The Playbook of Literary Success: Vocabulary

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What if elementary teachers approached the subject of Language Arts as if it was a competitive sport?  Just think of it… every K-8 teacher would be part of a coaching staff charged with developing players’ language arts knowledge and skills.  In this analogy, the playbook contains plays designed to help each team member achieve literacy success, which is the ultimate goal of the game!  The knowledge and skills learned by each team member will grow into great competence, and every time these competencies are used to practice or compete, confidence will grow.  

Every coach has a secret book of plays, right? Wouldn’t you want to know the secret strategies from the coach’s playbook? Over the next few weeks, we plan to give you a sneak-peek at the playbook and a checklist for each play, including vocabulary, grammar, composition, and writing for all purposes. You will be able to use the checklist to ensure that your special team executes each play with competence and confidence.

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LITERACY PLAYBOOK: Part 1, Vocabulary

The first play in our Literacy Playbook is vocabulary development. Why? Because students need a broad knowledge of words that they can manipulate to make meaning. When students can expertly use words to communicate precisely, it will up the odds that they will be top contenders in a competition that stretches far past the boundaries of our analogy.  Students who can wield their words with confidence have a greater advantage in their future careers. To help them achieve such a “win,” teach students vocabulary in a “play-by-play” approach that includes the following aspects:

For the primary levels:

·Basic alphabetic principle, letter/sound relationships and spelling

·Phonics, word patterns, and syllabication

 For the intermediate levels:

· Word meaning in multiple contexts

· Word relationships (homophones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms)

· Word analogies

· Word etymology

· Figurative language and literary devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc.)

In Shurley English, vocabulary study “goes deep and runs wide,” and every student who is versed in the study of each of these areas of vocabulary will acquire the built-in word knowledge to become a competent and confident master of language.

As you reflect upon your current practice time with vocabulary, consider running these plays like you would run with any other team sport. Using a checklist like this will help you become a reflective teacher, one who always thinks about their craft and conducts active research about what works and what doesn’t. Use the areas listed above like a list of plays you want your students to practice and master.  Observe your students carefully and check for their level of engagement.  If they need more practice, call for extra practice!

Start with this question: “Am I stretching my students’ word knowledge by adding in …”

· Word meaning in multiple contexts?

· Word relationships (homophones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms)?

· Word analogies?

· Word etymology?

· Figurative language and literary devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc.)?


Don’t worry, Shurley English provides the “playbook,” and when you teach it like you would the secret plays from a coach’s playbook, your students will gain the competitive edge they need in the future. Their ability to read, write, and speak in a variety of situations and for various purposes will equip them with the excellent communication skills that are in high demand in every field. Stay tuned for our next installment!

Effective Strategies for Building Vocabulary

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A broad, diverse vocabulary is essential to good writing, and that’s a fact!  Since vocabulary directly affects Word Choice and Voice, two of the Traits of Effective Writing, meaningful vocabulary instruction is absolutely imperative.  As you decide how to approach vocabulary instruction in your classroom, look for effective strategies that will help students:  (a) understand and learn new words, (b) make sense of new vocabulary by incorporating it into what they already know, and (c) remember the meanings of words when they are encountered at a later date or in new material. 

Here are some effective strategies to build vocabulary:

 1. Synonyms and Antonyms: A great place to start building vocabulary is with synonyms and antonyms of words students know.  Synonyms and antonyms can help you write by giving you choices for saying things in more interesting ways. 

2. Read, read, read!: Books, magazines, and newspapers contain more words that you will ever use or hear in a conversation or on television.  Reading teaches new vocabulary, so spend time reading!

3. Context Clues: As you come across a word you don’t know when you are reading, try using the other words in the sentence to figure it out. 

  • Study the sentences before and after the sentence that contains the word you don’t know.
  • Search for clues to identify the new word’s part of speech.
  • See if a synonym or antonym is given.

4. Vocabulary Notebooks: One way to increase your vocabulary is to keep a list of words you know and add new words as you learn them.  Increase your knowledge by including the word’s definition and also write a sentence using the word.

5. Use the Thesaurus: The thesaurus is a book of words and their synonyms.  It’s a book that can help you find the best way to say something by giving you those synonyms as other options or word choices.  The thesaurus also includes antonym word choices.

6. Use a Dictionary: A dictionary helps you understand the meaning of a word.  It also teaches:

  • Spelling
  • Capital Letters
  • Syllable Division
  • Accent Marks
  • Pronunciation
  • Part of Speech
  • Etymology
  • Synonyms and Antonyms

7. Study Word Parts and Forms: You can figure out the meanings of new words by learning about prefixes, suffixes, and roots.  Study them so you can commit them to memory.  Also, look for other word forms of words you already know.


Students need a strong command of different vocabulary words so that they can express themselves using just the right words.  The more words they have in the “word-bank,” the richer their communications with others will be!  Invest in your student’s vocabulary today!

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Jamie Geneva

Jamie Geneva is the Senior National Consultant at Shurley Instructional Materials and is a seasoned subject matter expert in the realm of English Language Arts.  Her career with the company began during the days of the Shurley Method binder, which was pre-1st Edition, and has spanned across three decades.  Over the years, her various roles have included teacher, presenter, state representative, consultant, manager, and most recently, a Shurley English Digital Assistant.  You might not recognize her face, but her voice could certainly sound familar.  That’s because she’s recorded Jingles, Q&A Flow Sentences, and other Shurley English content for many, many years. 

Jamie and her husband, Garret, live in the foothills of eastern Oklahoma. She loves spending quality time with her family, traveling, reading, cooking, and staying connected on social media.

Ms. Geneva received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Public School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK.