I recently attended a webinar with the Aim Institute for Learning and Research. Having attended several professional development opportunities in the teaching of vocabulary, this one was packed with researched activities that teach vocabulary in the context of what we do.
Why Is Teaching Vocabulary Important?
According to research, vocabulary is a strong predictor of reading comprehension. For those who teach ELA, let me present Scarborough’s Reading Rope. There is so much that goes into skilled reading, but the endgame is for readers to not only comprehend but make meaning. Each strand works toward this.
If one strand becomes frayed it will have an impact on the end game. The depth, breadth, and fluency of vocabulary interacts with other strands including academic vocabulary. This is where ELA meets content area teachers. Through direct instruction across content areas, students can access 300-400 words each year, but what they need to acquire in order to be successful is 2500-3000 words each year!
Direct instruction refers to systematic and intentional instruction within any curriculum. The remainder of the words needed each year will come from the use of intentional independent word-learning strategies that also require direct instruction as well as indirect language experiences met through teacher and student talk, read aloud, and the structured independent reading already achieved in a reading and writing workshop.
The strategies included in this writing lend themselves to intentional instruction that can be used in any subject area and aid in the acquisition of 300-400 words each year.
Word Choice Approaches
There are three approaches to choosing words. When word lists are not already provided, we can fall on the tiered approach and the guidelines.
One way to use the guidelines is to utilize a shared text such as a mentor text, read aloud, or vocabulary for a particular content area unit.
Once you have a list, it’s best to start with a kid-friendly way to preview the words. Jamboard is a great tool for students to use when previewing vocabulary words in a virtual setting. Jamboard is an interactive whiteboard and part of G Suit. Students move each word to the appropriate category. Stranger words are words the students never heard of before; acquaintance words students have heard of but don’t know what they mean; friend words are words the students know; and BFF words are words the students not only know but uses regularly in speaking and writing.
Once students are able to provide a baseline by rating their familiarity or knowledge of each word, the systematic direct instruction can begin through work with word meaning and relationships that use visuals as well as repetition.
One activity to teach definitions and provide opportunities for visuals and repetition is to use a four-square. This does not need to be done for every word, but might be a good idea for those words that are strangers or acquaintances thus providing differentiation.
This can also be done in a Jamboard using the add text and add image tools. What is great about Jamboard is that the tools are very limited which allows the focus to be more on the word work and less on the many bells and whistles a student would need to navigate through in other applications.
Using Semantic Relationships and Connections
Students can continue to experience opportunities for visuals and repetition while exploring relationships and connections.
Once again Jamboard is a great no-frills tool for students to make associations and utilize visuals.
An added bonus would be for student to justify their choices verbally through Zoom breakout rooms or in writing.
Another way to explore relationships and connections is through scaling/semantic gradients. This is similar to the shades of meaning we often use in reading a writing.
Using Jamboard students can move synonyms for overused antonyms (fast/slow) onto the gradient in the order of intensity according to them.
Students can also justify verbally or in writing why they chose the order that they did.
Sentences from the text can be pulled for students to illustrate what they visualize in order to make meaning.
Word walls are another way to visualize using the parts of speech.
Speaking and Writing
While speaking and writing can be used throughout it can be the activity as well. In the virtual setting students can use tools such as Screencastify, Loom, Flipgrid, etc. to explain their thinking or can continue to use live discussion using breakout rooms in Zoom.
In this activity words and pictures are added to the Jamboard for students to match before explaining their reasoning.
Reasoning can also be shared in writing.
There may be multiple interpretations so like many things there is not always one right answer.
Where to Start
Start with a text that you are using as a mentor text, read aloud, or shared reading. Pull the words that you would like to have students explore and begin with the preview to determine the needs. From there you can create many opportunities for students to visualize and learn through repetition.
Just remember that whatever you do, provide opportunities for students to think, speak, and write. If they can think it, they can talk about it, and if they can talk about it, they can write it. The more they think, speak, and write, the better the chances for the acquisition of vocabulary and less opportunity for that essential strand to fray.