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!



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