Background for this new classroom addition to me: So...if you're not familiar with my "Classroom of Logophiles" lesson from several years back, I'm going to suggest you take a gander at it. In a nutshell, my students are given the weekly requirement of collecting four words they independently choose from their reading. These words must be new to them, and they have ten choices of short, meaningful writing assignments that force them to find a new context to show they understand how to use each word. They "publish" their words on a special handout, which they share with each other every other week for the purpose of teaching 8 new words to their classmates, and then they are stored in a special section of their class binders with a really cool cover page. All this can be explored with more depth at the original lesson we posted a few years back:
What's become second nature to me over the past three years of developing this routine is that I am constantly encouraging my students to want to know and find new, interesting and "fancy" words. In my whole-class instructions, I purposely insert good words and wait for someone to say, "What's that word mean, Mr. Harrison?" If no one asks, I give them great grief for not asking.
If a student uses a big word in a class discussion or in a question-and-answer session, we stop and celebrate that student's vocabulary choice, and I throw out a quick challenge to everyone to think of a different way to use the same word: "Madelyn used the word nemesis well as she referenced our class book. Everyone needs to be ready in 15 seconds to explain a different context they can think of to use the word nemesis. Go!"
I also have now collected an excellent collection of vocabulary-inspired mentor texts, thanks to the suggestions of my teacher-friends from all over the country. I find my eighth graders still like to hear an excerpt from a picture book every once in a while. Here are my best titles to share with students three years into the vocabulary-collecting routine:
Where we've arrived as a classroom with a well-established weekly vocabulary routine: At this point in my vocabulary routine's development, each student ends up with a section in his/her binder that houses (kind of like a stamp or coin collection) their personalized and collected favorite vocabulary words. They are encouraged to come up for an extra credit prize from my Dollar Store basket if they:
- Correctly use one of their words in whole class discussion and then show me that word in their binder's collection before they leave class that day;
- Use a collected vocabulary word accurately in their Sacred Writing Time for the day, or their current writer's workshop piece;
- They use the word when conversing with one of my teaching teammates, and my teammates (who've been alerted of this extra credit option) asks them to explain what that word means to them or to the class where they've used the word.
All in all, my students go out of their way to find contexts that use their collected words. Sometimes they use them inaccurately, but that's a teaching moment, and they are encouraged to try again. My kids quote me when I'm quoting the research that inspired my routine: "To 'own' a word, you have to use it meaningfully 8-10 times in different contexts." After that, it becomes one of our "pocket words," as I call them, or go from from being 25-cent words to 10-cent words to my students. If you don't understand that metaphor my students and use, I encourage you to look over my vocabulary routine's Introductory PowerPoint. If the introductory PPT inspires you, use the links provided in it to find out how to purchase all 11 PowerPoints I have for teaching my students this routine over the first nine-twelve weeks I have my students.
Where we're going that's new this year with our vocabulary routine: In addition to having personal collections of vocabulary words in each student's binder, this year I'm adding a whole class collection. Working with a few colleagues, we brainstormed valuable tier-2 vocabulary words that--if used in Socratic Seminars or Writer's Workshop Critique Groups--would impress the socks off any administrator or school guests who happen to be observing us that day. And if there's no one officially observing, then the teacher's socks would be knocked off. Back a few years ago, there was assault on us of "Accountable Talk" sentence frames, and students certainly used them to enhance classroom discussions. My thinking (which started about halfway through last year) was to develop a class list of "Intelligent Discussion Tier-2 Words."
The brainstorm we ended up with was an impressive list of 29 words, and I took to task the process of creating short poetry challenges that would introduce these words to our students. On the idea that there are 36 weeks in a typical school year, and my goal was to introduce a new word (or set of words) every two weeks in a short, group poetry challenge, I took those 29 words and created 18 different "Quick Tier-2 Poems" over the summer of 2015.
Here are three of the eighteen "Quick Tier-2 Poems" that are intended to be written (and perhaps performed) by small groups of 3-4
Click the thumbnail above to open this poem for the word
|“My kids are loving the new vocabulary & poetry sheets. Today we were working on the ‘caustic/facetious’ poem. An uproarious time was had as students challenged each other: ‘That’s a verb phrase, not a noun phrase!’ ‘That phrase doesn’t show meaning!’ ‘You have to write what it;s about, not an actual caustic comment!’ etc, etc. Thanks again, Corbett! You’ve made my job a dream!”
--Nevada teacher and supporter of WritingFix, Jenny H.
As you can see from these three complimentary Quick Poems above (which come from our set of eighteen poems), some poems focus on a single word, some on two complementary or opposite words, and few focus on three words. At right is the complete list of my classroom's set of words that we will post around the room to serve as our "collective set of collected words." My students who successfully use these words in our whole-class discussions or Socratic Seminars (which are going on in most of my teaching teammates' classrooms where the list will also be posted) will earn a special sticker for their writer's notebooks or binders. I can't believe how many stickers I've collected over the years, and I'm hoping this new challenge will put a dent in that collection; it kills me how even high school students still get excited over a sticker!
I don't plan to take all 36 weeks to roll-out these words, and I have sweet-talked my teaching teammates to roll-out a few of them in our science and social studies classrooms. These 29 words will become posters that hang in strategic places (which will probably have to be my ceiling, I bet, since so much of my wall space is covered with student exemplars these days). These will go up in my classroom and my colleague's after the first five or six words are rolled out through the quick poem assignments.
Here is a PDF version of the 29 words at right that can be enlarged into poster form or placed in other strategic places around your classroom.
The objective here is very Common Core-friendly. Not only will these specific words drive some interesting talking points during our discussions and Socratic seminars, but their presence will also force students to think about CCSS's vocabulary drive to explore words in new contexts. The books, poems, and short stories my students discuss, well, I see so many applications of these words that I won't point out to them; I see my students discovering reading-inspired contexts to bring up these words. And the way my kids talk to each other during writing critique groups, well, these words are going to pop up so often in their conversations.
Remember, research says that to truly own a vocabulary word in order to keep it in your word memory for life, you have to have 8-10 meaningful experiences with the word where you use it in a unique context. Assigning a vocabulary list for your students to memorize for a quiz? That's one (sort of) meaningful context. I'm through assigning words this way and assuming my kids will find the time and energy to create the other 7-9 new contexts for the words because they don't. Having this list (all potential SAT words, by the way) as a collective vocabulary list this year, well, I'm going to guarantee that my students will be in the 20-30 meaningful experiences with each word by the time the year is out. Add to that the four words they're faithfully collecting and writing about each week, and I feel better about the way I'm assigning vocabulary this year than I've ever felt before.
So this September's Lesson of the Month has been focused on sharing my new addition to our vocabulary routine this year. Please use the three free poems here with your own students, and please use the two free writing-about-vocabulary assignments we share at my vocabulary page.
If you're interested in the whole set of 18 vocabulary poems (that feature all 29 words on the list above) or all 11 of our writing-about-vocabulary PowerPoint lessons, use the links below to explore purchasing the entire package.