Friday, August 22, 2014

Digging into the Frayer Model for word understanding

Word knowledge happens in layers.  We are first introduced to a word, learn the meaning, how it might be used - but then over time we begin to place that word on a continuum where we can relate it to others that may have slightly different connotations.  Our ultimate goal should be to add the word to our word bank so that we might communicate more effectively over time.  Studies show that the word-exposure gaps between children in poverty and children of affluent families are staggering - millions of words!  What does that tell you about the communication skills of some of those kiddos who come to us everyday from low-income families?  It tells me that I need to work double hard to ensure that these children have a competitive chance!

One of my go-to strategies is the Frayer Model.  Now I've seen this strategy morphed into dozens of different organizers - all with the same outline but different prompts.  The ultimate goal here is to add the word to a continuum of words so that we can pick from a variety of words that might mean similar things.

The Frayer is a great tool for our visual /  spatial students who like to see relationships and information organized spatially.  You can have them draw pictures or write in the boxes.  Make the boxes big enough and your linguistic kiddos will enjoy this one also because there is potential for lots of room to write (although may of them like lines on which to write).  Put it on the sidewalk in chalk and now your kinesthetic students will have to bend down and crawl around to write on it.  Make them move!

Here's how it works:

  • Place the word to be studied in the middle oval.  
  • I prefer to write "What it is" instead of definition because it leaves for some wiggle room on a definition.  Definition, to many students, means open up a dictionary and copy the first definition for the word.  Before any of my students write down what it is, we discuss, and then they write down what it is.
  • When using characteristics, be sure that the word has some distinct characteristics.  This could take some grappling, but it's not supposed to be easy, either.  Characteristics can be replaced with "What it is not".  I LOVE asking kids to identify what it is not because it makes them think in a way that requires more distinct lines drawn between words.  This will also require some discussion and grappling as well.
  • Examples requires students to take it a step further.  Now they can't just define it, but now they have to apply the information, which is, again, a visual strategy.  Don't forget you can have them draw. They don't have to write.
  • Finally, non-examples, again, requires students to stop, back up, and think backwards.  I've also used the prompt connection here to make my students connect the word somehow to their own background knowledge.  Research clearly shows that linking new knowledge gives the information a better chance of sticking.  
Keep in mind that once all is said and done, having students reflect on what the strategy did for them as a learner is always beneficial.  It'll be painful at first, but drawing attention to them, as learners, keeps them thinking that these strategies are not just gimmicks but true learning tools.  

And that is it.  A quick (yet not-so-quick) vocabulary acquisition strategy that can be used over and over and over again and in every content area.  You can use it on paper, make it miniature and put four on a piece of paper, or create gigantic ones on sidewalk with chalk.  What are some ways you can see adapting this simple strategy to your teaching?  Have you used a Frayer before?  What are some of the ways you have used it, and how have you had your students reflect on their learning afterward?

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