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Vocabulary Is Comprehension

Vocabulary Is Comprehension
Getting to the Root of Text Complexity

Foreword by Kathy Ganske

Additional resources:

September 2014 | 200 pages | Corwin

Here is a reading riddle: What knowledge always precedes high-level text comprehension and yet seldom is given sufficient instructional time?

The answer: Word knowledge. 

Our students can’t understand texts without knowing what words mean. It’s that simple. Meanwhile, in our rush toward complex texts, somehow we forget to put a new systematic vocabulary plan in place. In Vocabulary Is Comprehension, Laura Robb provides the instructional plan. And just wait until you see the results!

Laura’s plan takes just 10 to 15 minutes, and much of it is spent in partner and independent work so this is no “add on” to squeeze in. Even better, all materials are included.  Each lesson features a student reproducible along with 50+ pieces of short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—or, if you prefer, use your own text.

Here’s how the plan works:

  • Day 1: You read aloud the short text and students discuss the selected words in their context. Students work in pairs, rereading the text to understand words and phrases, and then share understandings as a class.
  • Days 2 & 3: Students finish partner work and complete the reproducible.

Along the way, the 35+ lessons:

  • Support complex text comprehension
  • Cover academic vocabulary, synonyms, antonyms, multiple meanings, figurative language, denotative and connotative meanings, Greek and Latin roots, and more
  • Address specific CCSS vocabulary and writing standards
  • Include strategies for ELLs and developing readers, and formative assessments
  •  Link to a wealth of online reproducibles, words lists, and printable complex texts

Laura surrounds these ready-to-teach lessons with the routines that help students read increasingly demanding texts across the curriculum. Students blog, tweet, and apply words in many different contexts . . . look out for related words in books, ads, and media . . . and many other collaborative activities that promote deep word knowledge rather than shallow word-defining. If you’re looking for a resource that will make all the difference as you address the new reach for rigorous, complex text reading, Vocabulary Is Comprehension is it.

An author, teacher, coach, and speaker, LAURA ROBB has spent the last four decades in middle school education.  What teachers appreciate most about Laura is her deep commitment to children and adolescents, and her ability to show what best-practice instruction looks like day by day; a survey conducted by Instructor magazine named Laura as one of the nation’s top twenty educators. Currently, in addition to her speaking and consulting, she works part time in grades K-8. 


Foreword by Kathy Ganske
Chapter 1. How the Common Core Has Changed the Rules of the Game Forever (Even If the Standards Go Away)
Big Ambition: Vocabulary in the Context of All the ELA Standards

Vocabulary in the Context of Complex Text Reading

Research Highlights

The Lesson Structure: 10 to 15 Minutes a Day

The Big 10 Approach to Reading Words Closely

The Big 10 and the Common Core Vocabulary Standards

Collaborate and Learn

Chapter 2. Ten Short Lessons for the Big 10
Which Words Do I Teach?

Laying Out the Lessons for the Big 10

Elements of the Lesson

Lesson 1: Understanding Descriptive Words to Visualize

Lesson 2: Decode and Define Multisyllable Words

Lesson 3: Understanding Personification

Lesson 4: Write to Show Understanding of Words

Lesson 5: Synonyms, Antonyms, and Multiple Meanings

Lesson 6: Connecting Words to a Text's Concepts

Lesson 7: Understanding Denotative and Connotative Meanings

Lesson 8: Showing Word Knowledge via Twitter

Lesson 9: Four Words to Respond to Texts

Lesson 10: Multiple Forms, Multiple Meanings

Collaborate and Learn

Chapter 3. Figurative Language
Helping Students Not to Be Cowed by Figurative Language

Guidelines for Reading Poetry

Lesson 1: Alliteration

Lesson 2: Metaphor

Lesson 3: Onomatopoeia

Lesson 4: Repetition

Lesson 5: Simile

Lesson 6: Symbols and Symbolism

Lesson 7: Idioms

Using Discussions to Interpret Figurative Language

Three Reproducibles for Discussing and Writing About Poems

Discussions on Class Blogs

Collaborate and Learn

Chapter 4. Getting to the Root of Words
What the Common Core State Standards Have to Say

