Today, I bring you the first installment of “Wocabulary” (a witty, jocular even, term coined by one of my former sophomores–get it? WOcabulary?) with a word chosen by my favorite special educator in all of the land. We co-taught together for several years, and I am a better teacher, mother, and person because of my working relationship and friendship with her. Thus, I dedicate this first Wocabulary post to her.
Together, she and I taught vocabulary to our sophomores. Because of an influential teacher I met during my first teaching gig, I decided to teach vocabulary based off of Greek and Latin roots. I tried teaching vocabulary from the books we read, but that never worked quite right because studying the words after we finished the book felt weird. I tried using the county-provided books, but those were cumbersome, and I didn’t always like the accompanying activities. Using the Greek and Latin root system allowed me to assess cumulatively on vocabulary. That way, a word from list one might show up on the list seven assessment. Asking students to “memorize” vocabulary, only to drop it from their brains right after the test, seemed like a waste of my already-precious time.
The Teaching Strategy:
Every vocabulary list came with a PowerPoint presentation, which included definitions, sentences with the words in context, and pictures. Sometimes, students created the PowerPoints as an assessment.
Here is a sample activity that you can have your students complete with a word. My suggestion would be to informally assess students on the words of the week, find out which words students struggle with, and have them create an image like the one below based on a word that challenged them. A four-square diagram like this can be set up however you want. Maybe the four boxes will say picture, non-example, example, and meaning. Maybe they will say example, non-example, synonyms, antonyms. Maybe they will say SAT question (using the word), reminds me of, often confused with, and in my own words. Lots of options for you to choose what you think will help your students actually use the word.
The Assessment Strategy:
Sure, I could assess the same way every time with a multiple-choice test, but where’s the fun in doing the same thing every time? Every time I provide you with a vocabulary word and picture, I will provide you with an assessment strategy for vocabulary.
Today’s strategy is the paired story.
What is the paired story?
A paired story is simply a story that students write with a partner. They write the story using vocabulary words.
What do they do with vocabulary?
I try to combine vocabulary and grammar. Sometimes, I make them include the phrase type we’ve been reviewing. Sometimes, I make them change the parts of speech for the words (ex: Jocular to jocularly).
Students always need to underline/box/highlight the vocabulary word and include proper context for that word (we go over the fact that a context CLUE, by nature, does not mean putting the definition in the sentence).
I typically allow students to choose the content of the story, as long as it is school appropriate. However, some students stall when it comes to ideas, so I give a few stand-by plots. Some suggestions: good vs. evil, summary of the story we’re reading (yay! summary skills!), and a day in the life of ____________.
What are the grading logistics?
I grade based on usage, part of speech, and context. If a student uses a word correctly as an adjective, then they earn a point for that even if they don’t quite get the definition. However, if they use the word awkwardly, I take off in the usage department for that. If they do not provide enough context for me to know what the word means without looking it up, then they lose points for lackluster context.
If you want to do a word a day and have students write a mini story at the end of class, then that would work as well. For example, have students write a mini story about a jocular jester or a jocular jouster. You can turn it into homework if that’s your thing.
Why do I let them write it pairs?
Now, I do not always make them paired stories, but here are several good reasons for the paired story instead of an independent one:
- One, you want students to learn from assessments, and if they have to work with someone else, then they are learning from that partner during the process
- Two, you, as the teacher, have less grading despite the fact that students are still demonstrating knowledge and learning in the process. (I believe they call that #winning.)
- Three, students need to learn how to work with other students on generating written ideas because we all know that’s a valuable life skill. Plus, it helps them refine their communication skills.
- Four, students become more invested in the assessment when they know someone else is relying on them. Yes, you have your slackers, as always, but that can’t much be avoided in life, let alone the classroom. That’s why I make sure both sets of handwriting are represented on the paper.
The Assessment Sample:
If you want a sample of this kind of assessment, I created a Googledoc just for you, dear reader. Find it here.
If you want to use this template, go right ahead! Just download the Google doc to your Google Drive by going to File –> Make A Copy, or File –> Download As –> Microsoft Word. That way, you can edit it for your own classroom’s purposes.
If you are struggling with a vocabulary word in ANY of your classes, try the four-square approach from above that I created with the word jocular. (I was terrible at science, so I am imagining this strategy would benefit you in the class that has a lot of challenging vocabulary.) Remember that your four squares don’t need the same headings that mine have. You have to choose the headings that help YOU remember the word, whatever word that might be.
Here are examples of what your four corners could say:
- SAT question using the word
- Reminds me of
- Often confused with
- Where I’ve seen it (ex: write down page number/sentence in book)
- The word in context (preferably written by you, not the internet)
- Picture that reminds me of the word
- The meaning in my own words
- How I would explain it to my brother/sister/mom/dad/an elementary school student
If you want to reinforce vocabulary at home, something you can try is making a game out of it with the whole family.
Set up a chart on the fridge/in a Google doc/on the family calendar that keeps track of everyone’s points. Every time someone finds a vocabulary word somewhere (on TV, in an ad, in a teacher’s lecture, in conversation, in a book, etc.), they earn a point. If they use the word in conversation (correctly) at the dinner table/in the car/in a text/etc., then they earn a point.
Bonus points if they remember and write down the entire sentence and keep a log.
You decide as a family how many points you want them to reach and what the prize will be for the family member who wins.
I hope you enjoyed today’s installment of Wocabulary. As always, if you have anything you want to contribute, question, or comment on, I welcome your messages at firstname.lastname@example.org.