Vocabulary isn’t always every student’s (or parent’s) favorite subject to work on.
However, with its interesting passages, varied exercises, free digital resources and games and self-study approach, Vocabulary Workshop can be an affordable and easy to use way to help students develop a strong vocabulary with a minimum of frustration..
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What Is Vocabulary Workshop?
Published by Sadlier-Oxford, Vocabulary Workshop is a series of books designed to help students improve their vocabulary through leveled passages, an assortment of practice activities and exercises, reviews, word studies and more.
Vocabulary Workshop is made up of three levels, Tools for Comprehension, Achieve, Tools for Excellence, as well as a separate, fourth level for ESL and struggling students called Vocabulary for Success.
What Ages Or Grades Is Vocabulary Workshop Intended For?
Broadly speaking, Vocabulary Workshop is intended for students in grades 1-12, with each level in the series corresponding to a different grade range. These are:
|Tools for Comprehension
|Achieve (10 words per day)
|Tools for Excellence (20 words per day)
|Vocabulary For Success
Notably, Vocabulary Workshop Achieve and Tools for Excellence target the same grade range.
The main difference between the two programs is that Achieve splits its unit word lists into two sections (A and B), introducing 10 at a time, while Tools for Excellence units work with the full 20.
While the books in Vocabulary Workshop are partly centered around grade-leveled passages and words they can, of course, be used by students learning outside of the intended age/grade range, so long as their reading and reading comprehension skills are up to it.
In fact, it is important to note that, and much to their credit, Sadlier-Oxford have not included any direct references to grade or age on any of the book covers.
Instead, books in the series use alternative structuring, with Tools for Comprehension books divided by color (Red-Blue) and Achieve/Tools for Excellence progressing by letter (A-H).
This structuring can make using Vocabulary Workshop a lot easier for students learning outside of a typical grade progression to use.
Without any obvious references to grade or age, the books can seem a little less intimidating to precocious students moving ahead and a lot less embarrassing for older students who are a bit behind.
The notable exception to this is Vocabulary for Success, which adheres to a standard grade progression (6-10) since the books are designed to bring students up to a specific grade level in English.
The downside of a program using a non-age or grade-based structure is that it can be a little harder for homeschooling parents to figure out where they should start in the series, particularly if their student is a bit advanced or a bit behind in their studies.
Unfortunately, at time of writing, there really isn’t much in the way of an online or printable placement test for parents to use with this program.
Instead, parents are expected to go by a rough book-grade correlation as below:
Vocabulary Workshop Tools for Comprehension
Vocabulary Workshop Achieve & Tools for Excellence
That said, the Sadlier website does offer parents the ability to browse through and download samples of just about every Vocabulary Workshop book, offering them a unit or two of each level that they can use to make a more informed assessment or even try out on their student if they so choose.
What Is Required To Teach The Program?
Vocabulary Workshop is a very lightweight vocabulary program in that there really isn’t too much for parents to buy or keep track of.
Most of the materials are largely contained within a student workbook, although there is a Teacher’s Edition, as well as some optional assessments, that parents can purchase.
The student workbooks contain most of what’s needed to learn vocabulary with Vocabulary Workshop.
Each book contains lesson passages, unit word lists and definitions and the various different exercises that get students directly working with their new words and using them in the proper context.
The books follow a traditional workbook design, being monocolor and consumable.
There are some illustrations here and there, but by and large the focus in these books is on the text itself.
This will probably be fine for most students, although parents of very young and more easily distracted students may need to keep an eye on things to make sure they don’t get too bored and zone out.
The workbooks are written to the student and contain fairly clear instructions for every exercise and task, which makes Vocabulary Workshop more capable of being used as an independent learning program.
In our opinion, while students using Tools for Comprehension will probably need a bit more in the way of parental interaction, owing to the inclusion of various discussions and light kinesthetic activities, older students and those in Achieve or Excellence should largely be able to work through lessons by themselves.
Homeschooling parents should be aware, however, that the books are written for a classroom setting and frequently make references to that effect, for example referring to student “partners” during activities.
Although perhaps a bit irritating to those who homeschool in order to escape the trappings of traditional schooling , these references should have little impact on the learning beyond the parent needing to take up the role of a fellow student from time to time.
Interestingly, in addition to the passages and exercises, the workbooks in the series often contain links or references to digital tools and activities that can be found on Sadlier Connect and that can augment the learning.
