Using Technology For Vocabulary Development, Reading Comprehension, and Word Identification

Activity Overview: 

The students are reading the book The Left-Handed Shortstop. Three activities are included from the book. Activity 1 shows the opening activity for the book. It utilizes a sports story structure to scaffold the students’ reading comprehension. Students also use Quicktionary Reading Pens to identify unknown words in their reading. Activity 2 showcases the classroom website and the student-generated learning games found there. The students write questions from The Left-Handed Shortstop, which will be added onto the new learning game. Activity 3 includes the teaching of unknown vocabulary words using the Quicktionary Reading Pen and Franklin Spell Checkers.


Students define unknown vocabulary words and decode unknown words in their reading using a Quicktionary Reading Pen and Franklin Spell Checker. Students also create reading comprehension questions that will be incorporated into a classroom Web site game.

The students are reading the book The Left Handed Shortstop. Three activities are included from the book. Activity 1 shows the opening activity for the book. It utilizes a sports story structure to scaffold the students’ reading comprehension. Students also use Quicktionary Reading Pens to identify unknown words in their reading. Activity 2showcases the classroom Web site and the student-generated learning games found there. The students will be writing questions from The Left-Handed Shortstop, which will be added onto the new learning game. Activity 3 includes the teaching of unknown vocabulary words using the Quicktionary Reading Pen and Franklin Spell Checkers.


(Note: This is a unit plan that may cover several days to several weeks. Not all of the following activities/standards will appear in the video clips used.)



Curriculum Standards



National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Performance Indicators


 A.  Management:

Baseball Rules

Listen to the 

Be a team player

Stay in the game

Students will be self-monitoring on a card.



B.      Activating Background


Discussion of how the brain works and what they already know about baseball.

English Language Arts: 3


C.  Story Structure:

The resource teacher will read the first chapter aloud while the classroom teacher identifies the story structure. Students record information on a baseball diamond representing the story structure.

English Language Arts: 3

Grades 3-5: 4, 5, 6

C.     Silent Reading: 

The students will silent read the next chapter of the book. Students will be using a Quicktionary Pen to scan and read unknown words. They will write the words on a baseball bookmarker to be used in future activities.

English Language Arts: 3, 8

Grades 3-5: 2, 4, 5, 8, 10


A.     Review:

Past learning games on the class Web site will be reviewed.

English Language Arts: 3

Grades 3-5: 4, 5, 6

B.     3 Types of Questions:

Three types of questions will be outlined: right there (factual), think and search (inferential), and on my own (critical thinking). Examples questions will be shown from a new game featured on the class Web site.

English Language Arts: 3, 5, 12


Grades 3-5: 4, 5, 6

C.     Writing Questions:

Students will be assigned a specific type of question to write.  They will utilize the Franklin Spell Checkers to assist in correct spelling.

English Language Arts: 3, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12


Grades 3-5: 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10

D.     Learning Game on Web-Site:

Students will be able to play the beginning of the The Left-Handed Shortstop on the class Web site using a wireless Power Book iMac lab.  They will also be able to access the Web site outside of school. 

English Language Arts: 8, 11, 12

Grades 3-5: 4, 5, 6, 8


A.     Review:

Review past vocabulary strategies.

English Language Arts: 3

Grades 3-5: 2, 8, 10

B.     Quicktionary Pen & Franklin Spell Checkers:

Students will be taught how to use the Quicktionary Reading Pen ( and the Franklin Spell Checker ( to read and define unknown words.

English Language Arts: 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12


Grades 3-5: 2, 4, 5, 8, 10


Books and Articles:

Giff, P. (1980). The Left-Handed Shortstop. New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group.

World Wide Web Source:
Saddler, Craig (2001). Mr. Saddler’s Fourth Grade Class Web Page 2000/2001 (Web Page Online).

U.S. Office of Special Education Programs.  This is a good Web site for additional information on co-teaching.  

