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]


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…)


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

Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners in the Core Classroom? Try Sitting in Their Seats


As we begin the year, how often do we educators see things through the eyes of the diverse, gifted learners in our classrooms?

Perhaps the best way to start is by putting ourselves in their chairs.

As summer days come to an end, a useful ritual is to check out the view from each student’s perspective by sitting in each of their places. How easily can each student see the projector screen? A talkative friend? A view of the playground?

Considering what students “see” can help teachers eliminate distractions and physical obstructions to learning; it can also help us find new ways to motivate high potential, gifted learners.

The National Association of Gifted Students defines “giftedness” as follows:

Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports). [1]

Regardless of what “definition,” most of us educators believe that gifted learners exist and expect to encounter them. So, when setting up a classroom, why not take a few moments to “take a seat” as a gifted child at the beginning of the new school year? Here are some focal points to consider:

(1). Role Models and Vision: Can I see a picture of an inspiring adult role model who shares my gender, culture, and/or race—a depiction that celebrates his or her contributions and achievements? What does that picture communicate to me about my future possibilities and potential?

(2). High Level Questions: Is there a provocative, deep question that captures my attention and curiosity? Is there a question that I find fascinating to discuss with my friends at school and my family at home?   How could the themes or topics we explore in the classroom this year be important or relevant to my life?[2]

(3). Rich Vocabulary: Is there a new, rich vocabulary word presented that would be fun to learn and use? How might it relate to math, science, or the world around me?

(4). Personal Interests: Is there any place in this classroom for my own “learning agenda?” Does this classroom have a place for me to explore and share what I love to learn? Do I see something that shows me that the teacher or any other students might want to  hear and talk about my interests and passions?

If answers to the above questions are difficult to spot, some simple changes to the classroom landscape could positively impact instruction to meet the needs of gifted students.

And once we consider the view from the students’ seats, our classrooms may provide a better vantage point to “see” more gifted students than we ever expected.




[1] National Association for Gifted Children website: http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/definitions-giftedness


[2] For question examples, see “Essential Questions.” Essential Questions. Authentic Education, 2013. Web. 24 July 2016. <http://essentialquestions.org/random_questions.lasso&gt;.


An “Old Thought” for 21st Century Learning

IMG_1608Despite the advantages of teaching in the information age, I sometimes wistfully imagine myself teaching in a “one-room schoolhouse” surrounded by wildflowers, shuffling slate pencils and McGuffey readers.

Why not get lost in a little imagining now and then? In our 21st Century elementary schools, teaching is so complicated. There’s always something for teachers to implement–new technology, new curriculum, new instruction techniques.

Our heads are overflowing as we “facilitate instruction.” It seems we barely have room to grasp what truly makes school a place of ideas–the ideas, themselves.

This year, my sixth graders read and discussed “A Bouquet of Wildflowers,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In this essay, Wilder asserts that manufactured “improvements” cannot take the place of “simple things” that are true and natural. She explains:

We heap up all around us things that we do not need as the crow makes piles of glittering pebbles…we chase after this new idea and that; we take on an old thought and dress it out in so many words that the thought itself is lost in its clothing like a slim woman in a barrel skirt and we exclaim, “Lo, the wonderful new thought I have found![1]

Although she wrote for a larger audience, Wilder’s words resonate for educators. If elementary schools are to be places of ideas, we teachers need to take a moment and cycle back.  We need to pause, enjoy, and engage in an “old thought” — learning.

We educators need to pursue our own academic interests and share them with students and colleagues. Students need to see teachers engaging in academic discussions just for fun. They need to hear us sharing thoughts about the books and articles we read. They need to catch us being curious, asking questions, and trying online searches “just to find out.”  Children have grown to expect energy and engagement from coaches and fans on the athletic fields.  Similarly, teachers (and parents) need to share a genuine passion for the “game” of academics if we want our children to keep playing.

As elementary school teachers, we need to reach beyond facilitating an engaged learning community.   We need to be one.



[1]Laura Ingalls Wilder, “A Bouquet of Wildflowers” (1917) – Center for Gifted Education Staff,  Mary Pleiss, contributor. Patterns of Change: Student Literature. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2003. Print.

Teaching From A Bag Springs Training


During my first year of teaching, I did not have a classroom space of my own.  Instead, as many teachers do, I put my materials in a bag that I carried from room to room. Although “covering the bases” in this way presented challenges, the experience provided some of the best teacher “spring training” ever.

This month in my Language Arts classes, the students have been studying and writing poetry.  I wrote a sonnet about “teaching from a bag” to add to our collection:

Spring Training