I distinctly remember the book that made me fall in love with vocabulary instruction. My third graders and I had just begun our poetry unit. We'd kicked it off with some of Shel Silverstein's work, so my plan was to expose them to more humourous poetry before moving on to the "deep" stuff.
After rummaging through some old books in my storage closet, I stumbled across The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelustky. After reading the first poem, I immediately surmised that this book would be perfect! The rhyme, the rhythm, the humor, the irony- all in the very first poem....why wouldn't kids adore this collection?
Now let me be clear in saying that back then, I didn't spend as much time with books as I probably should have before using them for read-alouds or instruction. I usually gave them a quick once-over, put them on the book stand for the next day's read-aloud, and hoped for the best.
The day I began reading The New Kid on the Block marked the end of this highly ineffective practice because I have never felt as ill-prepared as I did when "Joe" (name changed to protect the innocent) asked me what "vestibule" meant, and I couldn't tell him. Sure, I knew that it had something to do with a house, or being a room or area in the house, but that wasn't good enough for "Joe". He wanted to know exactly what a vestibule was, and I couldn't tell him. I was able to appease Joe slightly after consulting Mr. Merriam -Webster, but I vowed then and there to never teach another book without reading it first and pulling out key vocabulary.
Subsequently, I did something that I'm almost ashamed to say I'd never done before. I actually read the poems I was going to read aloud the following day, and a funny thing happened. I noticed some of the same words appearing in different poems, and I noticed that these were words kids could get some mileage out of. Words like immaculate and bellow, so I decided to explicitly teach those words. And then I decided to use those words when I spoke to my students. And then another funny thing happened; kids began to use them themselves. At that point, I knew there was something to this vocabulary thing. I was never the same.