Review Lessons on Prefixes and Suffixes

Lesson 1: Prefixes

Lesson 2: Suffixes

A Five-Day Routine for Teaching Roots

Lesson 3: Expand Vocabulary With Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

Lesson 4: Make Words With Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots

How to Link the Lessons to Students' Reading

More Strategies That Use Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

Lesson 5: Prefix Brainstorm

Lesson 6: Denotation-Connotation Map

Collaborate and Learn

Chapter 5. General Academic and Domain-Specific Vocabulary
The CCR Anchor Standards for Reading

Quick Recap: How the Lessons in This Book Address the Anchor Standards

Four Categories of Academic Vocabulary

The Best Use of Word Lists

Why General Academic Vocabulary Is Key

Basic Elements of General Academic Vocabulary Lessons

Lessons for Teaching General Academic Words

Lesson 1: Rate Your Word Knowledge

Lesson 2: ABC List and Link

Lesson 3: Concept Map and Writing

Lesson 4: Words in the World

Lesson 5: Making Analogies on a Class Wiki or Blog

Lesson 6: Tweeting for Word Learning

Collaborate and Learn

Chapter 6. Assessing Vocabulary
So How Are They Reading Complex Texts?

Informative Assessment and Responsive Teaching

Why Final Tests Are Problematic

Gathering Data Throughout the Lessons

Making Instructional Decisions and Modifications

Introducing Lessons: The First Day

Practicing the Lessons: Second and Possibly Third Days

Applying the Lessons: Completing Written Work


How to Scaffold and Reteach

Collaborate and Learn

Concluding Thoughts on Vocabulary Instruction

Ten Ways Students Can Expand Their Vocabularies



“Although the importance of vocabulary knowledge for reading and learning is widely recognized, it isn’t every day that a book makes the connection between word savvy and engaged text reading so transparent and lively. . . . Laura Robb’s Vocabulary Is Comprehension is truly a book for the times and for the time-conscious middle-grades teacher. It’s one I look forward to having in my toolbox.”

KATHY GANSKE, Author of Word Journeys, Second Edition

“Laura Robb has this remarkable way of lassoing the galloping, impossible-to-meet mandates out there and wrestling them to the ground so they actually work in classrooms. In Vocabulary Is Comprehension, she shows teachers how to teach systematic, daily vocabulary in the context of authentic reading and a vital curriculum . . . making us grateful once again for Laura Robb and her efforts to help us all be better teachers.”

JIM BURKE, Author of The Common Core Companion


“The research is clear: the size of a student’s vocabulary at the end of twelfth grade is not only a strong indicator of whether college is attainable, but also a predictor of future income and success. Fortunately, Vocabulary Is Comprehension provides teachers with effective and practical ideas on how to strengthen our students’ knowledge of words. This is an essential book for helping students overcome word deficit and attain the greater freedom and power that comes with possessing a strong and sophisticated vocabulary.”

KELLY GALLAGHER, Author of Deeper Reading

“Opening Laura Robb’s book is like unwrapping a gift box where you discover many other wondrous presents inside. Expertly aligned to the Common Core and to research-based practices, Laura provides teachers with what they’ve long needed: a simple set of principles for understanding all of the individual components of vocabulary along with practical tools for teaching vocabulary. . . . Lots of lessons. Lots of texts. Lots of reproducibles. Lots to love!”

NANCY BOYLES, Author of Closer Reading, Grades 3-6

“Laura Robb hasn’t just shown the best means for employing the most effective instructional strategy for improving word knowledge, she has also thought of every dimension of masterful classroom management to meet the needs of every child along the way. . . .This is a book that will have teachers excited for tomorrow’s vocabulary instruction and marveling at how fast students grow in their reading ability when they have tools to employ rather than just rote memorization.” 

JAMES BLASINGAME, Coauthor of Teaching Writing in Middle and Secondary Schools

Sample Materials & Chapters


Sample Chapter_Robb

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