Sunday, October 12, 2014

Applying vocabulary - More than just writing sentences

Teaching vocabulary is tricky and can sometimes become monotonous if you don't change it up.  Often, we want to present vocabulary to students before reading, but then what?  Well, when I was at the IRC Conference a few weeks ago, I was reminded of this really simple, yet super effective activity.  It is called Interact with Vocabulary. Here's how it works.

After you've introduced vocabulary and have established definitions and examples using a technique like the Frayer model, it's time to apply the information.  Pre-write questions to ask.  Try to connect the vocabulary to your students' lives.  For example:

  1. Name one thing that happens unintentionally in the hallways at school. [general Tier 2 vocabulary]
  2. Why is the system of checks and balances important for you as a citizen of the United States? [social studies]
  3. What is one reason you would measure perimeter of something? [geometry]
  4. Why would one need quick reaction time? [health]
  5. Name one popular song that would sound better piano rather than forte. [music]
  6. What is an example of a network that teenagers may use every day? [computer tech]
  7. Give an example from school of convection. [science]
Not every vocabulary term has practical life application, so you could also write your questions in perspective.  For example:

  1. If you were a constructivist artist, which medium would you prefer and why? [art]
  2. As a tyrant of a Greek city-state, what is one job that you would do well and why? [ancient history]
  3. You are planning to build a bookshelf.  What tools should you plan to use, and why? [woodshop]
The next decision you'll have to make is how to have your students interact with their vocabulary.  If you're a teacher who needs proof of accountability, try the following ideas.  I'm an advocate for the interpersonal (social) student, so you'll see that these all include discussion:
  • Type up the questions in a worksheet and have them record the answers from their discussion so that all of the group members has a copy.  Everybody's answers should match.  Share out as a class or conference with each group as discussions progress.
  • Give each group a copy of the questions and have them discuss and record on a large piece of poster paper (more for your visual and kinesthetic students).  Share out with the class or conference with each group as discussions progress.  Post answers around the room after discussions.  
  • Put up poster paper around the room and have the students carousel each of the prompts.  Give students forty-five seconds to a minute at each station.  
  • For my digital-teachers, use Google docs and have all groups contribute to the same document in different colors.  Monitor what students are writing and conference with groups as misconceptions emerge.  Print a copy for each student.  
The title Interact with Vocabulary immediately indicates that more will be happening than just reading definitions.  Using student schema to learn, is a sure-fire way to ensure longer retention, but its also a great way to assess whether a student truly understands that meaning of the words.  But just as important is the idea that we should be choosing applicable vocabulary.  Educating our students is not just about taking words from a text book, it's about applying them.  It's our job to be sure that the words apply.  

What challenges do you see in using a strategy like this one?  Share those with us in a comment below. 

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