Picture from the New York Times Learning Network. *See link below.
Perhaps you noticed that on Thursday, August 15, 2019, the five Principals presented to the School Committee the School Improvement Plans for the year. And perhaps you also noticed that the Marathon and Elmwood Schools’ shared Improvement Plan has a vocabulary goal.
When I first started teaching—and I’m sure many of you will remember this practice—teachers handed out 20 words a week to students, expected the kids to learn the words, and then we had a quiz on Friday. Every Friday. These words were rarely in context; they simply came from vocabulary books. Anything from “aberration” to “zephyr” was fair game.
Research demonstrates a strong correlation between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension, and “a number of studies have shown that early vocabulary knowledge is a powerful predictor of young students’ reading comprehension years later.”1
Research also shows it’s relatively ineffective to do what I used to do in the early 1990s; that is, hand out words and have kids memorize the definitions.
Instead, kids need to mess around with words. They need to break them apart, make educated guesses at their meanings, learn about root words, and decide where words might fit contextually into the world, to name a few practices.
I used to play this sort of game with my adult learners in graduate classes. I’d give them a word like “prestidigitator,” and ask them what it meant. In small group conversations, many came up with “presto” meaning fast and “digit” relating to fingers. With this knowledge, they never forgot that a prestidigitator is a magician of sorts who does sleight of hand tricks.
Kids also need time with words. They need to see, hear, and say the words over and over again. We can help children by talking to them in grown-up language. Sure, it’s a little anomalous to hear a six-year-old using words like “anomalous,” but I’m sure a six-year-old could understand and use that word. Seriously. And, once kids get accustomed to saying words, these words become a part of their quick retrieval system, and the words start appearing in students’ writing. Such exciting stuff!
So, yes, the Marathon and Elmwood Schools are serving up some vocabulary fare this year.
Maybe you, too, will nosh on some words at home? Vocabulary work provides great literacy nutritional value for students of ALL AGES! To that end, here is a link to the New York Times Learning Network*. (Check out some of the Vocabulary Video Contest Winners!)
And maybe you’ll like FreeRice. I used to play this with my own children for hours!
1Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., and Kucan, L. (2008) Creating robust vocabulary. The Guilford Press: New York, New York.