3 Early Literacy Essentials that Are Essential for Secondary Teachers

Notes from the Classroom

When I’ve asked students who identify as non-readers to recount a happy school-related memory, more often than not, they return to somewhere in elementary school. Most were happy because they knew what they were doing, and when they didn’t, someone explicitly told them what to do.

That changes by high school. At that point, we assume that they “know better.” But the truth is the same: kids don’t know what they don’t know.

So, how can we help these high school students, who may require more explicit skill instruction?

Earlier this year, the General Education Leadership Network published a handbook of “Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy.” Though the document focuses on early literacy, it includes three practices that can establish equity and support for secondary readers and writers as well.

1. “Provisions of abundant reading material in the classroom”

As reading teachers, we must create spaces dripping with literacy. It’s in reading widely that a reader truly grows.

At the elementary level, this might look like readers’ workshops and students’ regularly “book shopping.” At the secondary level, this might look like daily independent reading and encouraging students to read appropriately leveled texts for pleasure.

In both scenarios, the key comes down to choice.

The idea of choice tends to drift off as students leave elementary school, and as class-wide texts become the bread and butter of ELA courses. Yet by incorporating independent, student-selected, teacher-approved texts, many of our resistant readers begin to feel a sense of empowerment.

2. “Intentional and ambitious efforts to build vocabulary and content knowledge”

Many high school students arrive with a rich bank of academic vocabulary to draw from, while some do not. Many may require explicit instruction on domain-specific vocabulary in order to access the content.

Here are some ways to instruct vocabulary:

As students work through vocabulary strategies, the Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy see the value in encouraging “talk among children while learning and reading.” Talk allows for processing time and prompts students to use the vocabulary in a disciplinary context.

3. “Activities that build reading fluency and stamina with increasingly complex text”

In my work as a literacy interventionist, I see students struggle with complex texts on the daily. But I have noticed that when reading is a shared task, students are more willing to dive into this challenging work.

At the elementary level, this may look like paired reading. At the secondary level, the needs  often move beyond fluency and into comprehension. That’s why a strategy like reciprocal teaching works well when students read collaboratively. In this strategy, students are assigned roles to model effective thinking moves.

Another way to build stamina with challenging texts is by using other text types as supplements. Students will define reading by what we assign to them. Suddenly, a challenging and irrelevant text from the canon represents all of reading, and may feel unreachable to a struggling reader. But by exposing students to multiple genres and text types, alongside a more challenging text, we breathe relevance and resonance into what students may perceive to be beyond their grasp.

Teaching multimodal texts is an effective way to build understanding, particularly for students with weak literacy skills. Multimodal options encourage students to read about the same idea, but in a more relevant way. And after all, increasing relevance breathes life into learning, and positions even resistant readers to be lifelong readers.

Lauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and an advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions.  When she’s not teaching, Lauren often runs for the woods with her husband and their three sons/Jedi in training and posts many stylized pictures of trees on Instagram.

Executive Summary: Helping Students Own Language Through Word Study, Vocabulary, and Grammar Instruction


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Last Updated: 24-10-2016 11:43


Dr. Dianna Townsend – Literacy Webinar

Who is Using the Vocabulary?: Engaging Students in Active Practice with New and Important Words

Thursday, April 20, 2017   7-8pm EST


51yHuBUVLjL._SX388_BO1,204,203,200_When students, or any of us, learn new words, they need opportunities to practice with and personalize those words. This is especially true if those words are essential to something they are reading or if they need to use them in their own writing. This interactive webinar will share approaches and strategies that encourage students’ active practice with important words to support reading comprehension and writing. Additionally, this webinar will share instructional and environmental resources that teachers can easily integrate into their classrooms to support all students, and especially those who are struggling with vocabulary learning, reading, and writing. Finally, this webinar will include suggestions for identifying whether or not a vocabulary strategy is a good fit for a specific learning objective, as well as some vocabulary assessment tools that can be adapted to any word list or lesson.

Recommended Reading: Vocabulary Their Way: Word Study with Middle and Secondary Students, 2nd Edition by Shane Templeton, Donald R. Bear, Marcia A. Invernizzi, Fancine R. Johnson, Kevin Flanigan, Dianna R. Townsend, Lori Helman and Latisha Hayes.

Dr. Dianna Townsend is an Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate literacy courses and serves as the Graduate Program Director for the Master’s Degree in Literacy Studies. Dr. Townsend is a co-author of Vocabulary Their Way: Word Study with Middle and Secondary Students, and her research has been published in, among other journals, Reading Research Quarterly, The Elementary School Journal, and Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Dr. Townsend facilitates regular professional development workshops on vocabulary instruction, reading in the disciplines, and academic language. Prior to becoming a professor, Dr. Townsend taught high school English and psychology in Massachusetts.

Dr. Laura Tortorelli – Literacy Webinar

Words in the World: Transferring Word Study to Everyday Reading and Writing

Thursday, November 17, 2016  7-8pm EST


Word study is one of the most effective ways to teach children to read and spell words. All too often, however, teachers spend hours assessing children, designing sorts, cutting up words, and sorting them, only to find that children continue to misread and/or misspell these words or similar words in their other language arts work. This webinar is designed to help you and your students get more out of your classroom word work. We will review the step-by-step process of designing effective, individualized word study with an emphasis on this final step, embedding word study in meaningful classroom reading and writing activities. We will explore classroom activities to help children “make the jump” from word study lessons to real texts and writing assignments, including dictated writing, word hunts, word study reader’s theatre, and more. We will discuss strategies to help children extend their word study knowledge by approaching new words through analogy and morphological (spelling-meaning) connections. We will also discuss the most effective way to teach high frequency words in the context of word study. Finally we will discuss effectively pairing texts with word study lessons, and the right times to use decodable books, leveled books, children’s literature, and even basal readers in word study.

Tortorelli-LauraLaura Tortorelli received her Ph.D. in reading education from the University of Virginia in 2015 and is currently an assistant professor in the Teacher Education department at Michigan State University.  Her research examines the context in which children develop into proficient readers and writers in the early elementary grades, with a focus on how word recognition and writing skills develop from Prekindergarten to 3rd grade. She draws on developmental perspectives (Chall, 1986; Ehri, 2005; Sharp, Sinatra, & Reynolds, 2008) and the RAND model (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002) of reading comprehension to highlight how reader, text, and task factors interact in an iterative process that shapes reading development over time. She has recently been named the 2016-2017 Jeanne S. Chall Visiting Researcher by Harvard School of Education and an Emerging Scholars Fellow by the Hall of Reading Fame. Her current projects analyze writing in Prekindergarten, alphabet knowledge in kindergarten, and interactions between reading fluency and text complexity in second grade. In addition, Dr. Tortorelli is beginning a year-long collaboration with teachers in the Flint Community Schools to support their early literacy instruction.

Word Study

Executive Summary:
Helping Students Own Language Through
Word Study, Vocabulary, and Grammar Instruction


White Paper:
Helping Students Own Language Through
Word Study, Vocabulary, and Grammar Instruction


Members of the Word Study Work Group

Members of the Word Study Work Group

Welcome to the word study resource page! We hope you find these materials helpful. If you have word study materials that are teacher tested and approved that you would like to share, please email one of the consultants (email addresses to the right).

-Delia DeCourcy, Michele Farah, Diane Katakowski, Susan Koceski

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