Framing Our Reading: Part 4 (Vocabulary and Concept Development)

In this blog, I’m revisiting the three texts used in the previous posts in the Framing Our Reading series with a focus on using graphic organizers to teach vocabulary and concepts from text. Amanda, Juanita and I are each using a different graphic organizer to analyze the terms: ‘chemoreceptors’ found in the article Artificial Sweeteners: Friends or Foes? , ‘repel’ found in the article Why Metals Have A Blast in Water and ‘oxidation’ found in the article Rewritable Paper: Prints with Light not Ink. I am modeling these vocabulary words using a Semantic Map graphic organizer. McLaughlin (p. 58) suggests using Semantic Maps as a tool to “activate prior knowledge, introduce content-specific vocabulary, and organize information about a topic”.

For this exercise, I solicited the help of my 6th grade daughter to brainstorm from a perspective not already familiar with the text and not tainted with 30 years of prior knowledge. Coincidentally, the background she lacked in the content was remedied tenfold in with her familiarity with this strategy.

FullSizeRenderWe began by brainstorming a list of words and phrases that we related to the target word based on our prior  knowledge before referring to the text for additional details. Then we grouped the items from our list into categories. We found that for each word we had some similar categories such as: definition, opposites, and examples seen here in our map for ‘repel’.

The process was not immediately obvious to me, and I found myself grasping for more structure in the brainstorming and categorizing aspect. I think it would be helpful for some students (particularly, those who tend to be trigger shy like myself) to have some predefined categories as suggestions to guide their brainstorming.

My old school sensibilities are still tugging me towards lists and outlines, but when we finally created the visual structure of the Semantic Map and began filling in the results of our brainstorm, it immediately became easier to populate it with more information.

FullSizeRender(1)In my first attempt at creating a map, my daughter suggested that I was making it “too complicated”. I’m not sure if it was because of the disparity in our experience with the word (which would be something to consider when using this in groups) or because I was struggling to find more generic categories. While it makes sense to me, you can see in our map for oxidation the pattern is a little more ambiguous than  for repel and chemoreceptors.

I like the Semantic Map as a quick tool to organize information. My daughter seemed to grasp the process easily enough to explain it me, so I see it being very useful for those kids who benefit from the visual organization. Buehls’ Word Family Tree (pg. 221) has a similar purpose and I actually prefer the depth and structure of that tool, but this one is definitely more convenient and time efficient in the classroom. There are also similarities between this and the Magnet Words strategy discussed in part 3, but again the Semantic Map provides the advantage of being a free form (potentially impromptu) device to implement when, as a teacher, you become aware that more focused attention is needed on particular vocabulary or concepts.

Check out what Juanita did with these words using the word root/prefix/suffix chart, and how Amanda approached them with the vocabulary self-collection strategy.


Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Kowalski, K. (2015). Rewritable paper: Prints with light, not ink. Retrieved from        ink?mode=topic&context=104

Marr, I. (2012, February 1). Artificial Sweeteners: Friends or Foes? Retrieved from

McLaughlin, M. (2015). Content Area Reading: Teaching and Learning for College and Career Readiness. (2nd ed., pp. 63-64). Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.

Ornes, S. (2015). Why metals have a blast in water. Retrieved from:

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