Success Story: Ms. Hyde

Ms. Hyde is using Vocabulary.com to boost her students’ comprehension and their enthusiasm for reading. We visited her classroom and sat down afterward to talk shop.
Subject:ELA
Grade Taught:8th
Years Teaching:6
Using Vocabulary.com for:3 years
  • Not everyone has someone to teach them that books are great, so I try to be that person for my students.
    Vocabulary.com: It’s clear from visiting your classroom that you’re fostering a love of reading. Where did that love come from, and how does it inform your teaching?
    Ms. Hyde: My mom loved books, and my grandma loved books. I grew up in a house full of books, and they’re just exciting to me. Not everyone has someone to teach them that books are great, so I try to be that person for my students. And writing has always been a way for me to express myself. I always kept a diary when I was growing up, and I had some great teachers in middle school and high school who fostered my love for writing and were very encouraging and supportive. That led me to major in English in college. And so it made perfect sense that I would teach English Language Arts, because I get to share my love for reading and writing with kids. I think it shows to the kids that I actually enjoy what I teach.
  • I try to find a book that relates to their interests or just something that grabs their attention and makes them want to read more.
    V: It does show! What’s it like to be someone who loves to read but who, as a teacher, often faces the reality that many students are resistant to reading?
    H: Some kids are just opposed to reading for no apparent reason. They’ll say, "Reading is boring," or, “I don’t want to,” and that will be the extent of their reason. It can be a struggle to convince them to change their mindset and give reading a chance. If someone doesn't like to read and they think it's boring I ask them, “What do you like? What do you want to do?” I try to find a book that relates to their interests or just something that grabs their attention and makes them want to read more. I often try to get them into the first book in a series so they want to read the next one and keep going.
  • V: Your classroom library really makes that feasible — just being able to grab a book, right there. It’s so extensive and so organized!
    H: The classroom library has been five years of effort, and it's come together pretty well. I have a good variety, and a lot of them are new or almost new books. The kids are excited, like, “Oh, wow! I’m trusted with these brand-new shiny books! Look at this!” Many of these books still smell new, and that’s pretty special because a new book smells great! And having this collection right here means a kid can't say, “I have nothing to read today,” or, “I forgot my book.” My answer to that is, “Well, I have over two hundred others, so we can find you one!”
  • Vocabulary.com works at their pace, so if they're struggling they get more practice with certain words.
    V: How does Vocabulary.com support you and your students?
    H: Vocabulary.com works at their pace, so if they're struggling they get more practice with certain words. I like that it pronounces the words so the students get to hear them over and over. And they don't just learn the meaning of the word — they learn how to spell the word, too. That's huge because spelling is important in and of itself. It helps you understand the word better because you can recognize it in print, and you can use it yourself as a writer. Also, Vocabulary.com gives the students ownership of their own learning. They feel like they earned this themselves, and that feeling of accomplishment makes them want to do even more.
  • When they come back to school, they have a better understanding so we can do more in class. It's been really helpful that way.
    V: Can you talk more about the connection between a sense of ownership, accomplishment, and academic success?
    H: The kids become self-motivated on Vocabulary.com. They want to work on the website, and they want to have lists to practice. I’ll hear them talking in the classroom — of their own free will — about the words that they’ve learned, or how many words they've mastered, or how many points they have. I give Practice on Vocabulary.com as their homework, and they actually do that homework, as opposed to a worksheet or something else that they would lose or forget about. When they come back to school, they have a better understanding so we can do more in class. It's been really helpful that way.

    And I think a lot of that buy-in is the competition factor, because they're competing with their friends, and there's a leaderboard, and they achieve different levels. It’s very visual, and it’s something tangible. You can look at your points. You can look at the words that you've mastered. You can look at the percentage and know, “I did that! I got there! I accomplished this! It is right here!” That just resonates with them so much. They like seeing that progress. It's immediate, and it's consistent. It's not like turning in a paper and waiting to get it back for the grade. As soon as you work on something, you can see the results right there. I think that does a lot for them.

