CommonLit 360 Utilizes Best Practices to Develop Students' Vocabulary Skills

A teacher and student looking at a computer screen and smiling.

Learn about the vocabulary assignments and quizzes that come with each CommonLit 360 unit.

The link between literacy and vocabulary development is well-documented. Research shows that explicit instruction of high-yield words, multiple exposures to those words, and opportunities to use them in speaking and writing will all increase a student’s vocabulary and — consequently — a student’s ability to comprehend complex texts.

Yet when it comes to putting that research to practice, most curricula fall short. Language arts teachers are often left with two options: spend inordinate amounts of time choosing text-based vocabulary, designing word walls, and creating activities, or use a vocabulary program that teaches words in isolation from grade-level texts.

CommonLit 360, our comprehensive English Language Arts curriculum, fills the need for better vocabulary instruction. In this blog post, we’ll explore CommonLit 360’s unique approach to vocabulary instruction and describe how evidence-based vocabulary practices are put into action in our ready-made materials.

Vocabulary Selection Aligned to Content-Rich Units and Grade-Level Texts

Each CommonLit 360 unit includes a series of activities to help students master up to 20 new vocabulary words. Let’s use Grade 6, Unit 1 as our example.

The header for CommonLit 360 6th Grade Unit 1, Characters Who Change and Grow.

In this particular unit, students explore the ways in which people are changed by their relationships, experiences, and choices. Students read about characters facing relatable teenage challenges. The characters have arguments with peers, experience tension among their family members, and deal with unfair treatment at school. Through these trials, the characters gain maturity and awareness.

This 360 unit includes one set of seven “high-impact” vocabulary words. By “high-impact,” we mean that they are grade-level Tier 2 words that will have a high-utility in the unit and beyond. Learning the words will help students comprehend the unit’s core texts and successfully engage in discussions about the unit’s themes of growing and changing. The words in the 6th grade Unit 1 list are:

  • Burden
  • Despair
  • Dignity
  • Reluctant
  • Reputation
  • Trait
  • Transform

Multiple Exposures to Words Through Vocabulary Learning Activities

Each vocabulary set across the 360 curriculum includes five activities that allow students to internalize and practice using the new words. These activities become increasingly complex. The five activities follow the same pattern in every unit, providing a routine to make facilitation easy.

Activity 1: In-Context Predictions

In the first activity, students begin by seeing how the vocabulary word is used in context. Students should first read the sentence in which the vocabulary word is used. Then, they should review the picture and caption in which the word is utilized again. From there, students should make a prediction about the meaning of the vocabulary word.

An example vocabulary activity from CommonLit 360, with a photo, sample sentence, and space to write a prediction for the word "burden."

Since this activity is crucial for student success with the vocabulary, CommonLit has created a slide deck to support its facilitation. It introduces the activity, shows how students can use context clues to make strong predictions, and reveals correct student-friendly definitions to students.

A teacher model slide for the in-context predictions vocabulary activity.

Activity 2: Fill-in-the-Blank Sentences

Activities 2 through 5 can be flexibly assigned as a warm-up, homework, or in-class practice.

Activity 2 takes just a few minutes to complete and it helps students begin internalizing the definitions of the vocabulary words.

An example of the fill-in-the-blank sentences vocabulary activity.

Activity 3: Fill-in-the-Blank Scenarios

Taking about 10–15 minutes, this activity requires students to identify which word fits the scenario and explain why that vocabulary word is the best fit. Here is an example:

An example of the fill-in-the-blank scenarios vocabulary activity.

Teachers may want to circulate while students are working or grade the activity themselves to ensure students’ reasoning demonstrates an accurate understanding of the word.

Activity 4: Matching

The matching activity provides an opportunity for students to match the vocabulary words to a synonym. These synonyms are not taken from the definitions provided in Activity 1. Thus, students are required to process the meaning of the vocabulary word and cannot just rely on rote memorization.

An example of the matching vocabulary activity.

Activity 5: Application

In Activity 5, which should take about 15 minutes, students are asked to answer each question in 1–2 complete sentences, using the underlined vocabulary words in their answers. Here is an example:

An example of the application vocabulary activity.

These questions are designed to be applicable to a young person’s life so that students can authentically apply the vocabulary in the context of their answer.

Digital Vocabulary Assessment and Data

Each CommonLit 360 unit also includes a digital vocabulary quiz that measures students’ ability to apply their vocabulary knowledge to a new context. In the sample items you see below, you’ll notice these questions require students to have a deep understanding of the words.

In Part 1 of the Vocabulary Quiz, students read a sentence. Then, they choose the vocabulary word that best describes that scenario.

A sample vocabulary quiz with scenario questions.

In Part 2 of the quiz, students complete a fill-in-the-blank exercise. This ensures that students can correctly use the vocabulary word in context.

A sample vocabulary quiz with fill-in-the-blank questions.

These two-part quizzes can be downloaded and printed for students or can be assigned digitally. As always, digitally assigned content in CommonLit provides the teacher with incredible, at-a-glance data to inform next steps of instruction.

Student data for the vocabulary quiz.

Next Steps

If you are interested in learning more about how vocabulary and other integral language arts skills are addressed within the brand new CommonLit 360 units, here are some recommended next steps:

  • Browse the 360 Curriculum here.
  • Sign up for a CommonLit 360 webinar for an opportunity to learn more and ask questions.
  • Learn about the affordable wraparound services for schools and districts looking to adopt CommonLit 360.