Watcha Gonna Do? WORDBUSTING!

By MK Jarvis


Every once in awhile a really cool strategy comes along that I know will help hone my students’ writing skills.  While perusing our old Elements of Language textbook I ran across something called wordbusting (Cue Ray Parker, Jr. because I know you’re singing that song!). Some of you more experienced teachers may be familiar with this technique, but it is new and exciting to me and I love using it to cram more vocabulary into those 7th grade brains.

Wordbusting is a technique that uses the Context Structure Sound Dictionary (CSSD) strategy to help students decipher word meanings. After seeing it in Elements of Language, I found an extended version in one of the many left-behind language workbooks floating around my classroom.  It is called Vocabulary Workshop and it was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Besides wordbusting, one may find exercises in analogies, multiple meanings, and word origins, so it is pretty handy to have around.


In Vocabulary Workshop, the specific instructions for wordbusting are very clear with discernible examples, plus a short catalog of root words, prefixes, and suffixes to help with structure.

Essentially, students figure out the meaning of a vocabulary word using the four elements: Context Structure Sound Dictionary (CSSD).  They won’t always use all of the elements on one word, but they can if it helps.

You may have your students draw the graphic organizer above for each word.
I just had mine draw as many boxes as they needed.


Context is, of course, using clues in a sentence to figure out the meaning of a word in a sentence. This is probably the go-to method of defining and understanding words in texts for a lot of students.

Structure is breaking the word down into its parts.  There could be a root word, a prefix, or a suffix or any combination of the three.  Students break the word apart to see if they already know any of the parts. If they don’t, they can consult the root word, prefix, suffix list.

Sound is when the students say the word aloud to see if they recognize it or if it sounds like any other word they know.

Dictionary, of course, is using a dictionary (digital or print) to define the word formally.

The students and I found with many words we could use more than one method to decipher the definition.


The left side is the list of words and the story used for context.  Exercise 2 on the right page seems easy
to the students after they “wordbust.”  It could possibly be used as an assessment.  


You can find Vocabulary Workshop on Amazon.  They have all grade levels plus assessments. You might find the wordbusting technique useful in these last days of school leading up to the general assessments.  Have fun!

WVCTE is wondering have you ever had your students WORDBUSTING?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!



An Open Letter to the Mountain State

As a mother, one of the first lessons I learned once my son started talking was that I could never anticipate what he would say.  For example, in 2017 I was named the West Virginia State Teacher of the Year, a title I never expected to hold.  Immediately following the ceremony, I was having a hard time putting the title into perspective, of feeling deserving of such an immense honor.  When my husband and I told our eight-year-old son about the award and my husband proudly showed him my plaque, I noticed my son was getting very upset.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said to me, “You know, my teacher is pretty awesome!  She always helps me when I need help!  She probably should’ve been Teacher of the Year!”  And instantly, there was my perspective.  I told him he was probably right, and that he should tell her that when he saw her at school that morning.  You see, my son didn’t see his teacher as “just a teacher,” he saw her as someone who cared about him and pushed him to do his best.  It was a great reminder to me that sometimes we all need to know that others believe in us so that we can believe in ourselves.

West Virginia is in an education crisis; that fact is inarguable.  Students in over 700 classrooms across our state are being educated by non-certified classroom teachers.  Our teachers do not have the resources they need to support our students’ learning.  Without an educated workforce, West Virginia simply cannot move forward.

The recruitment, preparation, and retention of high quality teachers is one of the biggest challenges facing the Mountain State.  I want my best and my brightest students to come back into West Virginia classrooms as strong and empowered teachers, but we need to give them a reason to do that!  Teachers leave the classroom for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is a lack of support, low pay, and ever-increasing insurance premiums.  Teachers stay in the classroom for one reason: the students.  We stay for the students who hunger for learning and those who are just hungry.  We stay for those who need guidance and those who just need.  We stay for the students.

I feel blessed to have been born and raised in the Mountain State.  Over the past year, I have traveled extensively representing our state; but, I have been nowhere with the natural beauty of the West Virginia hills; nowhere with the kindness, resourcefulness, and diligence of our West Virginia natives.  Our state is blessed to be one that is rich in natural resources, but our greatest natural resource is our children and they deserve the best chance at a successful future.   Research tells us that teachers have the highest school-based influence on student achievement.  As a teacher, I want to see our students empowered to own their education; empowered to set high expectations for themselves; empowered to achieve goals they once thought impossible.  The students in our classrooms need to know that they CAN achieve.  I not only want to see this for my students, but for all the students in the Mountain State, including my own son.  This all starts with our teachers.

