A Better Way to Teach Vocabulary

Continuing my quest to find hidden educational gems that are ALSO helpful to struggling students, I’m happy to introduce Teachers Pay Teachers seller Social Studies Success. While you’ll find materials in her store that are mostly geared toward middle school students, many of her fabulously fun strategies can be translated to multiple age levels and abilities.  Today I invite you to give her vocabulary strategies a try!


Too often, teachers think of vocabulary instruction as “copy the words from the back of the book and turn it in…” – at least I know I did! For 5 years, my vocabulary instruction was lost in meaningless assignments for kids – after a test, copy down definitions. I considered my job done – after all, the kids had copied down the term and definition – surely that meant they understood and mastered the vocabulary I was “teaching.”


Guest blogger Social Studies Success teaches us a better way to teach vocabulary, for both students AND teachers. Fun and effective!


It wasn’t until years later, with many frustrated kids along the way, that I learned that I was not doing vocabulary instruction justice. I needed to approach teaching vocabulary the same way I approached teaching content – with active instruction! I researched and applied my instruction down to 3 essential steps of vocabulary instruction:


1. Have students put terms in their own words. Your students will only understand the vocabulary you teach if they own it! They need to understand it by creating and crafting sentences of their own. One method you can use is the “Say What?” technique. In this activity, students craft their own meaning as they interview different groups of students what they think the word means. Then through a guided discussion, they begin to build understanding of the term.


2. The second step is for the students to create visuals of the terms. This can be done with an illustrated dictionary or with a fun “Fist List” activity.  Then through a guided discussion, they begin to build understanding of the term.


3. The final step of vocabulary instruction is to allow students to play games with the words. Students can play Pictionary, $25,000 Pyramid or act out the terms in Muscle Memory.


Social Studies Success, another educational gem.  While not specifically targeted to struggling students, find great resources that help all kinds of learners in upper elementary and middle school.


Social Studies Success is designed to engage and excite students in the Social Studies classroom. Each lesson is carefully crafted to include an Interactive Notebook component as well as strategies to support struggling readers.  You can find these lessons at Social Studies Success on TPT plus more ideas from her blog here.



Defiance vs. Learning Difficulty – Consider This

What a thrill! I’m honored to be a guest author at What I Have Learned, sharing my experience regarding children’s defiance vs. learning difficulties. What I have learned about Jessica over at What I Have Learned is that she is a teacher with a big, big heart. Because she is such a fan of differentiated instruction she learns whatever is necessary to provide ALL students the tools they need to succeed.


What I Have LearnedSo here’s the question, what should you consider when your child is acting out, not paying attention, or appears to be downright defiant? Read Defiance or Learning Difficulty? The Case for Visual Thinking and learn if your child might be inadvertently hiding something from you.


Jessica leaves comments open, so please feel free to share your thoughts!



A Gathering Place for Elementary School Blogs

Ever wish you could read all of your relevant educational blogs in one place? I’m happy to share that Inner Pieces Gallery is featured at Elementary School Blogs. The founders like to call it a “blog newspaper.” I like to call it a great place for parents and teachers to find helpful resources for their elementary age kiddos.


Discover the most recent blog posts for the day, or catch up on posts throughout the week. You’ll find some familiar blogs plus some terrific ones you haven’t heard of yet.


Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though. With so much to read and learn and see, you might just wonder, “Where did all that time go?”



Give Elementary School Blogs a try!


Color the Stars & Stripes Bookmarks for 4th of July

Summertime is a great time to encourage kids to enjoy leisure reading. Even if you don’t celebrate Independence Day here in the U.S., these stars and stripes bookmarks give kids a fun excuse to crack open a new book!


Color-Me Bookmarks: Stars & Stripes for 4th of July. A fun Independence Day excuse to keep the kids reading.  Free printable for kids.


Simply print, cut, color, and find a good book to put your bookmarks into. Be as creative as you wish with all that red, white and blue.


Want even more 4th of July printable freebies? You might enjoy these:


Independence Day Visual Tracking Printable

Track the Stars and Crack the Secret Code





Seek and Find and Color Me Stars

Seek and Find and Color-Me Stars







Fun Printable Paper Scene "Summertime"

Printable Paper Scene: Summertime





Plus you’ll find an Independence Day Visual Memory Matching Game in my store here:

An Independence Day Visual Memory Matching Game for the 4th of July.  Part of a Holidays bundle to strengthen children's visual memory skills and more.The Holidays







For access to all of the above printable activities and more, please sign up below.



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Center Management Ideas for Struggling Students

For parents and teachers of struggling students, some of the many helpful resources out there may not necessarily be targeted to those with learning challenges.  I’d like to introduce you to a few hidden gems from Teachers Pay Teachers.  My hope is that these not-so-obvious resources make your efforts to help your child improve learning abilities a little easier.  Let’s begin our treasure hunt with Melissa’s Teacher Mall.


Melissa's Teacher Mall specializes in:       * Differentiated Learning      * Common Core      * Center/Station Activities for use during Guided ReadingHi Everyone. I am Melissa from Melissa’s Teacher Mall. I have been teaching since 2006. I opened my Teachers Pay Teachers store because I wanted to highlight the benefit of centers/stations. I find that my students really blossom in small group instruction and I wanted to share my resources with other teachers.


In our center rotation we have 2 games centers. Parents can play these games at home with their children to reinforce any skill the child needs.


Using sight words cards in centers or stations.

The sight words cards I used with my Kindergartener.

