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!

Vocabulary Enrichment: Strategies to improve and increase your students' vocabulary


Vocabulary development is an important part of a child’s education! Since language is the system of words and the methods of combining them that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other, it makes since that a large vocabulary improves communication.

Writers most definitely need a large vocabulary to have the words they need to express themselves in an interesting way.  That’s why Shurley English establishes a routine early on to teach students to incorporate new and unfamiliar words.  It’s called a Vocabulary Check, and it includes proven strategies to increase vocabulary. Here’s how it works: 

1. Students keep a Vocabulary Notebook to write down new or unfamiliar words they want to learn more about. 

2. They are taught how to use a dictionary to look up the meaning of the word, according to how it’s been used in context, and write it in their vocabulary notebook.

3. Next, students are taught to use a thesaurus to locate a synonym for the word.  This activity helps expand students’ vocabulary by giving them word choice options.  (Repeating the same words tends to get monotonous.)  They select the synonym of their choice to replace the original word in the sentence and write it in their vocabulary notebook.

4. Students are taught to use a thesaurus to locate an antonym for the word.  Knowing antonyms expands a student’s vocabulary.  Antonyms can help emphasize the writer’s point, show contrast, or explain exactly what the writer means.  Students are asked to write their antonym word choice in their vocabulary notebook.

5. When appropriate, students also learn to use the dictionary to discover the history or etymology of a word.  Knowing the reason why a word means what it means makes it a lot more interesting and memorable, especially when students write the information in their vocabulary notebook and review the information on a regular basis.

Vocabulary Enrichment Activities are another great way to focus students’ attention on new or unfamiliar words in an effort to help them incorporate new vocabulary into their personal word bank.  They provide students with a fun and creative way to integrate required vocabulary skills in individual or in group settings. 

Fall has arrived, and it’s the perfect time to engage your students in a meaningful seasonal vocabulary enrichment activity.   Let’s say that students are learning more about the word “extinct.”  After performing the standard Vocabulary Check, you might incorporate a Vocabulary Enrichment Activity like this one:

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Students will enjoy sharing what they have learned in this Vocabulary Enrichment Activity.  Their final drafts can be displayed in the classroom. In addition, you might connect the Vocabulary Enrichment Activity to a simple art project like this:

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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. 

Vocabulary Enrichment: Discovering the joy of words

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To a word lover, a cleverly constructed phrase with eloquent vocabulary can bring you to tears. I love studying how words look, how they are spelled—knowing how their structure, use, and placement determine their meaning. (Yes, I am a word nerd and proud of it. But that’s for me.) Very few of my students have been as enamored with words like I am, which presents quite a challenge when trying to help students see the value in using just the right words to communicate their ideas.

As an educator, I want to help students discover the joy of words. If nothing else, students will come to appreciate why we say things the way we do in English. More and more, students are required in schools to articulate, in words, their understanding of how things in the world work. So, the way we help kids communicate matters. That’s why I teach kids Power Words. Power Words are synonymous terms that have a more specific meaning. Want your kids’ writing to improve? Show them how to use words that convey very specific meaning.

Take a quick look at this Power Words chart from the Shurley English curriculum. Notice how, in each case, the Power Word has a similar, but more specific or specific contextual meaning that relates to the original word. Sometimes, the original word can pack more punch that the related Power Word, but that’s the beauty of focused vocabulary study. Can’t you just imagine the rich conversations that could ensue in a classroom by discussing how each word, both the original and the Power Word, can impact the meaning of a sentence?

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Look at the word silently in the last column. Let’s take for granted that we all know how to incorporate silently into a sentence…but the word is rather general in meaning. The first thing I would discuss with my students is the context for the word. Since I want my students to thoroughly understand what context is, I usually have them describe various scenarios that can support the meaning of silently. For instance, someone might offer the context of a game of Hide-n-Seek. Someone else might think that a dark, haunted castle is a better fit. Take in as many ideas your as class can generate. Then, choose the one specific context on which to base your sentence.

 Are you getting the picture? Well, I hope so, because that is the point…a picture in your mind—that’s context. Then, the sentence becomes the written expression that relates the thought, a snippet of sublime meaning that can truly enhance your students’ writing. In a way, just as a painter uses various kinds of brushes and paints to express a feeling or a scene, writers paint with words, using tools like the parts of speech, varied sentence lengths, simple and complex sentence structures, and punctuation…all to communicate their ideas. Take some time to explore vocabulary with your kids. If you’re using Shurley English, approach each Power Word event with unbridled enthusiasm, and your students will eventually come to understand the value and artistry of painting with words.


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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.