They Tried to Make Me Go to Vocab Rehab…I Said “Yes, Yes, Yes”

So, I think I am officially addicted to these little ASCD ARIAS books.

With Common Core looming over us all, one of my main goals for this summer is finally establishing a vocabulary routine for my students that works.

My Requirements for Vocabulary Routine:

  • It cannot take up more than 30 minutes of in-class instruction time (including testing) per week
  • It has to be organic, but still organized
  • I want to do about 5 new words a week
  • It needs to go beyond the old define, make a sentence, match them routine
  • It needs to be something sustainable all year long
  • I can’t kill myself with grading
  • It has to be fun and educational

I honestly thought it was too much to ask for.

And then in comes this handy little book by Marilee Sprenger.

You may have seen my review of another ASCD ARIAS book The Five-Minute Teacher by Mark Barnes–if not check it out here.    These little books pack a punch and attempt to give educators as much bang for their buck as possible.  They are relevant and could easily be read in on a Friday and incorporated into class on a Monday.  Vocab Rehab is definitely worth the 5.99 price!

Cool Ideas from Vocab Rehab 

  • Be purposeful about the words you choose
  • Ditch the 20 word a week lists
  • The goal is to teach vocab to the point where it is easily accessible…so that it actually becomes part of their working vocabulary
  • Ditch “Kid Language”
  • “Teach Up”–>aka use academic language and require your students to do so as well
  • Put words everywhere and celebrate them (I especially like the idea of putting words on the windows!)
  • Vocabulary can be taught and reinforced in 10-5 minute instructional blocks.  She has loads of ideas in the book.
  • Improving your vocabulary is all about connections: draw a picture, connect it to synonyms and antonyms, make it a song, act it out, play games, have fun with it!
  • Bring back the Word Wall–>I’m going to call mine the Wicked Word Wall for added alliteration.
  • Assessment should go beyond the small quiz and vocabulary should be incorporated in writing and oral assessment as well.

The Bottom Line:  Overall, I found this to be a perfect read for what I’ve been trying to do in my classroom next year.  I also think that some of her strategies could help with grammar instruction as well.  This book really made me believe that vocabulary instruction is important, fun, and doable!


Writing Portfolios-Authentic Writing Evaluation

I was lucky enough this summer to attend an AP Summer Institute where honestly I received most of my ideas for next year.  Our moderator, Dr. Becky Daniels, was amazing! The best idea I stole from her is using writing portfolios.  Now, this is not a new idea; however, I really enjoy the all inclusiveness of this portfolio.  It is not just a compilation of the student’s “best” work; it is a compilation of ALL student writing including homework, classwork, and the larger papers for the entire year.


  • Keeps students organized throughout the year because there is a letter and # system for all materials included in the portfolio.
  • No more trashcan-filing.  Students will have a specific place for all writing, so you won’t see your thoughtfully graded papers in the trashcan after you spent hours writing comments on them.
  • Fosters responsibility in students by making them accountable for organization and the quality of the portfolio as well as setting up “Hot Seat” appointments.
  • Fosters reflection because at the end of each quarter the students write a “Letter to the Teacher.”
  • Works on the process of writing, not just giving out letter grades.
  • Places the teacher as a writing coach in the classroom, instead of a knit-picking essay Nazi.
  • Cuts down on grading time by helping teachers avoid monotonous, routine grading.
  • Gives students one-on-one writing instruction through the use of Hot-Seat conferencing and stamped assignments.
  • Students will start only bringing their BEST writing to you because they will want to set up fewer conferences.
  • Students will grow as writers in an organic and less stressful environment.

How the Writing Portfolio Works

The writing portfolio has multiple components.  Depending on the class it is worth 30-50% of a student’s overall quarter grade.  Basically, students will set up a large binder to put all homework, classwork, in-class writings, and formal papers in.  There are also special assignments that students must complete independently throughout the quarter (anywhere between 1-6 assignments).  These independent assignments are known as “stamped” assignments (see below).   They must get a literal stamp of  approval from the teacher on these assignments.  To receive the stamp, students must have one-on-one “Hot Seat” conferences with the teacher in and out of class (see below).  In the last week of the quarter, the student writes a letter to the teacher (see below).

At the end of the quarter, all “stamped” assignments must be completed and all writing must be labeled and organized within the binder/portfolio. The teacher collects the portfolio, checks to make sure everything is there and reads the letter to the teacher. The teacher has seen the majority of this material already because it has been worked on in class or through hot-seat assignments, so the grading of these is relatively simple.  Then the teacher hands it back to the students to use the next quarter.

Stamped Assignments: They are assigned at the beginning of the quarter and the students are given instruction, clear rubrics, and examples.  The students are then expected to work on these throughout the quarter and must meet with the teacher to get them approved to be put into the writing portfolio.  The students must then meet with the teacher in and outside of class and have one-on-one writing conferences over these independent assignments.


The Hot Seat:  I have a special conference chair (it’s red) called The Hot Seat.  So these are known as Hot Seat Conferences.  The paper will receive a special stamp of approval when the teacher feels the piece of writing meets the requirements of the assignment. The goal of these independent assignments is to work on various writing skills (narrative, argumentative, informational, creative) at the pace of the students and show writing as a process.


Letter to the Teacher: At the end of the quarter, the students must have all stamped assignments completed, and in the last week of the quarter they write a letter to the teacher.  This assignment asks students to look over their portfolio and reflect what they have learned about writing in the past quarter.  They must use evidence from their own portfolio to back up their information.


Letter and Number System:  In the top right hand corner the students write a letter (the unit of study) and a number (the assignment in that unit). For example: If you begin the year teaching The Great Gatsby  all Gatsby assignments would have the letter A on them.  So the third assignment in that unit would have A3 in the top right hand corner. See how to set up the portfolio:  Writing Portfolio-AP Table of Contents

Grading: The writing portfolio is worth 50% (AP) or 30% (regular) of the student’s total grade per quarter.  This portfolio actually helps students grades.  If they complete all the Stamped Assignments and do well on in-class essays (AP), then they should receive a good grade if nothing is missing. It is also easy to grade because most of what you are checking off are things you have already assigned. The rubric basically looks like a check off system, with some of the more major assignments being weighted.  Here is an example: AP Portfolio Rubric Sample

AP Timed Writings: This is only if you teach AP or are doing test prep in class. Timed writings done in preparation for the AP Exams are included in the writing portfolio, but are scored by the teacher outside of the student’s presence.  The minimum level of mastery required on these timed writings increases each quarter, beginning with a score of 5 in the first marking period and increasing to a 6 in subsequent nine-week periods.  Failure to meet or exceed the minimum score results in a lower grade on the portfolio.  Students are offered opportunities to write at least one replacement essay if their initial scores fail to meet the required average score for that grading period.  Bonus points are awarded for exceeding each minimum requirement.


Check out my explanation that my students receive (AP) on my syllabus.  It goes more in-depth into some of the areas above.  The Writing Portfolio from Syllabus

Check out my Writing Portfolio-AP Table of Contents which I will hand out to my students at the beginning of the quarter.  It gives the  structure of how to set up the portfolio and discusses some of the finer points of “The Hot Seat.”

Check out what the rubric would look like.  This would be given out near the end of the quarter. AP Portfolio Rubric Sample

Finally, a HUGE shout-out to Dr. Becky Daniels for teaching this amazing portfolio system to me this summer 🙂