Just grab a set of task cards. You can make your own or purchase a set. Task Cards are just fancy flash cards. They can be very basic or very detailed.


Look for a set that targets what you are working on with your child. Use cards that challenge your child. And make up a game. The basic instructions are below for the games we use in our classroom.



Game board for centers or stations.

Here’s a game board I made for my train lover.

  • Game Boards – Use a Chutes and Ladder Game Board or any game board, a set of dice and task cards in the subject area your child is struggling. The player must answer the question on the task card correctly before they move. This is a fun way to reinforce any skill. As you play you might want to get a few wrong just to show your child that you are not perfect.
  • Showdown – Stack task cards in the center 1st player reads the top card. All players write the answer on a piece of paper or wipe off board. Turn your paper face down and wait for everyone to write their answer. When everyone is ready the answers are revealed. You can keep score by getting a marker or chip for each correct answer or make tally marks on a piece of paper.


Make a memory with your child, play a game. Just remember games should be fun. It is OK to be silly and I usually let the kids win.


Melissa’s Teacher Mall specializes in differentiated learning, Common Core, and center/station activities for use during guided reading.   Find Melissa’s Teacher Mall here on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.  Check out her blog here.



My Dad the Superhero, A DIY Printable Book for Kids of All Ages

What child, at some point in time, hasn’t believed his dad was a superhero? Okay, so that moment may never last as long as dads would like, probably ending right around the time children learn to tie their own shoes. That doesn’t mean the admiration is gone. This Father’s Day, wouldn’t it be nice to let Dad feel like a superhero again?

 My Dad the Superhero, A DIY Printable Book for Kids of All Ages. Great for Father's Day, birthday, or just because.

Kids can surprise Dad with My Dad the Superhero, a one-of-a-kind Father’s Day card OR a very personal stand-alone gift. (Great for birthdays, too.)


Just as with My Mom the Superhero, each page begins with a writing prompt. Children old enough to write can finish each sentence by writing why Dad is such a superhero in their eyes. Younger kids can either draw or cut and paste pictures into the spaces provided.


Easy Instructions

This superhero themed pdf is designed to be duplex printed. Don’t mind the upside down pages. Those are intentional. Use standard printing paper unless the kids want to color with thick, bleed-through markers. In that case, card stock may be better.


The simplest way to create this mini-book is to remove all 5 duplex printed pages from the printer together. Fold the entire stack in half, then staple the pages or sew them together with string or ribbon. If the pages somehow wind up out of order, simply refer back to the original file or to the order of pages listed below:


  • Cover page
  • My dad is a superhero because… he always knows…  
  • My dad is a superhero because… he’s really good at…
  • My dad is a superhero because… he helps me…
  • My dad is a superhero because… he teaches me…


With those pages in order, the following pages will fall into place:


  • My dad is a superhero because… he likes to…
  • My dad is a superhero because… he often says…
  • My dad is a superhero because… when I’m with him I feel…
  • My dad is…


Ready to download My Dad the Superhero? If you’re already a subscriber, sign in. If not, please join us! Enter your completely private information below and follow the super simple next steps.



Looking for a slightly different kind of Father’s Day mini-book? You might enjoy a Book of Love and Gratitude for Dad.


Why Can’t We Blame the Teachers? Part 2

In Why Can’t We Blame the Teachers, Part 1 we learned about some of the challenges our teachers and school districts face when teaching students with learning disabilities. If you didn’t get the chance to read part 1 yet, please start here.


How do we prevent the majority of reading failure? Read "Why Can't We Blame the Teachers? Part 2."


Now the question is:

Is Anybody Listening?

Has anyone else noticed this travesty problem since Walsh, Glaser, and Wilcox reported their findings back in 2006?


The answer to that is yes. People are talking. People in power like Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are listening to parents and educators advocating for so many children who are falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. According to James H. Wendorf, Executive Director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD),


Though Senator Cassidy’s amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 was not adopted, it served as a pivotal moment in this conversation. Senator Cassidy’s amendment would have allowed states and school districts to use federal funding to train educators to better understand, identify and address the early indicators of learning disabilities, including dyslexia.


Okay, so it’s a start. But are we back to square one? Even if the amendment had passed, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is woefully underfunded. Per NCLD, even with proposed budget increases, the total congressional share is still far below what Congress promised back in 1975.


To see Senator Cassidy championing the need for better services, watch this enlightening video  shared by The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity (5+ minutes):

What about Dyslexia, Education Secretary Duncan?


With all of that in mind, do you still want to blame the teachers?


Yes, they are in charge of providing your child with a free and appropriate education. They are doing that quite well for the children who already learn with ease. For the approximately 1 in 5 children with learning and attention challenges, our teachers may be just as frustrated as parents are. They simply may not have the proper tools.


Who Is Responsible?

Realizing that we can’t, in good conscience, blame the teachers for our children’s difficult education, what can we do?


In a perfect world, children’s learning disabilities would be identified early and teachers would know exactly which intervention strategies to implement. But that’s not where we are now. The onus of helping your own child is on you.


To protect your child from feelings of inadequacy and even hopelessness due to learning challenges, get him the help he needs. Find an educational therapist. If that’s cost prohibitive, become your child’s best learning coach.


Learn about learning disabilities and strategies that help. Invest in materials that will improve your child’s ability to learn with ease and confidence. Learn to be targeted and specific in helping your child, and if you have questions, ask a specialist.


If you have any questions about where to start, you can always connect with me here.  And please, please, do make your child’s teacher your ally, not your enemy. You’re all in this together.