I am a teacher.  It’s not just my profession; it’s who I am.  Education is what I know and, along with my family, education is my passion.  I tell people that I didn’t choose teaching; teaching chose me.  I invested in my education so I could be the kind of teacher my students deserve.  I have a Master’s degree in secondary education, plus an additional 45+ hours of graduate credit for courses and professional development I’ve participated in, mostly at my own expense.  I am a National Board Certified Teacher.  I hold advanced credentials and an additional certification in administration.  I invested in myself and my education so my students would have the best teacher possible.  Shouldn’t West Virginia do the same?


Stations, Everyone, Stations!

By MK Jarvis

Before I tell you what I love, let me tell you what I hate.  Group work.  I must confess collaboration in the classroom is one of my least favorite activities. I think it is mostly unproductive for the students as they generally have the same problems every time–incomplete work, one or two people in the group working harder than the others, or absent partners or group members who just happen to have all the groups work on their iPad.  Now, in defense of collaboration and in complete honesty, I am my own stumbling block. Being a newish teacher, I still have not mastered many skills–conducting groups in the classroom is one of them. Keep in mind, too, I teach 7th graders, the most social creatures on the planet, and they love to talk and do anything but the task at hand.  These unwanted behaviors are much worse when the desks are smooshed together in quads.

Let me now tell you what I love.  I love 7th graders.  I kind of love that they are the most social creatures because they’ve taught me a lot about getting along with my fellow human. I know they can benefit by working together (can’t we all?), or at least in a setting that allows them to cooperate and discuss (translation: socialize).  More and more, our culture and society expect us to work in teams.

Here is another thing I love: STATIONS.  Not train stations or gas stations (though escaping from my crazy 7th graders via train or fueled-up car is sometimes a tempting idea), but stations in the classroom.

A couple of years ago, I was looking for a way to teach a lesson that allowed the students to get up and move around.  I knew that there would be talking and commotion, but I wanted it to be constructive.  They weren’t necessarily going to work as groups, but in tandem, viewing, reading, writing the same things in an independent way side by side.  I remembered stations.

The first time I encountered stations was while working as a sub at the beginning of my teaching journey.  The teacher I was subbing for had set up stations for teaching citations/bibliography for research papers. There were four or five stations consisting of things like deciding if a publication or website is a primary or secondary source or should be considered a source at all and how to use the information from a publication to build your bibliography. Each station had all the information and activities in an envelope in the middle of the quad.  Each time the group moved to a new quad, they got to open a new envelope to see what was inside.  It sort of felt like a scavenger hunt.  It was fun and the students seemed to enjoy it.  Plus, it was a painless way to teach something that can be sometimes be confusing for students.

There are lots of things you can do in stations. Last year we watched Doctor Who in conjunction with A Wrinkle in Time and did a space/time travel themed station activity. One station was matching up American English words with British English words.  The students were exposed to new and different vocabulary and practiced their British accents.  Another station was creating our own time machine, telling where we would go and what we would do.  It was fascinating to find out how much 7th graders would like to change history … our world’s and their own.

My most favorite time of year to do stations is during January around Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.  Within the stations I try to have a viewing station, listening station, and writing station.  I usually only have three stations for MLK because I want the students to be able to spend enough time on each activity. This makes for larger groups, but the students aren’t necessarily working together so it’s okay.  For viewing, I have pictures of the King memorial in Washington D.C. and have the students look at the quotes engraved on the monuments and write what they believe the quotes mean. I give them a small piece of cardstock for this activity and after they do the writing task, they may make the card beautiful.  Many of them tuck these encouraging words in their iPad’s case for the rest of the year.  

For listening, the students go to Schoology on the iPad and listen Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In this station, they complete a graphic organizer that asks them to make a prediction, write any questions they have, and then reflect on the words of Dr. King.



For writing this year, the students read short articles about Dr. King, created a timeline of his life, and answered questions using the RACE method.

When I do stations with my students we always go to the library.  The students love the library because it is a change of venue and they get to sit at tables side by side with friends.  Our librarian is wonderful and inviting and she always makes the kids feel special. She and I get together a few days before my stations lesson and talk about how it will go and how she can help. She’s a saint.  I also try to make part of the stations hands-on and creative.  The students get excited when they see markers, paper, rulers, and such.

If you are looking for an activity to get your students moving around the room a bit, try stations.  They are so adaptable and helpful when accompanying lesson plans that might have different stages or short activities that stand on their own, but work together to teach a bigger concept.


WVCTE is wondering… How do you get your students up on their feet, moving around, and learning?  How have you OR how would you use stations in your classroom? 

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!


