________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006


Making Words Stick: Strategies That Build Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension in the Elementary Grades.

Kellie Buis.
Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers, 2004.
157 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 1-55138-174-5.

Subject Headings:
Vocabulary-Study and teaching (Elementary).
Reading comprehension-Study and teaching (Elementary).


Review By Gina Varty.

**** /4

In "Letter to a young clergyman," Jonathan Swift said, "Proper words in a proper place make the true definition of a style." The challenging task for teachers is to organize vocabulary instruction in such a way that words stick in the minds of young readers resulting in the development of a lifelong connection with words and language.

     Traditionally, vocabulary and reading comprehension have been taught through a method of "assign, define, and test." Words may have stuck, but they are associated with spelling lists and rote memorization, not through the sharing of imaginative works with nuances of language, and words met in context rather than in isolation. Making Words Stick book explores innovative ways to deepen and enrich the word knowledge of learners from grades 1 to 8.

     Much more than a "Letter to a young teacher," this 157 page book, with an extensive bibliography and index, "provides elementary teachers with a specific system of best-practice vocabulary instruction that will make oral and printed vocabulary stick." The author, Kellie Buis, has dedicated her career as a teacher, consultant, and university professor to developing children's literacy. Her commitment is evident throughout the book. Simply put, her "Letter to a young teacher" would state:

Words stick when the students

  • are given social support and active learning opportunities without any sense of competition
  • work collaboratively to make sense/purpose of print and the pleasures of print
  • work independently at their level and pace with some choice of material
  • are taught strategies for self-correction and evaluation from the beginning
  • develop positive attitudes and skills to be good readers and writers
  • have choice of what to read and who to read with
  • learn to think a word is important enough to make it mean something
  • are taught in an enjoyable environment where the study of words is an adventure
  • read extensively in age-appropriate books

     The chapters that precede this conclusion detail how to make this happen. Grounding the book by citing research on vocabulary instruction, the author synthesizes this research and creates her own rooted, instructional strategies to enrich the vocabulary of all students.

Chapter 1: Anchoring Word Knowledge

  • provides an overview of these 3 strategies:
    1. Semantic Mapping - read or teach to students.
    2. STRETCH Charts and Shared Reading - read with students.
    3. Independent Word Play During Centres - activities by themselves.

Chapters 2 & 3: Semantic Mapping

  • checklists for preparing a mapping strategy (for read-aloud or picture study).
  • sample maps from "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White.
  • copyable masters for classroom use including: using a dictionary, important words, webbing poetry, story frame.

Chapters 3 & 4: STRETCH Chart Prompted Conversations

  • checklist for coding text (engaging with a highlighter).
  • reference set of more than 20 strategies to focus attention on text including: aesthetic (feelings and attitudes), phonological (letters and sounds), interpreting genre, and comprehension (interpreting meaning).
  • copyable masters for classroom use divided into primary and intermediate and tied to a given strategy.

Chapters 6 & 7: Independent Centres

  • these provide exploration time to take the words introduced during read- aloud/picture study and shared reading times as students Read, Write, and engage in Word-Play.
  • Reading strategies include: partners, say it fast, poetry reading, and readers theatre.
  • Writing strategies include: riddles, good handwriting, retell the story, spelling, and e-mail acronyms.
  • Word-Play strategies include: word ladders, synonyms, Latin and Greek root words, and similes.
  • copyable masters for classroom use for all the strategies.

     These research-based, classroom strategies will make vocabulary "stick with style" with diverse groups of learners. They show that, by creating a positive learner-centered environment for the learning of words through incorporating visual displays and think-and-search activities, the proper word will fall into the proper place. Words can stick for a lifetime, especially when they are presented with delight and a heartfelt love of teaching and learning. If the smiling child on the cover is any indication, this book is bound to make more that words stick.

Highly Recommended.

Gina Varty, a librarian in Edmonton, AB, currently provides library supply for Edmonton Public Schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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