For example, Sadlier offers audio recordings for its passages and word lists, which can be good for those with reading challenges as well as helping with pronunciation.
There are also word mapping activities, quizzes, supplemental activities and even word games, which can be kind of cool, and these are freely accessible to families, offering them a variety of useful interactive tools at their fingertips.
It is important to note that not every digital resource designed for Vocabulary Workshop is available without a teacher’s account, but parents can access quite a few including audio narration, pronunciation guides, differentiated passages, practice quizzes, games and more, which is actually very thoughtful.
Although the student workbooks are pretty straightforward and easy to learn from on their own, like many other learning programs parents can also pick up a Teacher’s Guide for each Vocabulary Workshop level.
These Teacher’s Editions contain the passages and exercises included in the student books (with the answers filled in for easier correction), as well as lesson pacing guides, differentiation tips, teaching tips and tools, and literature suggestions for additional readings.
While perhaps not strictly necessary for more experienced homeschooling parents, we feel that they can be a valuable and helpful tool for those new to homeschooling and those whose ELA skills are a bit rusty.
One thing that might be of interest to homeschooling parents with the Teacher’s Editions is that they come with a free teacher’s code that can allow parents to register as a teacher on Sadlier Connect and access a full suite of digital teaching tools.
With this code, in addition to the tools available to families, parents can get access to their own personal dashboard, progress tracking and recording tools, the ability to assign custom work, scheduling functions and more.
Vocabulary Workshop also offers optional test booklets that can be used to integrate more formal assessments into the learning.
These booklets are perforated softcovers with tests for each unit, as well as cumulative exams with various written exercises that test a student’s understanding across several units.
Finally, in addition to the print version of Vocabulary Workshop there is an interactive edition for each textbook that turns the program into something of a digital vocabulary curriculum.
The Interactive Editions include digital copies of each level’s workbook that students can fill in from their web browser, as well as integrating many of the games and features from Sadlier Connect, including reporting and progress tracking, auto correction and more.
Unfortunately, as of writing, these are mostly available for institutions and larger orders and so can be a bit trickier for individual homeschooling families to sign up for, although they can contact the company directly to sign up for a homeschool account (which will require some proof, presumably to prevent students in schools from ordering answer keys).
How It Works
Each book in Vocabulary Workshop is designed to cover about a year’s worth of learning in vocabulary, with around 14-18 units per book.
As with other vocabulary programs, such as Megawords, each unit can take a couple weeks to go through and the workbooks largely leave the pace to the teacher/parent, with the Teacher’s Editions providing some help in this regard.
Each book’s units or lessons follow a structure that is not too uncommon with vocabulary programs, with students reading a passage and then completing various exercises based on a selection of words.
Every couple units there is generally a review and more in-depth word study, and as they go along parents and students have the opportunity to try out some of Sadlier’s digital tools and accessories to enhance learning.
Each unit in Vocabulary Workshop starts out with a passage of some kind that students read and that serves to introduce that unit’s word list, whose words are highlighted in bold lettering.
The passages are grade-leveled in terms of complexity and difficulty and they are pretty varied, exposing students to a variety of writing styles.
There are, for example, fiction and non-fiction stories, fables, letters, various kinds of essays and far, far more.
The passages aren’t just functional, either, but touch on a wide variety of subjects and topics, many of which are actually kind of fun and interesting.
Depending on the unit and book, in one text, students might read about space, while in another they might learn an Ashanti folk tale, while in still another they might read personal correspondence from FDR during the Great Depression.
While not every passage will be intrinsically interesting to every student, there should be enough to interest most students at least most of the time.
As we mentioned earlier, students and parents can access an audio recording of the passage on Sadlier Connect.
In this recording, the passage is read aloud and students can listen to it alone or, ideally, follow along in the text.
This option can be a great one for students with learning and reading challenges or difficulties, and it can help turn lessons into a more multisensory experience by adding an auditory component, which is nice.
Activities and Exercises
As with many other vocabulary programs, following their reading students engage in a number of workbook-style activities and exercises to get them working with the words they are learning.
Which activities are included in any unit really depends on the level, but the program is fairly consistent, offering similar exercises in each set of books.
This can actually be pretty helpful as it can help students get more used to their lessons, which can reduce anxiety and make it easier for them to do their work more independently, as there aren’t any real surprises to worry about.
We’ve listed some of the more common exercises that students will do throughout their lessons below.