What We Deserve

By Jessica Salfia

In 1990 I was 9 years old, and my mom, a single parent, was a day to day sub in Barbour County, West Virginia.  We lived in a trailer that was already well past its prime—a tin box that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but also where some of the happiest memories of my life take place. However, this time also was one of my Mom’s hardest.  She struggled to feed us and provide for us alone, and she made sure that while she was working day to day to get us from pay check to pay check, we thrived.  I don’t ever remember wanting anything really.  She always made it work.

Then, West Virginia teachers went on strike.

Now my mother, a substitute teacher, not only had no health insurance, but no income.  I’m not going to lie, we struggled. But it’s not the struggle or the contention I remember with crystal clarity—it’s the intense pride I remember seeing on my Mom’s face when we’d drive past the picketing teachers outside Philip Barbour High and she’d blast her horn in solidarity. I remember the sign my papaw hung on his rusted out, wooden flatbed farm use truck that said “retired teacher vehicle” that he would drive back and forth in front of the picket lines. It is the pride in every teacher’s face who said of those days in 1990,  “We held out until they gave us what we deserved” (which turned out to be a significant pay raise, faculty senates, and training and services needed to do the important work we do).

I am a teacher for many reasons, but I would be remiss If I didn’t acknowledge that watching this unity and this movement in 1990 wasn’t part of what drew me to this profession.  I have been a proud West Virginia educator for over 15 years, and I am the daughter and the grand-daughter of West Virginia teachers, West Virginia farmers, and West Virginia coal miners.

Let’s talk about what we deserve now.

Tomorrow, most counties in this state will participate in a work stoppage to protest the ridiculous changes to PEIA and the pitiable raise suggested by the West Virginia Legislation.

There’s a lot of chatter right now about what West Virginia teachers deserve and what we should expect.  A lot of folks think we should be happy to get anything at all. And I can certainly appreciate that sentiment, but before we decide what teachers “deserve” let me share what is expected of us.

Every day in my classroom, I have to be the best version of myself.  My students and their parents expect me to be engaging, prepared, rested, excited, happy, and an expert in my field.  Think about the most important presentation you have ever given–the presentation that your job depended on.  I do that six times a day, five days a week.

(my students Skyping with NY Times best-selling author Jay Heinrichs)

My administrators expect instruction to occur bell to bell. Our school and my performance is evaluated by my students’ performance on a test I don’t get to see.  I have to prepare students for college, for jobs, for scholarships.  I teach them to write literary analysis and resumes. To be empathetic, critical, smart, fair, and professional.

My principals and my community expect me to guide my students to success. And now, in this day and age, I must prepare my students for the threat of an active shooter. I am expected to take a bullet for the children in my classroom while I’m preparing them to be the future leaders of West Virginia.

And I have diligently worked to exceed these expectations.

In 2015 I received an Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award, in 2016 I was named Berkeley County Teacher of the Year, and now in 2018, I am nominated for a Stephen L. Fisher teaching award. I teach Advanced Placement classes, advise the Spring Mills High Diversity Club, coordinate our homecoming parade, and serve on our school’s Curriculum and Instruction Team, the Berkeley County Diversity Council, and the Berkeley County Schools Teacher Advisory Committee. It is safe to say I have devoted my life to service and to public education in West Virginia.

I am also a wife and a mother of three, but I have treated the hundreds of kids who have passed through my classroom like they were my own.  I have fed and clothed my students. I have sat at my kitchen table with my checkbook trying to decide which bills to pay so I can still afford supplies for my classroom.  I have spent my Saturdays chaperoning trips to college fairs and organizing fundraisers to support my students’ projects and learning opportunities. I have written hundreds of letters of recommendation for scholarships, colleges, and jobs. I have attended their weddings and baby showers. I have spoken at some of their funerals. I have wiped their tears, held their hands, and shared their joy.

And I do this not because it’s expected, but because it’s what my students deserve, what West Virginia deserves.  I believe in what I do as an educator, and I believe that the most valuable resource we have in this state is our young people.

And I still believe in West Virginia.

But now, West Virginia public education is under attack.  Currently, we have over 700 teaching vacancies across West Virginia, but instead of working to figure out how to fill those positions and retain the brilliant and hard-working teachers in the state, lawmakers are allowing changes to the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), the insurance company servicing not just teachers, but all public employees to create skyrocketing premiums and deductibles. The current proposed pay raise will do nothing to combat the new PEIA changes, and in a state in desperate need of highly qualified teachers, many of the educators in this state will actually be facing a pay cut.

Folks, this is certainly not what West Virginia teachers deserve.

I live in a place where I could drive 20 minutes to Washington County, Maryland or Loudon County, Virginia and make $20,000-$25,000 more dollars than I’m making now.  Even as I write this, teachers in my county are readying their resumes for surrounding states because of the current legislation.

But I haven’t yet because I still believe in West Virginia.

