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Word Feast Middle School
Ages: 11-14   Grades: 6-9

Power up middle school students' vocabulary with words that have the most potential to improve learning, reading comprehension, and communication.  This resource combines robust vocabulary instruction with topics sure to spark student interest. 


  • Master critical, high-frequency vocabulary
  • Increase the richness and preciseness of language expression
  • Improve reading comprehension
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*The CD contains the complete book.  All pages are printable.
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Robust vocabulary instruction focuses on the high-frequency words that apply to a variety of subject areas.  These Tier 2 words (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002):  

  • have rich meaning and connections to other words and concepts
  • are used by mature language users
  • add specificity and flexibility to students' expression
  • easily link to other words students already know

Two decades of research have shown this instruction method is most effective in advancing students' vocabulary growth (Moore, 2011). 

The book has 16 substantive, 7-page lessons.  Each lesson teaches ten carefully-chosen vocabulary words.  The vocabulary words are repeated in subsequent lessons.  The lessons have a consistent pattern of reading, thinking, and writing activities.  The activities progress from comprehension to expressive tasks and follow this sequence:

  • introduction of new words and teaching tips
  • questions to activate prior knowledge
  • one or more reading passages
  • word definitions with examples
  • associations activity
  • thinking activities like: Finish the Thought, Yes/No Questions, In Your Own Words, Antonyms & Synonyms, and more

The age-appropriate lesson topics such as The Movies' Mystery Man, Money Matters, and Arguments and Persuasion are mostly curricular.  The chapters progress in difficulty regarding general knowledge, readability, and word knowledge.


Copyright © 2011

120 pages, answer key
  • Vocabulary knowledge is strongly correlated to reading comprehension proficiency and school achievement.  Children who start school with poorly developed vocabulary skills will, without robust instruction, remain academically behind their peers (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002).
  • Elaboration techniques for teaching vocabulary skills, such as in-depth teaching of words, making connections to background knowledge, and using words in appropriate/inappropriate contexts, improves vocabulary knowledge for students with learning differences (Ellis, 2002).
  • Repeated exposure to vocabulary in a variety of contexts, learning in rich contexts, active engagement in learning tasks, and teaching vocabulary directly and indirectly are methods that improve learning (NRP, 2000).
  • Direct instruction that consists of learning individual words and word-learning strategies is effective for building vocabulary (NIFL, 2001).

Word Feast Middle School incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Ellis, E.S. (2002). The clarifying routine: Elaborating vocabulary instruction. Retrieved from

Moore, D.W. (2011). Robust Vocabulary Instruction. Retrieved from 

National Institute for Literacy (NIFL). (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read (3rd ed.). Retrieved from

National Reading Panel (NRP). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction—Reports of the subgroups. Retrieved from


Paul F. Johnson


Paul F. Johnson, B.A., develops products and software for LinguiSystems.  He is the author or co-author of many LinguiSystems products, including titles in the Spotlight, 50 Quick-Play, and No-Glamour series.  He has particular interests in developing critical thinking, social, and communication skills in children and adults and feels that solid written and verbal communication skills are not only essential to social and career success, but lead to more fulfilling lives and relationships.

He lives in rural Illinois with his amazing wife, and their three ridiculous children.  In his spare time, Paul reads a lot, plays the guitar, and is an avid gardener and cook. 


When we first read Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Beck, et al., many of us were instantly inspired by this new and lasting vocabulary-teaching model that can work for most, if not all, children.  We know that just because children are language disordered or delayed, that doesn't mean they can't learn new words, or more importantly, learn words that are rich in meaning and usage.  Beck's model shows that they can IF the instruction is divided into three tiers.

  • Tier One Words
    • These are words the student doesn't need to be taught; they're in her personal vocabulary and are words she uses on a daily basis.
    • This vocabulary is the foundation on which to introduce Tier Two words.
  • Tier Two Words
    • These words appear frequently in a variety of written and oral texts but are not a part of the student's day-to-day vocabulary.
    • The student is likely to recognize Tier Two words and is usually able to describe what the word means.
  • Tier Three Words
    • Words that are of low frequency or limited to specific domains make up Tier Three words.
    • Examples might be isotope, cerebellum, and psychogenic.

