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Word Power — a unique approach to vocabulary learning

  • by: Anna from Pobble
  • On: 6, Oct 2021
60 min read

We love to hear brilliant teaching ideas from the Pobble community. When we heard about a dynamic group of vocabulary superheroes, helping pupils to unlock, power up, charge and recharge language learning we had to find out more. Their creator is Primary English specialist Kelly Ashley, we caught up with Kelly to find out more about her vocabulary strategy and how Word Power can be implemented in the classroom.

We love your unique approach to vocabulary learning, what led you to design such a strategy?

I saw the need to help schools to consider practical solutions for closing the ‘word gap’ through explicit vocabulary instruction. The Word Power League of superheroes were designed to support reading, writing, speaking and listening in the classroom. Each of the eight Power-Up word learning strategies is linked to an engaging superhero.

Can you outline the Word Power approach?

Word Power uses a contextual approach to instruction (teaching words in the context of high-quality texts). Each superhero of the Word Power League provides teachers and pupils with the specific skills they need to strengthen in order to Power-Up word knowledge, helping to take the mystery out of vocabulary instruction. Word Power is not a ‘word of the day' resource, but rather a practical tool to help teachers and pupils learn how to tackle everyday words they will encounter when reading and listening (receptive language), writing and speaking (expressive language).

What a great league of characters, we’re sure pupils will engage well with them. Can you tell us a bit about each hero?

The first three members of the league are Phoneme Phantom, Graphic Guardian and Spelling Spy — working together to help pupils secure word memory by building on phonic foundations.

  • Phoneme Phantom (Power-Up strategy 1: phonology) builds word memory by using her Powerful Ears to tune into and manipulate sounds in words; Hair Sticks to articulate, emphasise and repeat words to help them ‘stick’ in word memory and her Shield Transmitter to read aloud, perform and orally rehearse for writing to build fluency.
  • Graphic Guardian (Power-Up strategy 2: graphology) uses his Iron Fist to ‘anchor’ familiar patterns in memory when writing; Direction Glasses to support pupils with letter formation and Super Strength to build hand strength for speed, accuracy, presentation and written fluency.
  • Spelling Spy (Power-Up Strategy 3: orthography) is equipped with a Utility Belt to remember to use a range of spelling strategies when learning new words; Pattern Glasses to make links between visual features and patterns in words and his unique Tricky Tome which helps when editing and proofreading spelling errors.

The next two members are Professor Personal and Captain Connector, helping pupils to strengthen connections between the new and the known.

  • Professor Personal (Power-Up strategy 4: personal links) has built-in Question Power to help him ask and answer questions to build word knowledge; a Boomerang Pen for gathering and discussing new words encountered with others and his special Spyglass that reminds him to use inference and prediction skills when exploring the meaning of new words in context.
  • Captain Connector (Power-Up strategy 5: connections) uses her Bountiful Bucket to collect words related in meaning; Super Flexibility for ‘stretching’ connections by understanding how texts are linked by theme, structure, etc. and her Connection Catcher for connecting and ‘catching’ the meaning of words across the curriculum.

The third group of Word Power League superheroes helps pupils to use a range of strategies to explore word meaning — Meaning Mastermind, Morpheme Marvel and Doctor Derivation.

  • Meaning Mastermind (Power-Up strategy 6: meaning in context) has a specially-designed Context Vest to use syntax and semantics to explore word meaning; Multi-coloured Hair to investigate ‘multiple’ meanings of new words and Super Slippers to ‘slip’ new words into new contexts to build word depth.
  • Morpheme Marvel (Power-Up strategy 7: morphology) uses his amazing Root Suit to compare morphemes in words; a Laser Mask for spotting new prefixes, suffixes and root words when reading to connect meaning and an M-Belt Badge for using knowledge of word parts as a spelling and composition strategy when writing.
  • Doctor Derivation (Power-Up strategy 8: etymology) has Field Glasses to search for social, historical, cultural or religious significance in new words; Multi-lingual Headphones to ‘listen out’ for words borrowed into English from other languages and a Time-Travelling Watch for exploring how word meaning changes over time.

We’re sure many teachers will find this a hugely effective classroom approach. If you could give them one takeaway to try in the classroom, what would it be?

One of the most important first steps of the Word Power approach is to unlock pupils’ existing word and world knowledge. What experiences and language do they already have that we can ‘stick’ new word learning to? What initial associations do they make to the words we are learning together? Help support pupils to make strong connections between the new and the known, strengthening the memory of new words over time.

A ‘vocabulary cube’ is a great way to charge and recharge word learning with pupils. Create your own cube by designating categories for each cube face. Create categories linked to word learning strategies that have been rehearsed together such as analyse (prefixes, suffixes and root words), link (to a personal experience), define (in the pupils’ own words), apply (in another context), repeat (articulate the word) and compare (think of other linked words). Roll the dice and encourage pupils to Power-Up understanding of new words by following the instruction. Vocabulary cube is a great way to make word learning fun!

For more about The Word Power League check out Kelly’s new book with Singular Publishing, Word Power: Amplifying vocabulary instruction.

Kelly Ashley has 20 years of experience in teaching and leadership roles in national and international schools, and in consultant roles within local authority advisory teams. She works with groups and individual schools across the country, offering bespoke training and consultancy support on all aspects of the primary English curriculum. She has firm roots in educational research, supporting schools to explore evidence-based solutions to school improvement.

Visit for more information on bespoke training and consultancy, or follow her on Twitter.

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