    And they’re not interested in doing it the fastest, they want to do it right. So they're not just randomly answering questions. They are forcing themselves to think faster in the moment. I can't even imagine what that does for their brains cells or their thinking process! When you’re doing Vocabulary.com, you're teaching yourself how to think on your feet and respond to different situations. And if you make a mistake, you learn how to make up for it. And they don't even realize that by playing and learning they’re improving their reading.
  • ... it’s been really helpful with some of the kids with the lower reading levels to be prepared ahead of time because they’ve had an introduction to these words.
    V: Speaking of reading again, can you talk about your book clubs, and how you’re using Vocabulary.com to support your curriculum?
    H: This is the first year that our curriculum has actually included book clubs. Each group got to self-select their novels within a certain genre. I noticed the kids who weren't usually readers were excited about their books. When we started the unit, I created a list on Vocabulary.com to introduce key terms for dystopian literature so we could discuss the genre in class. Then they got into the reading, and it’s been really helpful with some of the kids with the lower reading levels to be prepared ahead of time because they’ve had an introduction to these words. They're not getting frustrated, or stopping to look something up, or thinking, “Oh, I can't read this book. I don't know any of these words.” It helps them avoid that problem. Now they read and they're like, “Hey, I know this word! I saw that before! I know what that means!”

    And for the kids who are more advanced readers, I let them pick out the vocabulary words and then figure out how those words relate to book. It helps them analyze the theme and what's happening in the plot, and they just take so much more away from that. They made their own lists of words, and I asked them to pick out the most powerful word within that book. It was really cool that two different times in two different classes the groups that had the same book picked the same word, because it was such a powerful word and they recognized that. It made them really think about how the words that stood out to them were important to the storyline. That lead to a discussion on the importance of your word choice and how powerful language is. No matter what you're writing, the words that you choose matter and make a difference. And when you're reading, if you can acknowledge and understand that word choice matters, it just helps you understand even more.
  • They started to realize just how much power a single word can have. If one word can have power, then what could happen if you put words together, and what happens when you have all these great words that you know how to use?
    V: So you’re really digging deep into language and words, and having some pretty rich discussions with your kids, as we heard today.
    H: There's been a lot of focus this year on the power of language — the things that you say and write are not accidental. And words are powerful, so it should be taken seriously. I don't think they really understood the concept initially, but then over the course of the year they were identifying a specific word, or looking at how if you change one word in a paragraph that can change the entire meaning. They started to realize just how much power a single word can have. If one word can have power, then what could happen if you put words together, and what happens when you have all these great words that you know how to use? How much power does that give you? How much can you do with that? I think that really resonates with them.
  • I realized it’s a really simple and straightforward program to use. It was actually a timesaver because once I learned how the website works, I could prepare a list in no time flat, and if I wanted to make slight adjustments to definitions, that doesn't take long either.
    V: Now, back to a nitty-gritty level. What was it like for you to implement Vocabulary.com?
    H: Well, there was definitely an initial hesitation, like, “Do I really need to introduce these kids to another website? Do I really want to set up classes, and do all of this, and add words?” Then I realized it’s a really simple and straightforward program to use. It was actually a timesaver because once I learned how the website works, I could prepare a list in no time flat, and if I wanted to make slight adjustments to definitions, that doesn't take long either. It did give me a little bit of a break on my workload because it’s something consistent that I know I can rely on that’s easy to set up and easy to prepare. It's one thing that I don't have to worry about. It makes my planning a little easier because I know that I have a failsafe way to introduce and practice vocabulary. So it's easy to set up, and the return and the reward or so high.

