Success Story: Ms. Bynes

Ms. Bynes is using Vocabulary.com to prepare her students for better reading and to build their background knowledge before diving into project-based learning. We visited her classroom and sat down afterward to talk shop.
Subject:ELA
Grade Taught:6th
Years Teaching:16
Using Vocabulary.com for:1 year
  • ... once they began diving into the content after learning the words, it was so much easier.
    Vocabulary.com: Your grade-level team recently kicked off an interdisciplinary STEM project that started with vocabulary instruction to prepare kids for the content. We’d love to hear about that.
    Bynes: We’re currently working on a STEM project based on hurricanes, and each subject area has a different task or project. I took on the job of giving the students a list of hurricane terms prior to the science and social studies teachers introducing their content. It was a way to give the students the background knowledge and the familiarity with the language that they needed.

    Then once they began diving into the content after learning the words, it was so much easier. The students could read the articles, they knew what was being talked about when they watched the videos. So way before the science teacher even started with the build — before even picking up popsicle sticks and glue to create a windproof structure — the students already had an idea of what the terms were. I saw it in my class, and my team was very thankful that we’d given the word lists ahead of time.
  • I loved it on day one. It’s such a relief when I start a unit or a lesson with the kids, they already have an idea of what I’m talking about.
    V: That makes so much sense! Setting them up for better reading, better understanding, from the get-go. What’s that like for you, teaching a class where the students come to class ready, without feeling lost?
    B: I loved it on day one. It’s such a relief when I start a unit or a lesson with the kids, they already have an idea of what I’m talking about. We have a high ELL population here and we know that they sometimes lack vocabulary knowledge. Maybe those words are not spoken in the home, or in the home and they’re mostly hearing Creole or Spanish. One of the biggest hurdles that you face is when kids lack that background knowledge, so being able to give them that understanding before we even start a unit — it really helps the kids to have that confidence.
  • I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel! That was really helpful for my planning. It has been a relief.
    V: Beyond the STEM project, how have you used Vocabulary.com to support your more traditional ELA curriculum?
    B: One area is poetry. Learning terms associated with poetry — alliteration and so on — is so important, but kids have a hard time with that. I really like creating lists on Vocabulary.com, but for poetry I actually searched for one, and it was happenstance that I found this great list made by another teacher. Then once I saw that list, I started following the other lists she had made, and I started using those, too. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel! That was really helpful for my planning. It has been a relief.
  • I’ve heard students say they feel smarter. Again, it makes them feel confident.
    V: We’re so glad it’s been helpful for you. How have your students responded to the assignments?
    B: The kids love it. They love the competition aspect. It’s rewarding for them. I’ve heard students say they feel smarter. Again, it makes them feel confident. Vocabulary is so important for communication, for understanding. If you’re reading a piece and you don’t know what the vocabulary words are it can be quite frustrating.

    I had a moment in tenth grade — I remember the teacher still, Miss James — she was a great language arts teacher. I was reading out loud in class and the word hors d’oeuvre came up. I had never never seen it written, so I pronounced it wrong. I remember the entire class kind of smirking and just shrinking down in my seat because I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t pronounce it, and when Miss James told me what it was, I actually knew the word! I’d heard it before, I understood it. I just wish I had been exposed to it prior so I wouldn’t have that feeling in the class. So that’s why I love what we’re doing with the kids right now — exposing them to all these vocabulary words - because maybe they won’t have that kind of incident happen to them.
  • ... then for the first time his name went on the Vocabulary Bowl class leaderboard. It was big for him.
    V: That’s what it’s all about, expanding their word knowledge, building their confidence, growing them as readers.
    B: I have one student who at the beginning of the year refused to read aloud — absolutely refused — and it became a behavior issue immediately. But he’d do his Vocabulary.com homework — I think he liked the competition — and then for the first time his name went on the Vocabulary Bowl class leaderboard. It was big for him. Then I noticed maybe a week or so later he was willing to read aloud. From that moment forward, he actually tried reading aloud and I haven’t been able to stop him since.
  • I have some students who may struggle with reading comprehension, but they’ve found success with vocabulary acquisition. And that’s really helped because it helped me to move them along. It made them want to learn.
    V: Can you say more about the impact you see on reading?
    B: The kids keep practicing on Vocabulary.com, and it just keeps pushing them ahead and forward with their reading level. Honestly, I have some students who may struggle with reading comprehension but they’ve found success with vocabulary acquisition. And that’s really helped because it helped me to move them along. It made them want to learn.
  • V: What a sense of accomplishment, for both of you.
    B: I just feel a sense of pride when I look at what they’ve accomplished this year. Even when I look at their screen names for social media, sometimes you’ll see them with “Vocabulary.com Winner” or “Vocabulary Master” because we celebrate it so much in class. They really are prideful, and that’s important.
  • V: In a nutshell, what can you say about the importance of having a rich vocabulary for these kids? Why is it essential for their future success?
    B: We’re a global society now. They’ll need to communicate with students from other nations. Knowing that these students will feel comfortable with others is huge. Maybe they won’t have that shrinking feeling that I had in my language arts class when I didn’t know that word. Giving them the confidence to communicate with people and feel comfortable in certain circumstances — I think it’s probably the most important thing that we can do for them. It will eventually — hopefully — create great leaders.