Franklin Spell Checkers, Franklin Electronic Publishers, Burlington, NJ,

Gateway Solo Laptop Computer. Gateway. 

Epson LCD Projector EMP-5500. Seiko Epson Corporation. 

Quicktionary Reading Pens, WIZCOM Technologies Inc. 

Microsoft Office 2000 Professional Suite (Word, Power Point, Publisher, Front Page) 

Teacher Resources:
Co-Teaching Resources -

Cook, L. & Friend, M. (1995). “Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practices.” Focus on Exceptional Children28 (3), 2-16. 

Vaughn, S., Shey-Schumm, J., & Arguelles, M.E., (1997, Nov/Dec). “The ABCDE's of co-teaching.” The Council for Exceptional Children.

Bauwens, J., & Hourcade. J.J. (1995). Cooperative teaching: Rebuilding the schoolhouse for all students. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Dieker, L.A., & Barnett. C.A. (1996). “Effective co-teaching.” Teaching Exceptional Children, 29 (1), 5-7.

Wilson Hawbaker, B., Balong, M., Buckwalter, S., & Runyon, S. (2001, Mar/Apr). “Building a strong BASE of support for all students through co-planning.” The Council for Exceptional Children.

Story Structure Design -
The story structure we developed was our own design. We consulted the following resources:

Baumann, J., Jones, L., & Seifert-Kessel, N. (1993, November). “Using think alouds to enhance children's comprehension monitoring abilities.”The Reading Teacher, 47 (3).

Baumann, J., Hooten, H., & White, P. (1999, September). “Teaching comprehension through literature: A teacher - research project to develop fifth graders' reading strategies and motivation.” The Reading Teacher, 53 (1).

Cunningham, P. & Allington, R. (1999). Classrooms that work: They can all read and write, Longman.

Macon, J.M., Bewell, D., & Vogt, M. (1991) Responses to literature. Neward, De: International Reading Association.

Beck, I. L., McKeown, M.G. Hamlton, R. L., & Kucan, L. (1997).Questioning the author. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Bromley, K., Irwin-De Vitis, L., & Modlo, M. (1995). Graphic Organizers. Scholastic Professional Books

Levy, N. & Rosenberg, M. “Strategies for improving the written expression of students with learning disabilities.” LD Forum, 16 (1).

Vocabulary Baseball Design -

Our vocabulary baseball was our design. We consulted the following resources:

Nickelsen, L., (1998).Voluminous vocabulary. Scholastic Professional Books.

Robb, L., (1996). Reading strategies that work - Teaching your students to become better readers. Scholastic Professional Books.

Teacher-Created Materials:
Left Handed Shortstop Graphic Organizer 
Left Handed Shortstop Graphic Organizer Answer Key 
Left Handed Shortstop PowerPoint Slide
Quicktionary Reading Pens PowerPoint Show

The students will be assessed on their reading comprehension using the baseball story structure (graphic organizer). They will complete the major parts of the book as they read. Reading comprehension will also be assessed using student generated reading questions. These questions will be included on a reading quiz featured in a game format on the class Web site.

A vocabulary test will be designed using the words the students defined.

Behavior will be assessed using a self-monitoring card on the students’ desks, which lists the baseball rules. Students will also be assessed on their word accuracy in reading.

Each student will be individually reading aloud the teacher-selected portions of the book. A running record will be done which identifies percent of word accuracy and analyzes word errors.

