Don’t give up on improving your students’ vocabulary skills

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Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Stick with your plan; give your lessons time to work

 

I recently designed some daily bell-ringer activities to teach my students some new vocabulary words. To create these on-going brief lessons, I continue to use Vocab Gal’s “Power Words of the Week” from Sadlier’s ELA Blog, and “Vocabulary Words of the Day” from Prestwick House.

One way teachers can build a word-rich environment in the classroom is by spotlighting a weekly vocabulary word. Use my vocabulary Power Word of the Week to ensure vocabulary instruction occurs daily in your classroom!
This is an example of the Vocab Gal’s Power Word of the Week slides. I copy each image into a PowerPoint and leave it on the SMART Board while we do the various activities explained in this post.

Words we’ve recently learned include the following:

  • paragon
  • perpetuate
  • aloof
  • virtuoso
  • gossamer
  • fend
  • inimitable
  • pejorative

Read this post to learn about the specific activities we use to explore each word.

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Even though these images from Prestwick House suggest using them daily, I use the same word for a full week. I think that helps kids learn the words more effectively.

At times over the past seven to eight weeks,

I’ve wondered whether my vocab activities are becoming a little

stale. A little repetitive. Yawn-inducing. 

And then over the weekend, as I reviewed second drafts of writing projects that students had turned in during writer’s workshop last week, I noticed two students had used the word “inimitable.” Do you know (of course, you do!) how gratifying it was to see my students using words they had recently acquired as a result of my “repetitive” vocabulary lessons?

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A student used the word inimitable in her Treasured Object poem.

I guess repetition has its merits, after all.

It’s easy to doubt myself. I do it a lot. My self-doubt has, at times, caused me to alter my teaching when I’ve suspected it wasn’t working. My self-doubt has, at times, even caused me to discontinue a particular unit or strategy.

And to be honest, I had thought about pushing the pause button on these vocabulary lessons. However, when I read the word “inimitable” in my students’ drafts, I changed my mind.

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Another student used the word inimitable in her personal essay.

Exposing kids to new words during a four-day week’s worth of bell-ringer activities seems to be taking hold. When kids acquire new words and then use them to express themselves in poetry or a personal essay, that’s all the confirmation I need to stick with my plan. These two students have given me enough incentive to stay with these vocab lessons and not alter or discontinue them just yet.

Are you like me in this regard? Do you question whether your vocab instruction is helping your students? Don’t assume it’s not working. Continue to expose your students to new words that will give them the precision they need to fully express their ideas in writing. Don’t give up on your vocabulary instruction. Keep with it. Persevere.



This vocabulary pep talk has been brought to you by me. Seriously, vocabulary gets short shrift; kids need to acquire an extensive vocabulary as they transition to high school and college or the workplace. What are your tried-and-true vocabulary lesson ideas? Feel free to share and then follow my blog for more reflection!

Ditch the Dictionary

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Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

I’m trying these four short vocabulary bell-work tasks to help kids better learn new words

I recently signed up to receive weekly email updates from the Sadlier School. As part of the email, I receive a free “Power Word of the Week” email from the Vocab Gal’s blog. I’ve been using these “slides” in my classes as a vocabulary bell-work activity.  I’m trying four different activities with each new Power Word, so for each day of our week, we can spend a few more minutes to learn the word better. (Yes, you read that right. This year, our district has switched to a four-day week. I’ll let you know how that’s going in an upcoming post.)

The Power Word of the Week slide defines the word, uses it in a sentence, and then asks students to write their own sentence using the word.

Here’s an example of the slides:

One way teachers can build a word-rich environment in the classroom is by spotlighting a weekly vocabulary word. Use my vocabulary Power Word of the Week to ensure vocabulary instruction occurs daily in your classroom!
This is one of the Power Word of the Week slides provided by the Vocab Gal at Sadlier.

Activity 1:

We follow the slide exactly and students write a sentence using the new word. Sometimes, depending on the new word, I’ll ask a volunteer to think of a random word (popsicle? frog? hockey?) to throw into the sentence, so the sentences they write will contain both the new word and the random word. It adds more interest to the standard “write a sentence” activity.

Activity 2:

The next day, I put the same slide back on the screen and ask students to review the definition and then use it in another sentence. However, this time they must use the word in a sentence about a topic covered in a recent Article of the Week assignment. We recently used the word “gossamer” in a sentence about California’s Fair Pay to Play Act; we also used the word “paragon” in a sentence about robotic bee engineering in the Netherlands.

Here are some student-written examples:

California’s reasons for paying athlete’s for endorsement deals were like gossamer in the eyes of the NCAA.

Scientists from Delft University are working to engineer robotic bees that, if forced to do the work of real bees, will be paragons of nature

I’ve also asked students to write sentences using the Power Word plus a Power Word from a previous week. This keep the new words in our working vocabularies and increases the chances that these new words will be retained.

Activity 3:

On this day, I ask students to make more connections. We take the Power Word and invent an app that is called the word. For example, imagine there’s an app called “Paragon,” then…

  • Write two to three sentences that describe the features of the app. What would an app called Paragon do?
  • Write a user review of the app that shows knowledge of the word.
  • If you have time, ask students to create a logo for the app. This is key if you do this add-on: ask students to make sure the logo illustrates in some way the word’s meaning.
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This is an example of the Create-an-App activity that explores the word “cantilever.” I show this students when we do it the first time. This example is more elaborate than what students create during these bell-work activities, since we have only five to ten minutes to complete the activity.

The Create-An-App idea is one I borrowed from retired writing teacher Corbett Harrison of Writing Fix and the Nevada Writing Project. Visit Harrison’s comprehensive website for a treasure trove of lessons and resources.

Here are two examples of the Create-an-App activity completed as bell-work:

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Two other student examples:

The Perpetuate App… This app helps you find out who your ancestors are. It does that so you can perpetuate their customs.

Use the app Perpetuate… to make any moment in life permanent or long-lasting. Make great life moments last forever.

Activity 4:

On this day, I ask students to write a haiku poem. (Many students tell me they haven’t written a haiku since third or fourth grade!) I write one of my own as an example and post it on the board. Students then get started on their own. The requirements: 1) their haiku must be three lines long and contain five syllables in the first and last lines and seven in the second; 2) The poem must contain the Power Word; 3) The poem must be nature-related, in keeping with traditional haiku poetry.

Here’s an example I recently used in class with “fend” as the Power Word:

Canadian geese

Soar above, pointing south to

Fend off winter’s wrath

I love words, but I’ve always been perplexed by the best way to increase students’ vocabularies. Rote memorization doesn’t work. Neither does working with a new word every day for that day only. On the other hand, spending five to ten minutes over the course of four days to explore a new word seems, so far anyway, to be a viable option… at least one worth testing out.

When we’ve covered ten or so new Power Words, I’ll assess students to see how well they’ve retained knowledge of the words. I’ll let you know how that goes.


Thanks for reading again this week! In my previous teaching position, my students practiced their cursive writing everyday for bell-work. Since my new students haven’t written in cursive in years, I decided to not fight the cursive battle, and have them learn some new vocabulary instead. So far, I think it’s working.

Stay tuned (in other words, follow my blog!) to receive the follow-up post where I’ll report on a summative assessment.