Use Vocabulary's CODE to Find Meaning

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SWBAT use newly acquired vocabulary words in context.

Big Idea

Develop a deep understanding of difficult words.

Connect and Organize

15 minutes

I recently learned about the CODE strategy for teaching vocabulary that led me to realize that I had some serious gaps in my vocabulary instruction.  This strategy was found in the CORE Six book which I was trained on this year through my district.  I would highly recommend looking through this book because ALL of the strategies are awesome.  They are engaging, easy to implement, and yield results.  

Vocabulary's CODE is one of the six strategies highlighted in this book, and the one that changed my instruction the most.  The acronym CODE stands for Connect, Organize, Deep Processing, Exercise, and the idea is that by following the code, students can learn their new words in a lastly deeper way.  

You would typically need to begin with the Connecting portion where the students are exposed to the meanings of their new words.  This can be accomplished by having the students define their words using context clues, dictionaries, or online resources like  In the connecting stage, students might draw pictures to go with their words or list antonyms, synonyms, or examples.  

Often times, I find myself stopping here.  The problem with that is that students need multiple exposures to words and activities that allow them to process and connect to the words in order to retain them.  

With the text complexity in CCSS, I think that vocabulary is one key to student success.  Vocabulary bridges the gap between lexile levels and allows students to read more rigorous texts.  With this in mind, I continue pushing my students to learn and make meaning out of complex vocabulary. 

For this particular lesson, students have already discovered the meaning of their words.  The words I am using are from the Wordly Wise Book 7 Lesson 8.  These activities also work with new vocabulary words.  I would recommend pulling words from a new story or text that you are getting ready to teach.

I am really excited about this new strategy because it seems to really work for long term retention. Today I will start with the O part of the code which is Organize.

First, I will group students in partners giving each pair a list of their vocabulary words.  Before beginning, the pair will cut apart the words.  

I will ask the students to use at least 10 of the words for this word sort.  They will group at least 10 of the words into at least 3 different categories.  Once they have formed a category, they will record it on piece of paper, and try to do it again with different words and categories.

Student Example

Student Example

Students Working

Video of Students Talking Through Sort


When they have had the chance to experiment a couple of times, I will ask them to recreate one of their best or favorite sorts and put it on their desk.  They will be writing the labels with white board markers directly on their desks.  

We will do a brief gallery walk for students to see how other students organized the words.  I think it is really important for them to see how other people related to the words.  They may discover something that they didn't realize before when they see the words presented in a different way.  

The purpose of this activity is to get students to think critically about the meaning of the words and possible relationships between them.  Of course, the long term purpose is to acquire new vocabulary words that will help students read more complex texts.

D is for Deep Processing

20 minutes

In order for students to deeply process their new words, they will have to think about them beyond the surface level.  The "D" in code stands for deep processing which means it is time for my students to think!  (and struggle a little bit too!)

I am going to attempt to have my students write similes for 3-5 of the words with their partner.  They will write these metaphors on the same paper where they recorded their sorting.  

I know that this is a higher level activity that some students will have trouble with, so I will start off by doing one with them.  In my experience students who struggle with similes write them as definitions.  For example, Acrid is like a bad smell.  When writing similes, I like to use a certain method.  First, the students look carefully at the words the wish to use and list its characteristics.  

Something acrid would smell bad, taste bad, be unpleasant to the senses. 

Now, I ask them, what else has those same characteristics?  

Maybe we could say that acrid is as repulsive as rotten milk, or acrid is like the cafeteria on fish stick day.

These aren't perfect similes, more like examples, but they still require students to think about their words on a deeper level.  

I will have students use this method for writing similes and practice with their partners.  They will pick their favorite one to share out with the class.  

Example #1

Example #2

Exercise your Brain

20 minutes

In the Exercise portion of the CODE, students are supposed to play with the words and make them their own.  For today's activity, I will ask students to choose 8 words from their word list and write them into a short story.  They will do this individually, and I will be available to help them if needed.  

After using the words in their own writing, students will have mastered the meaning of the word.  I feel like writing, even though most students will groan, is the very best way to get those words trapped into long term memory.  

I will give students about 10 minutes to write their story on the same paper they've been using all day.  When they are finished, they will read their story aloud to their partner.  Each pair will choose one of the stories to share with another pair.  These groups of 4 will share their stories and pick 1 to share with the class.

I will have the writer of the story, place it under the document camera to share with us.  Multiple exposure of the words is the key here!  Using these complex words in writing with help students remember them and potentially use them again. The goal is to help my students jump up to that next lexile and read more complex text this year.