Kim Miller, Elementary Resource Teacher at Malcolm Price Laboratory School - University of Northern Iowa

Craig Saddler, 4th Grade Teacher at Malcolm Price Laboratory School - University of Northern Iowa or

Steven Heller, Director of Sales at WIZCOM Technologies Inc. (Quicktionary Pens), Encino, CA

Jilian Bond, Graduate Assistant in Telecommunications/AV at the University of Northern Iowa

Courtlandt Butts, Telecommunications Coordinator

Jabari Cain, Graduate Assistant in Telecommunications/AV at the University of Northern Iowa

Garth Cornish, Information Technology Specialist at Malcolm Price Laboratory School - University of Northern Iowa

Terri McDonald (Assistant Professor), Instructional Technology Coordinator at Malcolm Price Laboratory School - University of Northern Iowa

Emily Johnson, Field Experience Student at Malcolm Price Laboratory School - University of Northern Iowa

Jared Smith, Work Study Student at Malcolm Price Laboratory School - University of Northern Iowa

The students are reenacting parts of these lessons. The three lessons that were videotaped were part of an entire language arts unit over the book The Left-Handed Shortstop. The lessons took place over a course of three weeks and needed to be put together for the finished product to be viewed. As chapters are completed, the students continue to add key parts of the story onto the baseball story structure. Their additional student-generated questions are included in a video game format that can be found on the classroom Web page at Students can access these review video games from any computer with Internet access. Throughout the unit, students add unknown reading words to their baseball bookmark, and these words are used in teaching lessons.

Our school has used Franklin Spell Checkers for quite awhile and seen the benefits of more conventional spelling. I just found out about the Quicktionary Pen last year. Both of these pieces of technology make word identification and vocabulary more accessible to all students. No longer do students need to skip over unknown words. The words and definitions can be read aloud for the students.

We used a baseball graphic to outline the main parts of the book. This was connected to a Power Point Slide (attachment 3), a bulletin board, and the students had a hard copy (attachment 2). Students’ comprehension increases with the use of story structures and graphic organizers. The students are able to see the story visually, anticipate the next major event to look for, and summarize the main points of the book. They are able to take this story structure and apply it to future books as a useful reading strategy. In addition, it is also integrated into the act of writing.

Technology Resources:
Several sources of technology were carefully selected for use throughout the duration of this unit. After reviewing personal interest inventories completed by the students, it was not surprising to notice that collectively, a high number of hours were spent playing video games and “surfing” the World Wide Web. While designing this unit, the goal was, and still is to curve that interest towards academics through the successful integration of technology. Overall, it has been observed that the timely and practical integration of technology resources can serve to be an excellent motivational tool.

The use of teacher created Web video games provides a phenomenal source of motivation. The students thoroughly enjoy seeing their own questions and images transformed into a game-like review. They also enjoy accepting the personal challenge issued when they are invited to attempt the teacher-generated version that can be found on the class Web page.

To enhance the story structure of the book and various vocabulary strategies, PowerPoint presentations, including attention grabbing graphics and diagrams were included (attachment 3). These served as electronic bulletin boards, displaying graphic organizers, in which information could be easily added.

The Quicktionary Pen was chosen to be used for word identification and vocabulary development. It is a portable assistive reading technology that quickly scans words and reads them aloud. It has the entire dictionary in a device which is a little bigger than a pen and it then reads the definitions to you. Headphones and a volume control are also included as well as versatility for left handed learners. This is assistive technology that all students with reading difficulties need. No longer do they need to skip unknown words or spend so much time figuring out words, which ultimately impedes their comprehension. They can get immediate feedback with the Quicktionary Pen. This is cutting edge for a whole new world of technology.

Talking Franklin Spell Checkers were chosen because of their versatility. They can be used in many ways for students and teachers. Its voice capabilities make it uniquely different than a typical spell checker. First of all, it identifies correct spellings of words according to their phonetic sounds (something a dictionary can’t do). It also has the following additional capabilities: reads aloud unknown words from your reading that you type in (no longer do you need to skip unknown words); reads aloud the dictionary definitions and lists the parts of speech; features a thesaurus and Grammar Guide; utilizes five learning games that can be individualized with spelling lists; and contains a calculator. The Franklin Spell Checker can do many things that computers cannot. They are portable and can be used with work assignments at a student’s desk. The speaking capabilities make it easier to find the correct spellings of words as well as unknown words that a student is reading. One spell checker also shows students how to write in cursive! The spell checkers also include spelling games that can be individualized for students’ personal words. All elementary students at Malcolm Price Laboratory School have access to spell checkers, and students with disabilities have personal spell checkers at their desks.

