Vocabulary Toolboxes

Posted on Categories Academic/Technical Skill Integration, Online Learning Tools & Resources

At a Glance

A team of teachers and para educators from Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center created Vocabulary Tool Boxes to help instructors from each program area increase the literacy skills of their students.


In 2012-13, a team comprised of three career technical education (CTE) teachers, one paraeducator, and one administrator from Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center (CWCTC) attended four days of regional workshops offered by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Education to provide professional development targeted to improving student results. This training focused on increasing literacy, identifying Tier II and Tier III words. 

Based on the training, in 2013-14, the teachers and paraeducator developed and piloted CTE-specific materials. These resources, along with processes and procedures, were refined during the fall of 2014, and collected into a three-ring binder (called a “Vocabulary Tool Box”). 

The Vocabulary Tool Boxes were utilized as a framework, as well as the substance, for in-house professional development training that was developed and led by the team that created the materials. The training was offered through professional learning communities (PLC) that met four times, from January to May, 2015. The groups were assigned by administrators and included a mix of up to 10 educators, para professionals, counselors, and administrators. 

The initial PLC orientation included a PowerPoint that was developed by the team. This presentation focused specifically on research data associated with words heard per hour and per week by family classification (low income, working class, and professional), words heard per year by income level and family classification, Keystone score ranking by sending district versus median household income, examples of effective and ineffective methods of teaching vocabulary, differentiated tiers of words (I, II and III – focusing on Tier II and III); vocabulary resources and tools, well as supporting articles from Education Week, Psychology Today and Rice University. 

The initiative continues to fulfill the original purpose and its objective, and teachers continue to add resources to the Tool Box. In addition, the team structure of this initiative (including representatives from all groups that support and deliver instruction) and the “bottom-up” approach to professional development have served as the impetus for developing teacher-leaders within CWCTC. Through this type of opportunity, staff members are able to exercise their leadership traits and capacity beyond their individual classroom instruction and deliver high-quality professional development to their peers.

Origin / Implementation

This initiative originated from CTE teacher feedback that student literacy skills were not at grade level, and that this deficit was negatively impacting their ability to successfully deliver the CTE curriculum.  Specifically, teachers were concerned that lack of vocabulary and reading proficiency was impeding their students’ progress, especially due to the technical nature of the materials students are expected to read and master.

The team from CWCTC attended the initial Technical Assistance Program (TAP) workshop delivered by PaTTAN in 2012-2013. Administrators from CWCTC utilized funding provided through TAP for the training services.

Results / Impact

Teacher anecdotal remarks indicate that student engagement, recognition of Tier II and III vocabulary, as well as overall reading fluency and decoding skills are increasing. Additionally, NOCTI written test scores are increasing.


Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center
Jeff Geesey, Assistant Director

Supporting Files