One of my favorite fourth grade language arts units to teach is word analysis. Why? Because word analysis skills help kids become stronger independent readers. I love showing students that they can go from relying on other people to learn what a word in a book means to being able to figure it out themselves! They become more confident readers as they learn different strategies to tackle new words.
You probably already know that vocabulary knowledge is an essential part of reading comprehension. The more words a student knows, the better he/she will be able to read new texts and understand new ideas and concepts. But with about a zillion words in the English language, and increasingly difficult academic language in the upper grades, word analysis can be a really challenging area for students. So we know we need to teach them word solving skills. But how can we ensure that they keep using them all year (and life) long?
It’s All About That Spiral
The approach that has worked best for me is to spiral, spiral, spiral. I start off by teaching explicit vocabulary solving skills and strategies during a word analysis unit early in the school year. But to really learn how to use these vocabulary skills on their own, I have to make sure students are getting opportunities to use them every day all. year. long.
This means TONS of reading, exposure to unfamiliar words, direct instruction of vocabulary words, and revisiting all those word solving skills daily.
What Are Word Analysis Skills?
Okay, before I go much further – word analysis is basically word study. But what does that look like at the the upper elementary level? Here in Virginia, our standards focus on these specific word analysis skills in the upper elementary grades (L.4.4 and L.5.4 if you teach Common Core):
- use context clues to clarify the meaning of unknown words and phrases
- differentiate among multiple meanings of words using context clues and sentence structure
- use knowledge of roots, prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, antonyms, and homophones to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases
- use word reference materials to locate needed information
- identify an author’s use of figurative language
The goal is to help students learn the skills to decipher unknown words as they read independently. Kids start to see that they can use the content of the text they’re reading to figure out what new words and phrases mean. This includes using context clues, but it also means taking apart the word (i.e., breaking it into the root word and affixes) and comparing it to other words they know. They also learn to use word reference materials more effectively so that they can find the information they need. These skills are all key to becoming a stronger reader with a larger general and academic vocabulary.
How Do We Make Word Analysis Part of the Daily Routine?
So we get how important word analysis strategies are. But how do we make sure that students keep using these skills when they read new words after the word analysis unit is over? Here are some ways that I’ve made word analysis instruction a part of the daily routine.
Get Kids Reading
Okay, this one is obvious. The single best thing kids can do is read different types of text (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, functional text, etc.) at different levels. If you don’t have an independent reading time in your language arts block, now is the time to start one!
I also use leveled content-focused texts in reading groups that introduce new vocabulary words. The key is finding that sweet spot where they have enough background knowledge to attack a few selected words rather than being overwhelmed by completely new information.
As they’re reading, students can use sticky notes and graphic organizers to show the word analysis strategies they used for different words (though I don’t like to overdo this – I don’t want to turn it into a chore).
A great way for students to practice figuring out the meaning of new words is by listening to books being read aloud. If you’re already doing a daily read aloud, this is an easy place to add some word analysis practice. As you read a chapter book or mentor text, stop at unfamiliar words. Have students discuss what they think they mean and what clues they used to figure it out. (This is a good opportunity for you to model and review those strategies, too.) Any book will work well, especially informational books and historical fiction!
I like to keep a running list posted of new vocabulary words as we go through a book. Totally optional.
Use Anchor Charts and Word Walls
I LOVE using anchor charts. I use them when I first teach all of the different strategies and keep them up all year long so students can refer back to them. Mini anchor charts in reading notebooks also work if you’re short on wall space!
You can also create a word wall for synonym and antonym pairs, homophone pairs, and common affixes. I like using interactive word walls that students can add to when they find examples in their reading. They can jot them on a sticky note and add them to the wall.
Use Warmup Questions
You can use stand-alone questions or questions with short passages as part of a daily warmup. This is an easy way to spiral through these skills and it only takes a few minutes. I love throwing a warmup question up on the interactive whiteboard and having students do a little word work on their own whiteboards. These are also great to use as time fillers when you find yourself with a few extra minutes. Need help coming up with questions? Grab a free word analysis question stems list below!
Implement a Vocabulary Word of the Day
A vocabulary word of the day is another good way to have students practice word analysis skills in the classroom. You can ask them to segment a word into its root word and affixes, come up with a synonym or antonym, etc. It can go up on your whiteboard, be included in a morning message, or even be an “entrance ticket” to enter the classroom in the morning! Make it fun by challenging students to use the buzzword in their normal conversations. Maybe they get to ring a bell when they use it! You can pick any word you want, but I like to pull from academic content they’ll be seeing or use words my students struggle with (like character traits).
I also recommend revisiting previously taught vocabulary words. You know what they say about “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Multiple exposure to words in different scenarios will help expand kids’ vocabularies and get them using all those word solving skills!
Use Literacy Station Activities
If you have word work stations, morning work bins, early finisher options, or centers, you can easily add some quick individual or partner activities that get kids using their word analysis strategies. I’m not talking about busy work, but authentic opportunities to learn new vocabulary words. Here are a few ideas to try:
- file folder games
- crosswords and word searches
- task cards
- sorting activities
- vocabulary word scavenger hunts
- poem of the day/week
- board games like Scrabble
If you have laptops or iPads handy, you can also have students practice using online word reference tools. But keep in mind that they’re set up differently than print resources. My students always needed needed a lot of practice with both.
Bring Other Content Areas into Language Arts
Students are certainly going to come across new words in areas like science, social studies, and math. Using short content-focused passages with those key words and lots of text support is a helpful way to reinforce vocabulary word meanings, too. I also love using primary sources (but you have to be sure to build that background knowledge first). Another fun activity is to have students create a class glossary or dictionary of terms that they learn as you teach a unit!
The biggest way to incorporate word analysis skills in your classroom all year long is to have kids read, read, read and to read, read, read to them! The more they come across new words and phrases, the more opportunities they have to figure out what they mean! Doing a spiral review of word solving skills like using context clues, word parts, and word reference sources will keep kids actively working to solve those unknown word meanings!
Hope you found some helpful strategies! Let me know in the comments how else you work word analysis practice into your classroom!