10 Vocabulary Enrichment Ideas for the “Classroom Wardrobe”

“Few activities are as delightful as learning new vocabulary.”
Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style [1,2]

photo-on-3-5-17-at-12-11-pm

Gifted students have the ability to acquire extensive vocabulary, and they often delight in “trying on new words for size.”

Acquiring new vocabulary should feel like donning a new outfit and gliding down the runway. We should take words home, cut off the scratchy tags, and add them to ourselves. Yet in the classroom, vocabulary study is sometimes more akin to taking inventory — leaving behind a pile of charts, lists, and workbooks.

For the classroom wardrobe, here are ten “accessories” I’ve collected to enrich and enliven vocabulary instruction…

(Language Arts)

1). Vocabulary Skits: Students create and perform 2-3 minute skits that use and show the meaning of a vocabulary word.

2). Creative Writing: Students choose 6-10 interesting words from a text they read and use them to create an original poem, song, or comic strip.

3). Vocabulary Rainbow: Students discuss how colors can be associated with different emotions. (For example, they may associate “yellow” with joy or “green” with peace.) Then, students collect several descriptive words from a text and group the words according to what “color” they bring to mind. Create a rainbow depicting words in “color.” Make a key for the rainbow that explains what mood/emotion each color represents.

4). Anaphora: Students create a poem by repeating a vocabulary word several times and defining it in an original way. (For example, “Diligence is…Diligence is…Diligence is…”

5). Vacation (?) Brochure: Students list several words that describe the setting of a story or poem. Then, they create a “vacation brochure” that uses these words to advertise the setting as a favorite vacation spot . (They can also create a humorous brochure about a destination that is not so inviting…)

(Mathematics)

6). In Other Words: Rewrite a partner’s problem-solving strategy using “math words” (domain-specific language).

7). Heard in the Classroom: When students are discussing problems in small groups, challenge a few students to be detectives and listen/note the context in which math vocabulary is used. Student “detectives” can share their findings on a “Heard in the Classroom” poster.

8). Be the Teacher: Challenge students to teach a math word. Students can create games and word problems to teach/model the assigned word.

9). Create A Problem: The teacher gives students a list of 4-6 math vocabulary words. Students create a word problem and present the solution. The steps for the solution must use all of the math words on the list.

10). Build Something: Build a model/create a design that applies or represents 10 math vocabulary words. Create a key with the list of words and how they are used to accompany the project.

[1] Gunn, Tim, and Kate Moloney. A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style. New York: Abrams Image, 2007. Print.

[2] Tim Gunn is a fashion expert and author known by many for his role in the reality television series, Fashion Runway

Class Discussions: Laying the Groundwork

In the book, Discussion As a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms, Brookfield and Preskill[1] suggest that establishing expectations for classroom discussion can begin by having students reflect on their own experiences. So, I asked my sixth graders to identify characteristics of negative and positive discussions based upon conversations that they have experienced in the classroom, at home, or with friends. Here is the list they created:

Factors that negatively impact discussions:

  • Interrupting
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Lack of preparation
  • Difficult (sensitive)topics
  • Side conversations
  • Judgment of people
  • Facial expressions
  • Distractions
  • Attention Seeking

Factors that positively impact discussions

  • Engaging topic
  • Everyone talks
  • Feels natural
  • Everyone pays attention
  • Everyone’s opinion heard
  • Possible to change your mind
  • Many possible answers
  • Everyone treats others with respect

We discussed these lists and what we could do as a class to keep our discussions positive. Treat each other respectfully, give all students a chance to speak, and refrain from side conversations are examples of the norms that we established.

As I reflected upon this lesson, I realized that approaching discussion with a child-like honesty and a quest for the truth was not “starting small” in any sense.

Even at a young age, these children had already noticed, experienced, and/or internalized sometimes subtle inhibitors to meaningful discussions—facial expressions and judgment of others—that can silence meaningful dialogue. They understood that people may hesitate to discuss sensitive or difficult topics for fear of what others might think.

Yet, these sixth graders also embraced the idea that positive discussions are those that can potentially lead us to change our minds.

Classroom discussions belong to the students, and we continue to reflect on their quality and impact throughout the year.  Also, we refer back to this list as our discussions continue, deepen, or sometimes wander off course. Reflecting on personal experiences and understanding my students’ perspectives was essential groundwork for productive classroom discussion and continues to be well worth the class time.

 

 

[1] Brookfield, S.D. & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: tools and techniques for democratic   classrooms. 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA Jossey-Bass.

