Directional Vocabulary for Upper Elementary

Test prep for upper elementary header with girl writing in a notebook

Now that it’s what I not so affectionately refer to as “testing season” directional vocabulary is more important than ever. I do want to throw out a disclaimer and say that I do not believe good test prep is, or should be, the same thing as “drill and kill” and/or “teaching to the test”. Those things often get lumped together, when it’s actually completely different things.

Directional Vocabulary

The best and most authentic test prep is quality instruction that begins on Day 1. It doesn’t matter what amazing test prep strategy, game, data, or anything else I use….if I don’t provide sound instruction all year, my students will not be prepared. Good instruction and authentic understanding allows students to apply and transfer their knowledge and skills to new problems. There is obviously a plethora of ways to provide this instruction, which is part of what makes teaching fun! I use a combination of instructional strategies and adapting my lessons to the needs of each class, as well as teach directional vocabulary.

practice makes permanent

When working on my Ed.S. in Brain Research, one thing that stuck with me is that practice does not make perfect. Instead, practice makes permanent. Practice without guidance and feedback can be counterproductive if students are practicing a procedure or strategy incorrectly. If we practice something the wrong way over and over again, we permanently engrave the wrong action into our habitual responses.

It is important for us to not only provide opportunities for students to practice, but to practice correctly. When students are able to review and practice material over long periods of time, they are more likely able to store and receive that information and content from their long-term memory.

This is why I like to add a mix of spiral review into my daily instruction. It keeps challenging skills and concepts fresh in students’ minds and prevents them from forgetting content taught early in the year. I incorporate spiral review with my morning work and homework, and I feel that it’s been very beneficial for my students. You can read more about my morning work here.

Directional Vocabulary – Test Prep Vocabulary

One strategy for effective test prep is to teach directional vocabulary. Our students often struggle on test items, because they don’t understand the directions or the question. It is often the directional vocabulary of the test that the students miss, rather than the academic content.

test prep vocabulary


I now give explicit instruction on these directional vocabulary words. I developed vocabulary lists with essential terms for success on high stakes tests. I’ve included 15 language arts terms and 16 math terms on the list. For each of the words, I created a vocabulary booklet. In the booklet, students will complete a Frayer Model graphic organizer for each word. For the language arts words, students read a brief reading passage and then use the passage to answer a question use that particular vocabulary word.

Directional Vocabulary

test prep vocab

For the math directional vocabulary words, there is a math problem to solve that incorporates the vocabulary word. I tried to use math problems that would also be appropriate for 3rd-5th grades. There is a language arts practice and math practice for each of the words that overlap.

test prep vocabulary

Next year, I want to focus on this earlier in the year, and I plan to add the directional vocabulary words to my Word of the Week bulletin board. I made word wall cards that would match my Prefix and Suffix of the Week, as well as my Homophone of the Week.

Directional Vocab-2

Test Prep Treats

Many of us have very strong feelings about testing and test prep, but it’s important to watch what we say about testing in front of our students. I don’t want my students to approach testing with dread, nervousness, or fear. I do want them to take the test seriously, but I don’t want them losing sleep over it either. I talk about testing with extreme confidence and try to make my students feel that they are absolutely the most prepared students in the whole country, especially with the directional vocabulary lessons. I work hard to hide my own anxiety that typically shows up right around testing week (even though I promise myself that I won’t sweat it).

It sounds a little crazy, but I do try to make testing days fun. I might throw in a little art project that we normally wouldn’t do in an effort to prevent my students from becoming completely drained, because testing wears them down quickly. In addition, I like to give my students small snacks that aren’t too terribly sugary or complicated.

testing snacks IMG_2661

I made little testing cards to attach to the snacks, just to offer cheesy words of encouragement. You can download the tags here. I made a few of the cards specifically for my current group of students. I have an extremely competitive group this year, and every day at recess they either play a version of dodgeball or kickball. They play with as much fierceness as I would expect to see at a national championship game-every single day. When the game gets tight they say they’re going into “beast mode” and they really go all out. I have no idea if that’s actually a thing-but to my students it sure is! I couldn’t help but add that phrase to my testing sayings:)

Hopefully, these directional vocabulary ideas and testing treats will help you out this year!

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