School Background Information:
The population of Cedar Falls is about 30,000 people.  The University of Northern Iowa has around 13,000 students and employs many people in the area.  The Price Laboratory School is a part of UNI called the Department of Teaching.  There are 539 students in preschool - 12th grade.  At the elementary, we have 203 students.  The following are statistics about our school:30%-minority, 36%- open enrollment, 17%free and reduced lunch, 20%     special needs, 2% English as a Second Language. Of the 30% minority population, the highest numbers are African American and students from India.  Still, we have many other nationalities represented at our school. 

Teaching Strategy:
Craig (4th grade teacher) and Kim (special education resource teacher) selected the collaborative teaching model (co-teaching) to meet the diverse learning needs of all the students in the classroom. By having two teachers in the classroom, students reap the benefits of having different minds and learning styles teaching together. This provides variety, frequent feedback, multiple intelligences, and a combining of resources. Cook and Friend (1998) identify five approaches to delivering co-teaching: one teaching one assisting, station teaching, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, and team teaching. Craig and Kim are demonstrating team teaching where both teachers take joint ownership for teaching the lessons at the same time. This is the highest level of co-teaching because it requires the most planning and comfort level, and is reported by many veteran co-teachers to be the most satisfying form of co-teaching.

Craig and Kim have been co-teaching for almost two years. They plan weekly for about 20 minutes. Sharing each others strengths and resources has made them stronger teachers. Together they can brainstorm and teach whole group, small group, and individual lessons to the students in the regular classroom. All the needs of the students can be met in this way. Everyone benefits - students of all ability levels and the teachers. Two heads are better than one and create a motivating, cooperative environment.

For further information on co-teaching read the article by Cook, L. & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practices. Focus on Exceptional Children28 (3), 2-16 or view the Web site sponsored by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs.

Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education Model Components
Highlighted in This Activity

(Note: This is a unit plan that may cover several days to several weeks. Not all of the elements from the Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education Model that are described below will appear in the video clips used.)

Learning, Teacher Knowledgeand Teacher Behavior are the three elements that stand out the most because of the co-teaching model being used. Learning includes Active Involvement, Direct Experience, Compelling Situation, Enjoyable Setting, and Frequent Feedback. All of these components happen in a collaborative setting. When you plan with another teacher, your ideas are expanded and your capabilities become stronger. You are able to incorporate someone else’s ideas and in the process build a more dynamic unit. By brainstorming ideas together we were able to come up with fun stuff: everyone wearing baseball uniforms, whistles to wear, and baseball treats at intermission. The students enjoyed this and so did the teachers. Two teachers in the classroom naturally provide more Frequent Feedback and Active Involvement. While one teacher is speaking, the other teacher can be monitoring the students. Proximity control is expanded because the teachers are in different parts of the room. The students get their questions answered faster and are given more personal attention.

Teacher Knowledge and Teacher Behavior are a vital outgrowth of co-teaching. Elementary teachers are expected to be experts in many different areas. It is impossible to continually acquire that much professional growth. Co-teaching can provide professional growth in a daily, usable way. Each teacher shares his/her knowledge and demonstrates new ideas in each lesson and planning session. Regular education teachers can share their content knowledge while the special education teachers can share accommodations and modifications to make the learning accessible to everyone in the class. Both teachers can share their assessment of individual learner characteristics. Together the teachers can see all angles of the child and design appropriate interventions as a team.