 

A New Year’s Resolution for the Classroom

New Year

For us teachers, “New Year’s Day” offers a second chance to look ahead at all of the possibilities and make new resolutions. In addition to the luxury of celebrating the new year with a fresh start to the school year in August, we observe the January 1st New Year along with the rest of the country. Teachers are experts at ringing in the New Year, and have twice as many opportunities to be creative with New Year’s resolutions.

As part of my personal “second New Year’s celebration,” I resolve to enjoy more meals with friends and family at home by pulling out a few of the “tried and true” recipes. By cooking up lasagna, bisque, or a pie, I need not worry about the basic recipes, but can add a special twist or two to the old favorites and focus on listening to and enjoying the guests.

It’s time for a similar resolution in the classroom…

Teachers have an endless smorgasbord of “new dishes” out there to digest and absorb into the classrooms—new Common Core standards, new changes in curriculum, new instruction, new technology.  Of course effective teachers need to continually sample and master new curricula, keep up with the latest technology, and learn new instructional strategies. However, to maintain excellence, teachers also need to fully digest, taste, savor, and add new spice to the instruction being served.   We need to nourish our students with some “tried and true” menu items that improve over the years with reflection, experimentation, and modification.

So what can we do to provide a balanced menu in the classroom? Very simply—let’s find some truly great recipes for learning and prepare them more than once.

To welcome 2015, here’s a simple New Year’s Resolution for the classroom– “Do something old.” Choose a lesson or a unit that was taught before, and find a way to improve it by approaching it from a different angle, presenting it in a more engaging way through technology, enriching it with questions to promote high level thinking, focusing on an applicable state standard, or adapting instruction to meet the unique needs of a student.   Have fun. Be fulfilled.

Let’s resolve to teach something old, but not just again—Let’s teach it better.

Improving Education: Let’s Not Lose the Conversation


With the new Common Core, teachers are unpacking standards, adjusting instruction, incorporating technology, and sifting through new piles of educational stuff. But whether these resources are “gifts” or “distractions” depends upon whether teachers use them to spark or inhibit meaningful conversations.  In essence, teaching means understanding and responding to the needs of learners in our classrooms. We do this when we talk with the students.

In the 1967 Musical Film, Dr. Dolittle, an adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s classic series, Rex Harrison portrayed the eccentric doctor who could talk to animals.   He declared:

…It’s a fairy tale worthy of Hans Anderson and Grimm

A man who walks with the animals, talks with the animals

…And they could squeak and squawk and speak and talk to me!

As human beings, teachers and students certainly do not need magic to communicate. But, as Dr. Dolittle found, talking can bring about amazing discovery.

In fact, one day I talked with my fourth grade math students, and the conversation went like this:

Me: “So, what units did we use to measure length on this quiz?”

Students: “Centimeters!”

Me:  “So why would you write ‘5 cubic centimeters’ on your quiz to measure a line segment? How did you picture yourself doing this problem in your mind?”

Student Response: “I pictured myself taking my unit cube [a plastic one-by-one centimeter block] and counting how many cubes would fit on the line segment.

I had assumed that these were careless errors! Yet, by asking and listening to the students, I discovered the “little cube in their minds” that they were using to measure length. So, rather than tell them to slow down and check their work, I gave them what they truly needed–more “hands-on” practice with appropriate measuring tools and with using units to show what they measured — length, volume, or area.

Another conversation happened in my fifth grade Reading class. In order to develop research skills and creativity, my students were starting a project we call “REAL” time–“Read, Explore, and Apply knowledge about a subject that you Love.” (“REAL” time is inspired by the “Genius Hour,” which is an education initiative to increase engagement, motivation, and learning by setting aside time for students to research and develop “passion projects” on subjects of their choice.)

As we brainstormed research topics, some students struggled with the open-ended question—“If you could learn about anything, what would it be? What would it really be?”

Finally, after lots of talking, asking, and listening, the REAL topics started flowing. Movies, Alternative Energy Sources, Vikings, Cars, Baseball…

In fact, one morning the students were so engrossed in learning about the subjects they loved that I had to remind them, ”Kids, class time ended ten minutes ago! You really need to leave!”

Although the results can seem magical, unlike in Dr. Dolittle, there is no “fairy tale” process required for talking with students.   It is simple, natural, and essential for learning.  Data, technology, and assessments  can’t get us there.  Let’s accept the truth: To truly improve education, we need to recognize, nurture, and enrich the conversation inside our classrooms.

“What are you picturing in your mind?…Is there another way to solve this problem?… If you had a choice, what would you love to learn?”

We need to talk with the students. And we need to listen.