Reading Assignments the #UDL Way: Vocabulary Supports (Part 2)

The Barrier of Poverty and Vocabulary

In previous posts, I have mentioned that when working with students in poverty, "the achievement gap is largely a vocabulary gap." One of the main reasons why reading assignments are such a challenge, is that students do not understand the vocabulary. Why?

Many of our students living in poverty come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where they did not experience many of the same enrichment opportunities as their peers. When students come to the Milton Hershey school, we often have to help them play "catch-up" with learning vocabulary. My experiences made me think about how to Universally Design reading assignments for ALL students to read the SAME article (required by the curriculum) and experience success at the same time. In my previous post, I discussed different options for text. Here are some thoughts on how you can provide vocabulary supports for students:

Before We Get Started: Have a Central Location! 

One very important item that I failed to mention before is the fact that you should have a "central location" for all of your students to access materials. This could take the form of an Edmodo post, class website, or network folder. I have found that embedding all of my supports into a LiveBinder is very much effective. If you are not familiar with LiveBinders, it is a way to create an electronic binder that you can fill with documents, websites, and media files. I highly recommend that you check this out!

Vocabulary Support # 1: For Key Vocabulary Terms

I usually begin a lesson by pre-teaching or reviewing key vocabulary terms that students will need to understand before reading the article. I have found that students often forget these terms once I have taught them. It goes back to what Marzano has said about learning new vocabulary terms. Students need to have 6 "meaningful interactions with new vocabulary terms" in order to understand them. With this in mind, I create a set of Quizlet flashcards. They serve a few purposes.

First, they are a tool to help me review vocabulary terms with students. No worksheets or PowerPoint slides needed. I just go to Quizlet and pull up the flashcards.

Secondly, when students are reading the article, they can go back and reference the cards if they get stuck.

Finally, my students can go back and use the games / quiz features to study the terms, which will appear on an assessment in the future.

Vocabulary Support # 2: For Other Words

Let's face it, we can pre-teach vocabulary terms and still miss a few words. I will never forget when one of my students thought that "New England" was in Italy. I had assumed they knew this! Ugh!

For these moments, we need to have supports in place for our students to understand some of the words that we don't pre-teach. I provide a few different options because I have different types of learners in my room.

For my "book worms," kinestic, and advanced visual learners, I provide them with VisuWords, which breaks the definitions of a vocabulary term into a web-like graphic organizer. My kinestic learners like this tool because they can move and manipulate the bubbles in the graphic organizer. I find that my basic visual learners are overwhelmed with Visuwords.

For my other visual learners, I provide them with a basic visual dictionary. Although there are many out there, I really like Shahi, which provides students with actual pictures of the vocabulary terms in Google, Yahoo, and Flickr images. I would recommend using this with older students and using a basic visual dictionary for younger students. One recommendation is Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary.


The idea is for students to have the supports that they need in one location, so that they will actually use them when they need them. When students understand what they are reading, they are more likely to read and comprehend what they read!

Watch out for my last installment of Reading Assignments the #UDL Way, when I discuss how to create interaction! In this installment, I will reveal what my LiveBinder (with all of the supports in place) will look like! 

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