Typical Activities in Tools for Comprehension
Word Meanings/Definitions – In this activity, students read the unit’s list of words, its definition and a sample sentence, which provides context.
The exercise is often interspersed with some suggested kinesthetic activities, such as the student discussing an idea or moving around in some way, which can add to the program’s multisensory learning experience and can help younger kids better engage with the material by letting them have some fun.
Match the Meaning – In this exercise, students respond to a written prompt/clue with a word from a word box that best matches the intent of the sentence.
Sentence Completion – In this activity, students fill in a blank space in a sentence with an appropriate word from a word box.
Words in Context – In this activity, students read a short passage and respond to a series of questions, which is kind of interesting as it tests both their understanding of the words and their reading comprehension skills at the same time.
Write and Share – Students typically end a unit with a creative writing exercise where they make use of the unit’s word list.
Typical Activities in Achieve and Tools for Excellence
The activities found in Achieve and Tools for Excellence are somewhat similar in concept to those found in Tools for Comprehension, but tend to take things a little deeper and demand a little more work from students, as might be expected from the more mature intended age group.
Definitions – After reading their passage, students are presented with a list of words and start off a unit by reading their definitions and adding the word to pre-written sentences to put them into some context.
Using Context – In this activity, students are given a series of sentences and must determine if the bolded words are being used correctly in a sentence or not, which is kind of interesting as it gets kids to critically think about how words are being used a bit more, rather than just automatically going through the motions.
Choosing the Right Word – A slight twist on a typical sentence completion exercise, in Choosing the Right Word students have to pick between two word list options to ensure that a sentence makes sense.
Completing the Sentence – A pretty standard exercise, in Completing the Sentence, students fill in the blanks in a series of sentences with words from the word list.
Synonyms and Antonyms – A kind of interesting addition to a vocabulary lesson, and one that integrates a bit with grammar study, here students have to match words from their word list to those of similar (synonym) or opposite (antonym) meanings that are written out and bolded in a variety of sentences.
Writing: Words in Action – Similar to Tools for Comprehension, here students are given a writing exercise to complete using several words from the word list. Rather than being a creative writing exercise, this activity challenges older students with more structure and directive writing, such as compare and contrast, personal essays and so on.
Vocabulary in Context – Finally, students are presented with some additional short pieces of writing, upon which they will have to answer multiple choice questions about various word meanings.
On the whole, Vocabulary Workshops includes a good variety of workbook activities in its lessons, doing a pretty good job at covering every word in the word list while rotating through different formats and styles, so that student’s won’t get too bored or zone out during each unit.
That said, with 5-7 different exercises in each unit, and between 5-10 questions in each, units can take a little time to get through.
Depending on a homeschool’s schedule and how they pace their work, they can conceivably spend a couple weeks on a single word list, which can be a little frustrating for some students.
Review and Word Study
Every couple of units, students are given a dedicated review lesson.
These lessons go over the words in each unit’s word lists using different exercises and in any order.
These can include word associations (which can be invaluable for practicing for standardized tests), various writing activities, sentence completion, comprehension exercises with new passages, and more.
Students are also given a word study component, which gives them a more in-depth look at language and the words they have been given.
In Tools for Comprehension, these can include dictionary exercises, shades of meaning (where students work on similes), as well as antonym and synonym work, while in Achieve and Excellence, students start to learn about root words, similes, proverbs, denotations and connotations and more.
The learning here can actually get pretty in-depth, introducing and touching on other aspects of language arts far beyond a simple word list, including comprehension and grammar, which is pretty interesting and can be a good way to sneak in extra practice for other areas of language arts.
Further, Vocabulary Workshop’s periodic review can be very helpful for students who tend to forget what they’ve learned over time, giving them extra practice at the different word lists and revising concepts.
That said, it can make progressing through Vocabulary Workshop a little more time consuming and students who do pick up and remember language very quickly might get frustrated from the strong emphasis on revision.
As students move through their lessons, Vocabulary Workshop will often suggest extra games and activities that students can try through the Sadlier Connect website.
These games, activities and resources are linked to each unit, being specifically designed to go along with each word list, which is kind of cool.
Ultimately there are a ton of resources available, both free and with a teacher’s account, including passage read alouds, flashcards, practice quizzes, word squares, maps and other graphic organizers, pronunciation keys, crosswords and more.
There are even vocabulary video games that students can play, such as Word Search (which works on synonyms), What’s the Word (sort of a fill-in-the-blanks exercise), and Solve It! (a multiple choice-style gameshow quiz).