I believe in public education, and I believe that West Virginia’s schools deserve public educators who are smart and qualified and good at what they do.  I believe our students need teachers like me and all the other incredible teachers across this state who don’t just go to work—but who go to their schools to change the lives of our young people because we believe in it.  West Virginia teachers take second jobs at Wal-mart, selling Mary Kay, waiting tables, so that we can keep teaching here in West Virginia.  Because we love our jobs and our students.

But enough is enough. Legislators have grown to expect us to keep making miracles happen without the support or the pay we need to do this job.  Teachers can’t keep being forced to decide between this career and buying groceries. Attracting the kind of educators our students deserve to fill those 700 vacancies will never happen if PEIA is not fixed.  And those great teachers all over West Virginia who simply cannot keep doing the job they love in this place they love because they can’t pay their bills? They’re going to leave.

And West Virginia lawmaker, that is on you.  What you deserve is blame.

Recently, I read in my local paper a statement from a local delegate that said teachers were threatening to “strike against our students.”

This absolutely laughable comment couldn’t be further from the truth.

Teachers are the only ones who are still fighting for West Virginia and what she deserves. It’s you who stopped believing in us. It’s you who have allowed it to get to this point.  Teachers aren’t striking against our students. The very idea of this is so ridiculous and offensive, I had trouble even typing the sentence.  Our students are one of the only things keeping many of us in this job.

No, teachers aren’t walking away from our students. We’re walking away from the legislators who stopped caring about public education in this state.

So Lawmakers, before it’s unfixable, fix PEIA.  Offer not just teachers, but all public employees the salaries they need, that they deserve.  You say that the money isn’t there? That it would take a miracle to figure out how to pay teachers what they deserve? Maybe you should talk to more West Virginia teachers who make miracles happen in their classrooms every day without the adequate resources, support, or pay they need to keep going.  Because we know that our students and West Virginia deserves it.

And start believing in West Virginia teachers again. Because we have never stopped believing in our students or in ourselves.

We know what we deserve.

Lawmaker, you should too.


A Lesson I Love: The “DO WHAT” Chart

by MK Jarvis

The DO WHAT chart is one of my favorite lessons to teach.  It is more of a technique than a lesson, but it helps students understand what they are about to do in an upcoming text.  Each story in our ELA text Collections has a short paragraph beforehand that is called Setting a Purpose and the DO WHAT chart can break down exactly what the student is going to do or discover during and after the story.

The week before I plan to use a DO WHAT chart, I will review verbs and direct objects, but you don’t have to do that if your crew doesn’t need the review.  Seventh graders have chronic short-term memory loss, so it is helpful to touch on what an action word is.  I use the DO WHAT chart a few times a year, and the first chart we complete together.  The chart is pretty simple and can be completed in just a few steps.  


STEP ONE: Read the Setting the Purpose paragraph.  From Collections here is an example from the story “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” by Jeanne E Arnold found in Collection 5 (221):

Perhaps no other technology is more widely shared as the television.  As you read, keep track of how the popularity of this consumer good has changed over time.  How will archaeologists of the future track its significance?  Write down any questions you have while reading.

STEP TWO: On the second step the students rewrite the purpose (task) on a graphic organizer.  You can find a nice organizer something like this one:

Or you can just use a piece of notebook paper or have the student create their own table in a favorite program or app.

STEP THREE: Identify all the actions or verbs in the sentences of the purpose (task).  This is when the students dissect the paragraph and pick out all the “DO” words and write them in the “DO” column of their organizer.

Perhaps no other technology is more widely shared as the television.  

As you read, keep track of how the popularity of this consumer good has changed over time.

How will archeologists of the future track its significance?  

Write down any questions you have while reading.

STEP FOUR: Identify all the direct objects or “WHAT” words and write them in the “WHAT” column of their organizer.

Perhaps no other technology is more widely shared as the television.  

As you read, keep track of how the popularity of this consumer good has changed over time.

How will archeologists of the future track its significance?  

Write down any questions you have while reading.

After all the “DO” and “WHAT” words are recorded, I have the students connect them with lines or arrows so they know exactly what they are doing to what.  

STEP FIVE: The organizer I use has a section in which the students rewrite the prompt in their own words.  I always use this section so that the students have a chance to rethink some of the words and use any synonyms they can come up with.  

Super easy-peasey.

I really love this technique for understanding purpose.  The students are always confused at first about what we’re doing, but by the end of the lesson, they know exactly what is expected of them and what they will discover in the text.  It’s an eye-opener and I find that the reading and activities go a little smoother when we’ve done a DO WHAT chart.


WVCTE is wondering: How do you help your students define and understand a text’s purpose?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!