The Playbook of Literary Success: Vocabulary

Playbook with Shurley English.jpg

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.

Competence and Confidence with Shurley English.png

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!

Pronunciation Matters: A look at commonly mispronounced words

Pronunciation with Shurley English.jpg

I’ve had the pleasure of living around the United States- on the East coast, the South, the Midwest, and the West; some people say they can even hear a British English accent when I speak. Hmm?  I grew up with one grandma speaking with a thick Southern accent, the other had a Midwestern accent and called the sofa a “davenport.” I call soft drinks “pop” and gym shoes are “tennis shoes.”  I find it interesting to hear the various words we use around our country and the pronunciations for words we use on a daily basis that are actually incorrect.   So today, let’s have a little fun and step back into the classroom to take a look at some commonly mispronounced words.

almondThe “L” is always silent! Who knew?  Say, “ah-mund” not “all-mund.” 

bury It is pronounced just like berry, not “burr-ri.”

dessert If you say, “dizz-urt” you’re correct.  It’s not pronounced “des-ert” like the dry barren land.

 coupon:  The correct pronunciation is “Koo-pon” (pon as in pawn). It is often mispronounced as “koo-pun” (pronunciation of u as in sun).

 cocoaIt should be pronounced as “koh-koh,” not “koh-koh-wa.”

electoralWe’ve been saying: e-lek-TOR-al; say: e-LEK-tor-al.

mischievousWe’ve been saying: miss-CHEE-vee-us; pronounce it: MISS-che-vus.

realtorWe’ve been saying: REE-la-tur; it’s actually pronounced: REEL-tur.

sherbet:  Do you say: SHER-bert; oops! I do! The true pronunciation is: SHER-bet.

oftenThe “T” is silent, although you may still see heated debates surrounding the "T." Often rhymes with coffin. 

ideal: While ideal is not necessarily a commonly mispronounced word, it is a word that has a regional variance in usage. Ideal is NOT conventionally a synonym for idea, though sometimes it is used that way. Here’s how Webster’s Dictionary defines these two words:

            Ideal-an honorable or worthy principle or aim

            Idea-existing as a mental image or in fancy or imagination only


It’s easy to get sucked in to the region we live in and pick-up verbal habits of the people by whom we’re surrounded. So, pay attention to the words you use and their pronunciation as you leave your mark on today’s youth.

Comment /Source

Kimberly Crady

Kimberly Crady is an adventurous woman with an immense love for life, learning, and teaching. After teaching in upper elementary classrooms for nearly 10 years, she joined the Shurley Team in 2005.  Kimberly has had the unique experience of teaching Shurley English lessons in all levels, Kindergarten-8th grade and training teachers across the United States.  Kimberly is a National Consultant and SEDA Teacher for Shurley Instructional Materials.


Kimberly’s passion for helping people and living a healthy lifestyle has led her to continue her education in the area of Health and Wellness.  She enjoys numerous outdoor activities from hiking and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains to paddle boarding in the ocean; although, these days you can find her practicing hot yoga in a Bikram Yoga studio. She also enjoys traveling abroad, live music, reading, and spending time with her favorite mutt, Lu.  Kimberly’s experience as a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Teen Life Coach helps support her firm belief in teaching the whole person, especially in the classroom.


What is cyclical spelling?

Cyclical Spelling with Shurley English.jpg

Here’s an idea to kick your kids’ spelling prowess into high gear. While it’s true that some kids are just naturally good spellers, my experience has been that most are not. They need a sure-fire way to lock in accurate spelling, especially when summer time rolls around and school is out.

Cyclical spelling might just be for you and your kids. Here’s how it works:

1. Start small.

Choose a source from which you will draw out vocabulary. It might be the word list your kid(s) used during the school year. Words can be drawn out of a book that you are reading aloud this summer, from a book your child is reading, from the newspaper, or even from video games with text narration.

Now, here’s the “start small” part…only pick one word a day! You pick it, or your child picks it—but pick only one. You will pick one word a day, but make it a fun competition between you and the whole family.

For that one word that is picked, have your players write it down somewhere fun. You can write words in sand in the sandbox, in sugar scattered on the table, or on paper with liquid jello. This is the time to get creative! The goal is for the word to be practiced at least six times throughout the day…and it MUST involve actually writing it down.

At the end of the day, at a designated time, the word should be spelled aloud and then written on lined paper. Everyone who is participating needs to have their own sheet of paper so that the list can grow.


2. Add a word-a-day.

When day two comes, pick another word and follow the same procedure for the new word. But, now enters the “cyclical spelling” approach. At the end of day two, both the first word AND the new word should be recited and then spelled correctly on the developing list.

Now that you will have two words for the spellers to spell, it’s time to pick the Teacher of the Day (TOD), who will be in charge of administering the cyclical spelling test. So, at the end of day two, someone needs to be in charge of gathering all spellers to take the Two-Word Test. The TOD will also be in charge of grading. Keep it light. You could implement M&M rewards…one M&M per correctly spelled word.

Remember, it's all about spelling AND having fun! At the end of day three, there will be three words on the quiz. At the end of day four…four words. You get the idea.


3. Keep the cycle going!

Continue to add the Word-a-Day and quizzing through all the words each day until you have five words on the list (skip weekends). Then, you will begin to drop off the very first word you started with, and it will now be omitted from the daily quiz. The next new word is added to the bottom of the list, which will, for now and until the end of the contest, contain five words to be quizzed daily.


The beauty of spelling like this over the summer is its cyclical nature. Too often, kids learn a group of words for the Wednesday Pre-Test and the Friday Final Test—and that’s it. When the next list of fifteen or so words is introduced, the first group becomes a mere acquaintance, soon forgotten. With cyclical spelling, spellers accumulate words that they have spelled (correctly!) and get the chance to work with them daily for five days in a row. This, my friends, is intensity without the tension.

Why not give cyclical spelling a try this summer…it may be a real hit with your kids—maybe even the whole family. Remember, the energy you put in is the energy you will get back out of it!


If you are using Shurley English, you engage in cyclical spelling in grades 1 and 2 all school year long. For more information about Shurley English and cyclical spelling in the primary levels, go to



Comment /Source

David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.