders with my palms facing the students. They repeat my words and action. We then say the word and use a gesture to show the meaning of the word. For example, if the word is gentle, I might gesture as if I’m holding a rabbit or other small animal while I gently pet it. Kate Bowski has a great YouTube video that explains how “mirrors” work. You can also see them in action with students in this video.

Tuesday – Read Aloud

Read alouds are amazing tools for teaching vocabulary words because they allow the students to hear the words in context. Before I read the story, I remind the students to listen for our vocabulary words and how they are used. While I read, the students show a small thumbs up when they hear a vocabulary word in context. After reading, we discuss how the words were used in the story.

Wednesday – Context Clues

I use fill-in-the-blank style sentences and have the students use the context clues to determine which of their vocabulary words best completes the sentence. This not only gets them thinking about and using their vocabulary words, but also squeezes in more practice with context clues – which my students have always desperately needed. These sentences are usually just ones that I make up and show on the document camera. You don’t need anything fancy here.

Thursday – Questions about the words

By Thursday the students should have a good grasp of the vocabulary words. I like to “quiz” them by asking them questions that use the vocabulary words and require an understanding of their meaning. We then discuss the justifications of their answers in relation to the meaning of the vocabulary words.

Friday – Assessment

Assess the students on their understanding of the words by having them use the words in context. This is so much more meaningful than having the students match the word to its definition. Memorizing which word goes with which definition doesn’t show a deeper understanding of how to use the word, doesn’t truly expand our students’ vocabularies, and certainly won’t transfer to their future use of the words. This doesn’t need to be hard or time consuming to create. You can create multiple choice questions for each vocabulary word, true/false questions, or have the students write a sentence for each word that shows the meaning. While the last option there seems the easiest – keep in mind that you will have to grade these. lol

Transitions – Make every second count!

Fill those fleeting moments of silent space with vocabulary practice by having the students use the word in a sentence, list synonyms & antonyms, or give examples of the words as they line up or when the class is in line outside of the cafeteria, etc.

Stations – Practice, Practice, Practice!

Vocabulary Station

A vocabulary station that provides fun and meaningful activities is an excellent way to get students practicing their words and involves such little work on your part to maintain. You don’t have to change the activities in it all year because the new word list will change it up for you. If you put vocabulary activities and games that can be used with any word list in the station you can just set it and forget it for the most part. Once you set it up, you’ll only need to refill the papers every now and then. The best part is that the station will be ready to go for next year as well! I’m all about working smarter, not harder.

Here are just a few of my favorite ideas to get you started.

Who Can Guess My Word - Vocabulary Dice Game

Vocabulary Dice Game – Students seriously love playing this “Who Can Guess My Word?” dice game as they practice their vocabulary words in a variety of fun ways. It’s simple, fun to play, and best of all, easy to set up.

"Super Vocabulary" Board Game for Stations

Board Game – Board games are great because the friendly competition adds some excitement to the station. This “Super Vocabulary” game is perfect for spiraling the vocabulary words throughout the year. Just keep adding word cards as they are introduced. Game play gets more and more fun as the deck grows.

Vocabulary Crossword Puzzle

Crossword PuzzleVocabulary crossword puzzles are exciting and challenging for students to create. The kids also love switching and completing each other’s crosswords. Double the practice, double the fun!

Are you ready to set and forget your fun and engaging vocabulary station? Find the vocabulary games and activities shown above and more in these 10 Vocabulary Activities for Any Word List to create a rocking vocabulary station.

How to Easily Fit Vocabulary Instruction into Each Day

Context Clues

5 Kid Approved Context Clues Activities for Upper Elementary

5 Kid Approved Context Clues Activities

Context clues has always been something that I’ve needed to spiral throughout the entire year with my third graders, so finding fun and engaging activities has been a huge priority. I figure a lot of you are in the same boat so I’ve decided to share some of my best go-to ideas with you.

Interactive Anchor Chart

If you’re like me, you use anchor charts for everything. I’ve even used an anchor chart for how to behave in the bathroom, but that’s a different story for another time. So, as with everything else, my context clues instruction has always started with an anchor chart. I’ve learned a few things over the years about how to make effective anchor charts and prevent them from just becoming wall decorations. The most important of which were to make them with the kids instead of ahead of time and to make them interactive.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to have the kids make their own anchor charts in their reading interactive notebooks. I give them a framework and they add to it with me. (Examples below) This helps them focus on the important parts of the concept and gives them a personal reference to look back on when they need a refresher. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or cutesy. All you need to do is think about the most important things you want them to remember about using context clues and work around that.

Vocabulary and Context Clues Interactive Notebook Cultivating Critical Readers.png

Make your large context clues anchor chart interactive by leaving pieces of it blank for the students to fill in with their work during stations or reading workshop. Pro-tip: Have the kids use post-it notes if you’re departmentalized to save the anchor chart for the next class(es).

Station Games

Everything is more fun when it’s turned into a game. Seriously, what kid doesn’t jump at the chance to play a game during class?  Games are great for targeting specific concepts such as homophones, prefixes & suffixes, etc. You can also use them to spiral context clues practice throughout the entire year! The kids really love when the context clues station games are changed up for seasons and holidays. It just adds a little festive feeling to stations.

Halloween Homophones Game for Third Grade and Fourth Grade Reading.png

New games not in the budget? No problem! Did you know you can turn regular board games like Jenga, Connect 4, and Candy Land into context clues games just by adding task cards? The rules to the game stay the same with one minor modification: the students must complete a task card before taking a turn. Yep, it’s that simple. And the kids will love it!

Context Clues Connect 4.png

Scoot Activities

I figure if I don’t want to sit at a desk and work all day, there’s no way kids want to either. Getting them up and moving around the room to practice context clues with a scoot activity is way more fun and engaging. It’s also super quick and easy to set up. Just post context clues task cards around the room or in the hallway, pass out some recording sheets, and set your expectations for how you want your students to move from card to card.

BOOM Cards

I just learned about BOOM Cards this year and I am so unbelievably excited about them. They are basically digital task cards with loads of amazing features that are perfect for iPads and SmartBoards. First of all, they are interactive and self-checking. Who doesn’t love that? One of my favorite things about them is that they can be created with audio built in, which really helps with differentiation.  Watch the short clip I recorded from my desktop of my Valentine’s Day Context Clues BOOM Cards to see how easy it is for a student to get oral administration of the question and answer choices. It’s so helpful when you have students who need accommodations to be successful with grade level material! ** Not all BOOM Card decks are created equally though. Look for information about the features of the deck in the description before buying it. They won’t all come with audio.

Want to learn more about BOOM Learning? Their YouTube videos are full of super helpful information!

Word Collections

Frequent independent reading of rich and varied texts is a HUGE component in an effective vocabulary program. This is where it all comes together, really. Students use the context clues strategies you taught them as they encounter new words in their own reading lives. We can promote an appreciation for these new words by helping the students create personal collections of their favorite new words. Donovan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross is a great mentor text to help you get the conversation about the power of words started with your students.

Word Jar for Personal Word Collections

These FREE word jars for interactive notebooks give students a fun place to store their newly acquired vocabulary words and can even help them incorporate them into their writing. They can also be used in a vocabulary station or as a whole class collection.


You can find all of the context clues activities featured in this article here.


5 Kid Approved Context Clues Activities for Upper Elementary from Cultivating Critical Readers

Context Clues, Valentine's Day

5 Fun and Focused Activities for Valentine’s Day

I don’t know about you, but February always has me stressed. Pouring over benchmark scores and counting the number of weeks left before the state test has a way of doing that to me. On top of that, I am supposed to use class time for a party? Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved celebrating with my littles. However, anyone that knows me can attest to my disdain for wasted time in the classroom. That’s why I sneak in reading instruction and practice into every second of Valentine’s Day, including the party. The best part? The kids just see it all as a part of our Valentine’s Day celebration.

Here Are 5 Activities to Keep Valentine’s Day Fun and Focused:




Valentine’s Themed BINGO


You can turn literally any BINGO game into a Valentine’s themed game by using Hershey’s Kisses or other candies as your “markers”. So, dust off that old reading strategy BINGO game you have in the cabinet and start playing. This makes for a great game during the party and has your students reviewing strategies and concepts. This Valentine’s Day Synonym and Antonym BINGO game can be purchased here.


Read and follow a procedural text to create a Valentine’s Day Craft!

Kids love origami and Pinterest is full of How-Tos for making Valentine’s Crafts, so you’ll have plenty of options for this. I found a procedural text for creating heart-shaped bookmarks online that I love by DIY Candy. I did need to do a bit of copying and pasting to create the format that I wanted to present to the students. Use the procedural text to gather your materials and make your own bookmarks/crafts, all the while discussing how each part of the procedural text helps you understand the procedure. The students end up with a super cute new craft and have fun reading along the way! The kids have so much fun creating their bookmarks that this could even be done as a party activity!

heart bookmark


Use a SCOOT Activity to Review

I am a sucker for using scoots to review! I love that it gets the kids up and moving, and they love it too! Turn this into Valentine’s Day fun by finding some cute Valentine’s themed task cards. There are plenty of moderately priced task cards on Teachers Pay Teachers. The Valentine’s Day Context Clues Task Cards pictured below can be purchased here.




“We Love…” Writing

I love creating bulletin boards and displays with my students’ work, ideas, and creations. As a reading teacher, I go with the “We Love Books” theme. Students chose a book that they love and write about why they love it inside a heart. This can go as in-depth as you want. I like to have them include quotes, character descriptions, connections, and themes. Once they complete their writing, they are invited to add a heart background and decorations. These are then added to a display outside the classroom. The parents love seeing all the book recommendations when they come for the class Valentine’s party and it gives the kids great ideas for what to read next. This may be the easiest one to implement. All it takes is some construction paper, a pencil, and some markers/crayons. The Teacher Studio has also created a bulletin board set if you’d like to have it all ready to go for you.

we love books


Reader’s Theater

Reader’s theater is a great way to help students practice their reading fluency. Plus, parents love watching the performances during the party! You can write a reader’s theater script from any Valentine’s Day read aloud. One of my favorites for the younger grades is Arthur’s Valentine by Marc Brown. It’s a pretty easy one to create a script from as well.