Unlike most free resources on the web, these games are actually of pretty good quality, using modern cartoon graphics and sound effects, and are kind of fun to play.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the answers are linked to individual word lists, so they really can’t be played in isolation.
While it is up to parents to make sure that students don’t spend too much time playing around with the various digital resources, we feel they are pretty unique and can be a pretty valuable resource that can expand the learning and practice of the workbooks, making things a little more engaging for students and providing Vocabulary Workshop with a far more interactive and modern touch.
Is Vocabulary Workshop Secular?
While it’s true that William H Sadlier Inc is a longtime producer of catechetical programs and supplements, Vocabulary Workshop itself is a completely secular program whose exercises and passages make no real mention of God or the Bible in any way.
As such its lessons should be perfectly suitable for secular and neutral homeschools, as well as faith-based homeschools who don’t mind using a non-religious vocabulary program.
How Easy Is It To Teach?
Overall, Vocabulary Workshop is a very easy program for both parents and students to use.
The workbooks are written clearly with ample instructions that guide students and parents from activity to activity, and the books themselves are laid out quite logically and in an organized manner.
As a result, and especially for older students whose reading, attention and comprehension skills are a little more developed, we feel that Vocabulary Workshop is more of an independent learning program, with students doing more self-study and parents being able to step into a guidance/oversight role.
With this program, parent’s don’t have to spend quite as much time directly teaching compared to some other vocabulary programs out there, making it a good option for busier homeschools and for parents unsure about their own teaching skills.
Finally, being a very compact and self-contained vocabulary program, there really isn’t much in the way of prep required before each lesson, making it very open and go.
Although parents will have to spend some time at first creating a schedule and setting a pace of learning that makes sense for their student, there aren’t any manipulatives, separate readers or ancillary books to purchase, store and keep track of with Vocabulary Workshop.
Pros And Cons Of Vocabulary Workshop
Affordable and compact
With most of a year’s work contained within a sub-$20 workbook, Vocabulary Workshop can be a fairly affordable curriculum that can fit most budgets.
Similarly, there isn’t a lot of materials to buy or keep track of with this program, as it mainly involves the use of a workbook and, somewhat optionally, a helpful Teacher’s Guide.
Activities in Vocabulary Workshop, particularly when it comes to Tools for Comprehension, often include multisensory activities, with students pronouncing things, writing their responses, discussing concepts and even getting up and moving about at time.
Similarly, Sadlier Connect allows families to access read aloud versions of passages, as well as auditory pronunciation tools.
As a result, the program can suit students with a variety of learning styles and preferences, as well as those with reading difficulties.
Thorough vocabulary development
Vocabulary Workshop offers students pretty solid and thorough vocabulary lessons, providing them with passages to read, lots of exercises to practice with and even exploring different concepts such as synonyms, antonyms, similes and word roots.
Each unit in Vocabulary Workshop offers students several different types of activities, from fill in the blanks to multiple choice to writing exercises and more.
As a result, they shouldn’t get too bored while working on their word lists.
Doesn’t require a lot of parental involvement
For the most part, Vocabulary Workshop units are pretty well-structured and clearly written, with enough instructions to guide students through their work with minimal parental involvement.
Parents can therefore focus on other tasks while their student works independently.
Lots of free digital resources to enhance lessons
In addition to the workbook exercises, students and parents can take advantage of many free digital resources that are offered by Sadlier and referenced in the texts.
Students can, for example, listen to passages read aloud, do practice quizzes, practice with flashcards, do word mapping and even play some pretty cool word list-linked video games.
Easy to use, open and go
There isn’t much prep work required by parents or students when using Vocabulary Workshop.
Its lessons are clearly structured and written and students should be able to simply open them and start working on a unit.
Each unit in Vocabulary Workshop begins with a reading.
These passages can actually be pretty interesting and involve topics that students might actually care about (animals, space, science, historical figures), and the writing styles can be diverse, including fables, stories, essays, letters, historical documents and more.
Lots of review
Finally, Vocabulary Workshop offers students a lot of opportunities for review.
Every couple units or so there is a dedicated review lesson that goes back over the different word lists, something that can be helpful for some students to prevent them from forgetting important words over time.
Lessons can be long for some students
With each unit involving a passage, a word list and several exercises with up to 10 or so questions, Vocabulary Workshop lessons can take some time for students to work through and might be frustrating to those used to speeding through their work.
