Teaching Vocabulary With Moxie

Photo credit: Jordan Butler
Photo credit: Jordan Butler

[Read time: 5 minutes]

Did you hear the one about the acrophobic donkey?

One day a man, his grandson, and a donkey walked into a bar.

(Okay, c’mon. You know donkeys don’t go to bars!)

The true story is they were making their way slowly through a great, green plain. The man led the donkey, who carried the boy on its back. As they walked, they overheard the not-so-whispery whispers of passersby:

“What a lazy boy!”

“He should let his grandfather ride the donkey!”

The comments stung the boy, so he convinced the man to swap positions.

As they continued with the boy leading the grandfather-laden donkey, they heard more criticism:

“How cruel the man is to make a little boy walk while he rides idly!”

Now it was the old man’s turn to feel wounded.

A solution occurred to them: “We’ll both walk!” And so they did.

Now, we all know haters gonna hate, and these haters were no different:  “Look at those fools! Why are they walking when they could be riding the donkey?”

Tough crowd out there that day. Then came another solution: “We’ll ride the donkey together!” They climbed onto the confused donkey and urged him down the road.

You know where this story is headed, right?

NOW the critics threw shade on the man and the boy for burdening the donkey with such a tremendous load. Full of shame, the man and boy reckoned the haters might be right, so they decided to carry the donkey together. Surely that would silence the haters.

As they stepped onto a narrow bridge that spanned an unexpected ravine, the acrophobic donkey panicked, kicking and shaking his head wildly. “You know I’m afraid of heights! Let me go! I can’t do it!”

As the man and boy struggled to maintain their hold on the terrified donkey, he slipped from their grasp. The devastated grandfather and grandson watched him descend into the ravine, blowing kisses and shouting, “Farewell, loyal beast!” until the donkey disappeared from sight.

What did the survivors learn from their experience?

If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass goodbye.

This tale of unknown origin was adapted from Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port.

Birds of a feather

I don’t know any teachers who are not people-pleasers. Do you? Most are like me: crazy people optimists who persist in trying to do right by every student while frantically managing the demands of a classroom, the expectations of administrators and parents, the needs of our own families, AND the standards we set for ourselves, undoubtedly the most rigorous of all.

If you’re like me, and I’m guessing you are, then I’m excited you’re here.

Because I feel you, exhausted teacher-whose-life-begs-for-balance; whose brain throbs with hope and frustration as you search for fresh opportunities that will motivate your students to tear themselves away from Snapchat; who tap into last year’s plans only to find that ALL of the stuff you used before is tired, and NONE of it seems good enough for this year’s group of kids, or just right for this unit — or you’re just stinkin’ tired of doing it the same way over and over; who resolved at the end of last year — the year that saw the appearance of at LEAST a dozen gray hairs in your part — to set boundaries that dissolved before Labor Day this year. Yes, you.

I feel you. Don’t think I’m not right there with you just because I’m not literally right there with you. Because I am. Ohhh, I am.


And it is precisely BECAUSE I feel you so hard that I created “Vocabulary With Moxie.”

“Vocabulary is the best single indicator of intellectual ability and an accurate predictor of success at school,” writes W.B. Elley. No one argues with that. Our students deserve direct vocabulary instruction across all content areas as well as–and especially!–opportunities to think about, talk about, and play with words. More about that “play with words” bit in a moment.

Inspired by Robert Marzano’s Six Steps For Effective Vocabulary Instruction, Vocabulary With Moxie is a busy teacher’s resource for relevant and fresh vocabulary-building lessons, activities, and materials. You can use what you find here to help you support kids’ vocabulary development with energy, courage, and know-how–with moxie, get it?–and WITHOUT sacrificing time with the people, passions, and pastimes that feed the outside-the-classroom YOU.


And best of all? Your students can feel energized, courageous, and knowledgeable–yes, THEY can feel the moxie, too!–as they develop the advanced literacy necessary not only for academic achievement but also to express themselves and explore the world.

Step Six: The Fun Stuff

Now, back to Robert Marzano. Let’s consider for a moment his sixth step for effective vocabulary instruction: “Involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with terms.” Holla!

 In Vocabulary For the Common Core, Marzano and Julia Simms advise

Academic games are an extremely effective (but typically underutilized) way to help students engage with academic content.

So let’s be atypical and utilize some games! Who’s with me?


I am by no means claiming creation or ownership of all of the resources on this site; not all sprang newborn from my head. Some are my own, but many were inspired by my students; a few I brainstormed with colleagues, and others I adapted from online and print resources. And some have been on my “best of” list for so long or have undergone so many iterations, I can’t remember where they were born.

Regardless where they came from, they live here now, in Vocabulary With Moxie, and I am ready to make you a deal: I will save you time by offering fresh, fun ways to support your students in learning vocabulary if you will promise to spend the time you’ve saved using your moxie to change the world in other wonderful ways!


Good. Now we’re just getting started–it’s Vocabulary With Moxie “Lite” until we really get rolling–but stay tuned! You’ll find more and more resources to use and love if you keep checking back. Better yet, subscribe for updates!

Thanks for joining me,


Read more about me here.


Comment Policy: Thank you for adding your moxie to the conversation! Please use your personal name or initials and do not put your URL in the comment text, as the latter can seem like spam.

I welcome and encourage your relevant, helpful, and constructive comments and will remove any that are off-topic, hurtful, or inappropriate. Let’s be kind, hold hands, and walk together on the sunny side of the street, shall we?


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