Word Feast Middle School concentrates on teaching Tier Two words that expand a middle schooler's basic vocabulary to allow them more expressive and varied word choices in their reading and writing.


Selecting the Tier Two Words to Teach
I chose the new Tier Two words for each lesson based on the following recommendations from Beck:

  • importance and utility—words that appear frequently across a variety of domains
  • instructional potential—words that have rich meanings and connect the student to other words and concepts
  • conceptual understanding—words that provide specificity and precision of use and are words that students already know

Another guiding principle of Beck's that I used whenever possible was to select words that are not abstract concepts but that have familiar synonyms and can be easily defined.  Language-delayed students often don't go beyond using simple descriptive words like good, hate, or sad, so their speaking and writing often sounds flat and imprecise because of the repetition of those broad descriptors.  In Word Feast Middle School, I've attempted to provide richer synonyms for familiar and tired words, by introducing more accurate and rich ones, such as astonishing, abhor, and despair.

I also tried to select words that I thought kids would have fun learning and would more likely use and explore because of their sounds or unique connotations.  That's why words like giddy, fiasco, and naive are included.  Too often, our vocabulary teaching is perfunctory and dry; introducing unique words to students that invite play and experimentation is a great way to add zest to instruction.

Verbs are presented in their various tense forms in both reading passages and activities.  Words from previous lessons also appear throughout and are listed on the first page of each lesson.


Learning Tasks
Each lesson contains a consistent pattern of reading and thinking exercises that enhances learning by removing any question of unpredictability.  The lessons follow this formula:

  • Page 1: new words, words from previous lessons, activating knowledge
  • Pages 2-3: two to four reading passages
  • Page 4-5: Definitions
  • Page 5: Making Associations
  • Page 6: Finish the Thought
  • Page 7: Antonyms & Synonyms, Yes or No?, or Is That Right? and In Your Own Words

Note on the Tasks: Your students might find some of the Making Associations and Antonyms & Synonyms tasks to be particularly challenging, as it is possible that more than one word could be used as an answer for an item.  Urge your students to carefully consider their choices and always choose the best word as a response, not just one that might fit.  A challenge of learning new vocabulary is understanding the most precise use of a new word.


Chapter Progression and Content
I selected chapter topics from grade level-appropriate curricular and general interest topics that would be appealing to middle school-aged students.  Chapters progress in difficulty regarding general knowledge, readability, and word knowledge.  Readability was calculated by substituting a Tier One vocabulary word for the Tier Two word to be taught in each passage to give a better idea about the readability of the surrounding text.  Readability of this book's passages ranges from 3.5 to 7.5.


The SLP as Teacher
Although a student might want to read some of the passages in each lesson to herself, it is important that, initially, you read the passages aloud.  Silent reading doesn't allow for the crucial tone-of-voice and prosodic clues as reading aloud does.  These passages are loaded with emotion-inducing words, so when reading aloud to your student, make sure you pour on the inflection and ham it up.  These cues will help your student get the context of the passage so she can better figure out the words' meanings.

Read each passage all the way through without stopping to explain any of the words or context.  Afterward, ask your student if she'd like you to reread the passage aloud as she reads along silently, or if she'd like to read it to herself.  Either way, allow her to stop and ask questions about the vocabulary and context clues.  Rather than giving her direct answers, ask her questions to allow her to probe the text for clues.  For instance, in Lesson 1, The Grand Canyon, the first passage introduces the new word, drab, in this sentence: "This is so different from the drab sidewalks and buildings back home."  Rather than tell the student what the word drab means, ask her if anything in the sentence or the previous one gives her any clues about what drab describes.  Does it have something to do with the color, texture, or size?  What about something's appearance makes it drab?  These questions will help your student become an independent questioner for many future words.

Have fun feasting on new words together!