Designed for classroom setting
Although popular with homeschoolers and supported in this purpose by the company, Vocabulary Workshop is largely designed for classrooms, making frequent references to a school-type setting and activities that parents will have to work around.
Who Is Vocabulary Workshop Ideal For?
Parents and students looking for a more multisensory vocabulary program
With many lessons involving reading and writing, as well as the occasional kinesthetic activity and optional auditory components, Vocabulary Workshop can be very multisensory and can suit students with a wide variety of learning styles and needs.
Students who do well with lots of practice and review
Each lesson in Vocabulary Workshop contains a variety of exercises that will give students a lot of good practice with the words they are learning and after every couple units there are dedicated review lessons that go back over the units’ words to make sure students remember and understand them over time.
Students and parents who like consistent lesson structure
Vocabulary Workshop units do follow a fairly consistent structure, making use of more or less the same exercise types in each book.
As a result, students generally know what to expect in their lessons, which can make the program less intimidating and easier for them to work with on their own.
Parents looking for a more independent vocabulary program
Vocabulary Workshop’s workbooks are very well-written, offering clear instructions and are generally able to guide students through lessons without much need for parental support.
As a result, it is a program that many students can work with on their own, with parents stepping into more of an oversight and guidance role rather than needing to spend a lot of time directly teaching.
Parents and students who enjoy including digital tools and activities in their studies
Along with the workbooks, with Vocabulary Workshop parents and students have access to a wide variety of free digital tools and fun video games that they can include to get extra practice with their vocabulary.
Homeschools on a budget
With workbooks costing less than $20 and containing most of the learning students will need, Vocabulary Workshop can be an extremely affordable language arts supplement that can be a good option for those on a tight budget.
Who Is It Not Ideal For?
Parents and students who don’t like working with word lists
Some homeschooling families hate working with word lists, preferring to discover and explore words more naturally, working through literature or through other methods.
These families may not appreciate Vocabulary Workshop’s word list-based units.
Parents and students looking for short lessons they can knock out in a week
Although certainly thorough, Vocabulary Workshop lessons can take a little time to get through.
With multiple exercises and activities in each unit and a dedicated review after every couple units, it can perhaps frustrate students who like to move through their word lists a week (or less) at a time.
Note: Prices correct as of writing. All Prices in USD.
As mentioned previously, the bulk of Vocabulary Workshop can be taught through its workbooks and, making things easier for the parent to administer, its Teacher’s Editions.
There are also test books that can be used to add unit and comprehensive tests to the program, although these aren’t strictly necessary to use with the program.
Vocabulary Workshop is geared towards schools and institutions, but does support homeschools as well and so parents are advised to contact the company for more accurate individual pricing information on current versions of the program.
That said, a rough estimate of pricing for individuals can be found below.
Workbooks: $14.65 per level
Teacher’s Editions: $31.99 per level (except for Grade 1, which is $67.32)
Assessments: $67.99- $71.32
As always, though, parents should always make sure to check the latest prices and any discounts or offers that may apply.
Or, check out older, homeschool editions at other retailers such as:
Is It Worth The Price?
With a year’s worth of vocabulary work costing as low as around $15 (without a Teacher’s Edition or Assessment Book), Vocabulary Workshop can be a very affordable vocabulary supplement that can fit most budgets.
That said, we believe it can also provide a good deal of value for homeschoolers.
The program’s approach to vocabulary is pretty thorough and effective in our opinion, teaching its words through compelling passages while giving students ample practice with them through a good number and variety of workbook and writing exercises.
The program also includes ample review and an opportunity to explore language in greater depth through fairly comprehensive word study sections that touch on word roots, similes, denotations, connotations and more.
In addition to the workbooks, students can augment their learning through Sadlier’s rather remarkable range of free digital tools and games that not only make learning and practicing vocabulary more interactive and fun, but can also make lessons more multisensory and accessible by adding an auditory component to the reading.
Finally, because the workbooks are well-laid out and clearly scripted, students can do a good deal of their work on their own, which can be of great benefit to busier parents who can therefore shift away from direct teaching and into more of an oversight and guidance role.
Vocabulary isn’t always every student’s (or parent’s) favorite subject to work on.
However, with its interesting passages, varied exercises, free digital resources and games and self-study approach, Vocabulary Workshop can be an affordable and easy to use way to help students develop a strong vocabulary with a minimum of frustration.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.