    Another concern I had was I didn't want the platform to take away from reading an actual book, and so there was some initial hesitation, but they are two completely separate things. They fill two different spaces. So they’re still interacting with the real paper book where they’re physically turning the pages, and then Vocabulary.com is a separate assignment on your iPad or phone or computer, so it's not replacing reading. It’s in addition to reading, it’s supplementing reading. It just shows you how books and technology can work together, and you can still maintain and even encourage the love of an actual book.
  • V: How so?
    H: Well, students can be frontloaded with the vocabulary so they go into reading a book prepared. Or it can be used hand-in-hand. They can read and then look up a word on Vocabulary.com. I can use them as joint resources that can support each other. That way the students are not doing everything with just one medium — they're making them work together to be successful.
  • And the fact that it's so easy for the kids to use — that they can do this on their phones — makes it a really accessible platform.
    V: How have your students responded to Vocabulary.com?
    H: For one thing, it’s something that I know the kids will actually do, so I don't have to worry. Consistency and routine are important at this age group, and our Vocabulary.com routine is something that they know they can count on. They know they will be provided with vocabulary words, and this is a safe and comfortable way for them to learn. Kids are shy when they’re getting familiar with new material, but this way they can come to class prepared. They know what's going on. It's great for providing background information or context for a new topic. And the fact that it's so easy for the kids to use — that they can do this on their phones — makes it a really accessible platform.


    It's perfect for homework assignments because rather than coming up with a completely separate additional assignment for them to take home that's on paper and they might lose, it's on Vocabulary.com. They're already logged in, and they know what to expect. It's an easy assignment to give, but it's not a waste of time or just a time filler. It actually is productive and it's making use of their time. It's forcing them to do work on their own and think for themselves. It gives them background and exposure so they’re prepared. Even if they don't understand the word 100% right away, they recognize it. They also know that they can continue to refer back to that list, so if they forget something or want to know more they can go back to it again. There’s just a confidence with knowing the words.
  • ... they're walking through the hallways — and I overhear them talking about books, and I go to pick them up from lunch and they're talking about books, and they're at their lockers after school and they're talking about which of their books to take home.
    V: Can you describe what it’s like to see your students become more confident as they learn more words, and to see them become readers?
    H: There’s a definite sense of pride. One kid that used to fall asleep during silent reading almost every day came in and asked me for a second book in his book club series because he stayed up all night to finish the first book and couldn't wait to see what was going to happen in the second book! I almost shed a tear right in front of him. Here's this kid who just chose to stay up late at night to read a book, and I know he wants three more! Now these kids — they're walking through the hallways — and I overhear them talking about books, and I go to pick them up from lunch and they're talking about books, and they're at their lockers after school and they're talking about which of their books to take home.
  • It affects everything. They can write better because they know more words to use in writing assignments. They understand more when they're reading questions on a test. Looking forward, they’ll be more prepared for testing for college because they’re being exposed to those words.
    V: We could see and hear that enthusiasm today. They really got into talking about what they’ve been reading, and at such a deep level.
    H: I think that happens naturally in groups — they respond to each other. They're teenagers, so they want to have a conversation. They want to interact with each other, and they’re also a little inclined to argue with each other, but that's good because if you're arguing with somebody you have to offer a reason and explain yourself. They'll go back-and-forth and debate and discuss something from the book, or something from their vocabulary list, or what they think something meant. They’re more comfortable having those conversations in the classroom. I don't know if they even realize that it’s affected their day-to-day vocabulary, but they’re using more academic language and they're expressing themselves better than they were in the beginning of the year.

    It affects everything. They can write better because they know more words to use in writing assignments. They understand more when they're reading questions on a test. Looking forward, they’ll be more prepared for testing for college because they’re being exposed to those words.
  • V: It goes back to what you were saying about the importance of words and language.
    H: Yes, words are powerful. Martin Luther King gave a speech that changed the world, and it changed the world because of the words that he used, how he presented them. Words have the power to change anything if they're used correctly. It can be on a global level. It could be on a nationwide level. It can be on whatever level or platform you're working with. Words can have that power, and choosing not to use words can have power in a negative way. Choosing to not say something or to not speak up it can be the absence of power, the absence of change. Knowing how to use words effectively can transform so many things. It can open doors and can give you possibilities.