Vocabulary: Word Gradients


Sonja recently wrote a post about ways we need to change our vocabulary instruction in Wordshop. I admit that I find it challenging to teach vocabulary in my classroom. I hate to blame time constraints, but I do struggle to find enough time to do Wordshop justice.

Like many middle school teachers, I have 50 minutes a day to teach language arts. This means that my Wordshop needs to be under 10 minutes- preferably 5 minutes. I simply must devote the majority of the class time to reading and writing. So I gauge my vocabulary lessons to be about 5 minutes. These lessons are not about memorizing lists of words but about wordshopping- exploring language. These lessons are print rich and word rich.

This is one of my favorite Wordshop 5 Minute Lessons. My students and I come up with a word like “walk.” Students brainstorm in 1 minute words that are similar to “walk.” They might ask themselves, “How do people move? What are other words are like walk?” Next, we make a quick list on the white board (1 minute). Then students create a “Word Gradient” like the one below (2 minutes). Then we share.


Here is what this activity looks like in one of my student’s notebook. On this day, we talked about types of fish (because that was what they were studying in science) and we created a word gradient about the size of the fish. As you can see, this activity is not about synonyms, it’s about the nuances between words. What are the slight differences between words? How many words do we know about this topic or category?

Screen shot 2014-04-12 at 12.26.32 PM

This is one of my favorite quick, 5 minute Wordshop activities. It is especially helpful during Writing Workshop because students can return to the Wordshop section of their notebooks for lists of words to use in their writing. They can be Word Choosy! In future posts, I’ll share more of my 5 minute Wordshop activities. Let me know what you think.



Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in surprisingly snowy Connecticut, taking long walks in the woods with her yellow lab, and reading the False Prince series by Jennifer Nielsen. Dana was very excited to find out what was at the bottom of 10x on the show, The Curse of Oak Island, last week. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She believes in balanced blended learning and is the co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 


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