Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.
We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday and Thursday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.
Today is the second and last installment of this week’s conversation between Jackie and Shana on vocabulary instruction. Please join the conversation in the comments!
What are your best vocabulary activities?
Shana: For me, best practices surrounding vocabulary all happen in the writer’s notebook. Curating a personal dictionary in that particular section, sharing those words with friends, and doing fun, in-class follow-up activities with those words seem to work best to get my kids authentically reading to find new or interesting words in their books. We do things like write a poem using ten of our words, create a pass-it-along story in which your sentence has to contain a word used contextually, or create an illustration of a particular word and hang it up. The more play there is involved in our study of words, the more my students actually begin to pay attention to vocabulary in both their reading and writing.
Jackie: For the past couple of years I have wanted to integrate vocabulary instruction into my curriculum, but it wasn’t until this year that I moved forward with the process of carving out a specific section of students’ writer’s notebooks. As Linda Rief says in Inside the Writers Readers Notebook, “We also need to ask them to pay attention to words in their own reading and their own listening, to notice words that they don’t quite have a grip on as writers and speakers but which they come across fairly often” (Rief 23). As Linda Rief suggests, my students collect four words from their independent reading book or whole class reads per week. They record these words as well as the parts of speech, synonyms, and the sentence in which they found the word under a separate dictionary section in their Writer’s Notebook.
At the beginning of the year I was worried about summative assessments and meeting the needs of my students through our new competency-based grading system. I “assessed” my students on their vocabulary by having them first memorize the words and then complete whatever the task-at-hand was for that day. I’ll admit that a quarter into the school year I have already abandoned this method after growing frustrated with the results. Naturally, students chose easier words when there were higher stakes assessments at hand. They sacrificed learning for grades and in turn, asked fewer questions, instead focusing more on grades and less on word acquisition.
This is where you helped me most, Shana. After tossing aside the summative assessments, I had students compile a dictionary of their words on the board, and we spent 15 minutes simply playing with the words and writing stories and poetry. These biweekly activities breathed life into an otherwise stressful vocabulary lesson. Soon my students were asking questions about how to use the words through context clues, and I was giving minilessons on integrating words into sentences based on the parts of speech. For the first time, students began playing with vocabulary instead of trying to find shortcuts around the system.
Do you use independent vocabulary instruction? What activities do you use to help familiarize students with new vocabulary?