Many of us were taught vocabulary by writing down a list of words and looking up their definitions in the dictionary — definitions which were often impossible to understand. We memorized the meanings and hoped to pass our weekly tests. Was this an effective way to learn vocabulary? Not at all. But because that’s the way we were taught, that’s often how we teach.
Although the best way to gain a stronger vocabulary is through extensive reading, many of our students just don’t read that much — luckily, they can be helped through specific instruction of certain words. But how do we do this without taking up too much classroom time?
Our 8th grade Language Arts teacher, Omaura, manages it brilliantly. First, she chooses words from the shared reading books being studied in class, so that students will encounter them in their reading. Then, she presents the vocabulary words to her students, using a specific format that she teaches to her students at the beginning of the year. She models it for about the first month; after that, the students take over, each of them preparing a presentation for a word and teaching it to their classmates.
Watch Omaura in action:
Here’s what she does:
- She presents the word of the day with its part of speech.
- She puts up 1-3 pictures that represent the meaning of the word. Students make guesses about the meaning and she writes these on the board.
- Often students will eliminate meanings that don’t fit in the list.
- She asks students to use thesauruses and dictionaries (real ones, not the internet – this gives them practice in looking words up alphabetically) to find synonyms and definitions.
- Students give synonyms and come up with a collective definition. She writes these on the board.
- She presents her own synonyms and definition and they compare them.
- She puts up a sentence using the vocabulary word and students try to find a synonym that works in its place in the sentence.
- She projects a quote or a joke using the vocabulary word in context.
Notice that her lesson takes about 5 minutes. It’s fast-paced, interactive, and engaging. Students participate actively and, best of all, we begin to see them using the words in their writing.