Teacher Behavior, specifically Classroom Management, is exemplified in co-teaching. Utilizing the regular education teacher’s large group management skills and the special education teacher’s skills in monitoring behaviors, the students can be following directions and on task. You will see in these videotapes that the students are self-monitoring their behaviors. They each have the identified rules for the activity listed on a self-monitoring card with spaces to record appropriate behavior (runs) and inappropriate behavior (outs). Initially, the teachers direct the students to record their behavior, but students record behaviors whenever they catch themselves following the rules or not following the rules. The self-monitoring card provides a visual reminder of the expected behaviors for the class. It also encourages teachers to reinforce positive behavior and includes a way for teachers to redirect students back to task. If a reinforcing activity, such as a game, had been included in the lesson, a contingency to play could have been built in. For example, only students with two or less outs could play the game or be involved in the preferred activity. Counting the number of runs is not recommended. This only fosters competitiveness and an over reliance on recording the runs. Explain to the students at the beginning of the activity that it doesn’t make any difference how many runs you get; it’s the outs that you want to stay away from. Finally, by co-teaching teachers can model cooperation and how to complement each other. This form of respect carries over into the students.

Student Characteristics:
This year, we have been challenged to meet the needs of a very diverse classroom. Although some students may be outgoing, others may be shy and reserved. For this reason we may give certain students significant praise to meet their esteem and belongingness needs. This, when coupled with other effective teaching strategies, assists in helping the student reach the level of self actualization, or higher levels of learning. Part of this includes parental meetings and contracts written with the student’s input. Having two teachers in the classroom helps to effectively manage those students that need more feedback. While one teacher is teaching, the other teacher can focus in on the management aspect. Also, if one student needs to be removed, the other teacher can continue on with the teaching.

In addition, some students may be a little more challenged to continuously remain focused. To address this, self-monitoring cards were given to all students for them to be able to monitor their ability to stay on task. If a student was found on task, a run was scored on his/her card. Conversely, if a student was found off task, an out was scored. These points were originally directed by the teacher and moved to student-tallied points.

There is one student in the classroom with diabetes that needs to be monitored throughout the day. She is independent in knowing when to test her blood sugar and when to eat a snack.

Overall, we adopt a constructivist approach to learning. Constructivism is the belief that learners construct their own knowledge from their experiences. Constructivism involves the active creation and modification of thoughts, ideas, and understandings as the result of experiences that occur within a socio-cultural context. Learner autonomy is the concept that learners are active participants in the learning process and ultimately responsible for their own learning. Within our lessons, we strive to reach a harmonious balance between constructivism and learner autonomy. This was demonstrated by the creation of Web-based videogames based from student authored comprehension questions. The students were extremely involved in the formation of the content review. They rise to the challenge of being able to “quiz” each other’s understanding of the readings.

Evolution of the Activity:
The Code of Iowa states a “laboratory school shall mean a school operated by an education institution for the purposes of instructing students, training teachers and advancing teaching methods.” All instructors at Malcolm Price Laboratory School are required to fulfill all portions of this three-part mission by:

  • Providing an excellent and innovative education for the Price Laboratory School children it serves from early childhood through grade twelve,

  • Serving as an integral component of the teacher education program of the University of Northern Iowa, and

  • Engaging in scholarly work and service directed at advancing teaching practices, resources, and methods for teachers at state, national, and international levels

As this unit developed, our goal was to address all three portions of our mission. We truly believe that this lesson addresses the first mission, being that it provides examples of excellent and innovative teaching practices. The 4th grade students had an active role in creating some of the questions generated within the review. University students also take an active role in the construction of the Web pages. The second mission is addressed when university students can witness and participate, first hand, in the design and implementation of units that successfully integrate technology within them. The third mission is accomplished by extending these examples to the global community. Through providing in-services, presenting these practices at conferences, and participating in activities such as this one, information is passed on to teachers on a wide scale. Also, with the review games being available on our classroom Web page, several classrooms have visited and commented about its contents.

(Learning activity format adapted from National Educational Technology Standards for Students Connecting Curriculum & Technology