What's the Deal With Critical Vocabulary?

Already, our staff has been required to attend professional development (PD) days. Sometimes, as an SLP, I worry that the information presented at these PDs isn't exactly relevant to my role within the schools.

However, I must say I am extremely impressed with the PDs that were chosen for this past week. One day was over recognizing the signs of bullying and potential suicide victims. This is such a hot topic among schools in the United States and it is so important that we know the struggles that our students are facing.

The other day focused on a few important topics: Bloom's Taxonomy, Bloom's Question Starters, Formative Assessment Strategies, and the biggie: Critical Verbs and Nouns.

Every single one of these topics is extremely relevant to my job. I do my best to incorporate each of these areas as often as possible during therapy. Since I work with a variety of grade levels (PreK-6th), I must understand the developmental levels of my students in each of these areas and attempt to integrate the information into my sessions.

Now, on to what this post is really about:

As you're probably already aware, given the increase of emphasis on the common core, there are 29 critical verbs and 20 critical nouns. As stated on Marilee Sprenger's site, "Researchers estimate 85% of achievement test scores are based on the vocabulary of the standards. Students from poverty, ELL students, and other at-risk students are particularly in need of learning these words in ways that meet their specific learning needs."

Guess what everyone... The children we see in therapy most certainly fall in the area of at-risk students. I know test scores are not everything, nor should we act like they are. However, we want our students to do well, we want them to succeed and we want them to have a chance to earn that proficient/distinguished. We do NOT want our students to become stumped on a state test (or any test!) because they do not understand ONE word in the question. This is how we help them-- by incorporating these critical vocabulary terms into their therapy sessions.

The critical verbs/nouns are the ones you see in test questions such as:

  1. Identify two presidents.
  2. Compare and contrast the qualities of these two presidents.
  3. Which president do you feel performed best while in office? Cite evidence to support your answer.

Okay, maybe that question was a little loaded with critical vocab, but really, look at all those tough words! If a student doesn't know the meaning of ONE of them (much less the meaning of any of them), how can they correctly answer the questions? They can't. They're behind before they even begin.

To prevent this from happening, I suggest that during each therapy session, throw in some of these words. Write one on the board or say it aloud and watch the students' expressions. Our students may not ask what the word means! You may have to watch for clues that they do not understand the vocab, and take that time as a teachable moment. Use some of the formative assessment ideas from the link earlier in the post and see who is really understanding the vocab you are using.

"Okay everyone, who can distinguish the difference between ___ and ___."

"I want you to evaluate your neighbor's speech today."

"Look at this from the Old Lady's point of view. How do you think she is feeling?" (Yeah, you know you use the Old Lady books!)

"Who can make a connection between the book from last week and the one from this week?"

Simple. Use those words, even with your littlest students. Take the time to use the vocab, check for comprehension of the vocab, and if there is confusion, teach them the vocab. It doesn't have to be a whole session, but maybe 2-5 minutes of a session, to explain the vocabulary that our students so desperately need to understand. Sometimes we get really hung up on the cute theme vocabulary and forget to add in the really "tough" stuff. Challenge your students! They can handle it!

This PD really encouraged me to implement this vocab in my own sessions. This is an area of improvement for me! This being said, I created a product to go along with the critical vocabulary we should be using in our classrooms.

This is a monthly reflection booklet for our students. We, as teachers, are encouraged to reflect, but so should our students. They need to remember what they are working on in speech/language therapy and WHY they are there.

Check it out here!

I do not do much writing in my therapy room either (we have specialists that work on much of that), but I would like to incorporate it somehow into my sessions. This booklet has one page per month for the months August-June (plus one for reflecting on winter break). There is also a page for the student to record up to 3 goals they are working on, as well as a glossary of the critical vocabulary that both you AND the student can refer to. Take this time to talk about the target word, discuss as a group, then allow time for your students to write a response.

Your administrators will be happy you did.

And so will you.

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  1. Our school is really trying to buckle down and use these words on a daily basis. I'm all for it! Loved your post as it really helps others understand why it is so important to be exposing our students, starting in kindergarten, every single day!

    First Grade Frame of Mind

    1. Thank you! It's something that was always there in the back of my mind, but going over it at our PD really stressed the importance to me. I want to do all I can to help out students and teachers alike, so hopefully incorporating these words will do so! :)

  2. Love this! Keep spreading the words!
    Marilee Sprenger