Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Changing it up - My vocab lesson gets a facelift

As much as it seems like I'm always doing something new in my class, there are some things that I have not changed in the 10 years I've been teaching. I always try and evaluate my lessons every year, The really good ones make it to the next round and the bad ones are altered or eliminated. It takes work, but I feel it is needed to keep my teaching fresh. One part of my daily teaching life is undergoing a huge change for second semester.

For the past decade, I have given students a Word of the Day (WOD). The come in and there will be a word on the board. The students are responsible for writing the word down and finding the definition at home. After 20 or 25 words, the students will have one week to study and there will be a test. As the school year progresses, the tests become more difficult. The tests start with definitions and end with correct usage. This is how I was taught for 4 years in high school and I felt it really helped me with my vocabulary skills. As the years have passed, I have had students tell me they have seen the words on the ACT, SAT and other standardized exams. The lesson worked well. For me, that was proof that my lesson was a success, but was it?

As part of my vocabulary lesson, I accepted that there were going to be students who were not going to study the words. The tests were very much pass or fail. The kids that studied did very well and the kids that did not study failed miserably. As I have moved more towards project based learning, I've started to question my assumptions on who is studying and who is not. Are the students not studying because they cannot master vocabulary using memorization? Is that what is stopping them? my WOD tests are the only "tests" my students take all year. Why? Why can't I change the way I've done something for a decade? Well, I'm giving it a try.

I did not do away with the test. I'm not ready to part with my exams yet. I think I could be there next year, just not right now. I did decide to add a new element that will hopefully help some of the struggling students. As a visual learner, I thought of way to bring the visual elements I like to use in other lessons to the WOD. The AP teachers in the building have students do visual representations of Tone words. It's a cool lesson and kids decorate the room with words and pictures. I've always wanted to do something similar, but never made the connection to my WOD unit. Now, I've decided to blend the two concepts together.

The day of the WOD test, students are to submit 20 illustrated words and definitions as part of their test score. The can draw or use images from newspaper, magazines or the internet to illustrate the definitions. My hope is that the time the students spend on their projects will translate into retention. I want the kids to see the words on the exam and see the picture in their head. I really have no idea how this will work in the long run, but I feel like I needed to change it up a bit for the students who might need a change to be successful. I'm not saying that it is going to stick around forever, but I'm willing to at least look at the difference and make a better judgment on "What works well".

- @TheNerdyTeacher


  1. I love this idea. Our vocabulary study is more structured (10 words almost every week with a weekly quiz), but I hate giving them quizzes. I'm going to give this a try in the coming year and see how it works to augment our quizzes each week. Thanks for the genius idea. I'm going to share this on my blog and ping-back to you, if that's okay!

  2. You might want to try some on-line examples also. You could add this to the students blogging duties. Try

    Have students make videos

  3. While I love the idea of bringing in the varied learning styles, I wonder how time consuming this then becomes? As a non-creative learner myself, I know the amount of time this would take me to do. Do students have a choice of how they turn in their WOD or do they have to do all of this? Please update on this as you go, since it will be great to hear how your students respond and perform.

  4. Well, vocabulary is one of those "must dos", especially in high school. The visual aspect brings in the strengths of the creative/artistic learner as well as makes it easier for your visual learners. I'm sure you know about Quizlet and Studystacks but there is another, Wordia, that has video examples of each word. People create a video that shows the definition of the word in question. This may be something fun for your class, as well as a way to help them study, retain and then share their work. They can choose the word they want to make a (short) video explanation of, then share them via either Wordia or your blog. Then you can have your own visual dictionary made by your students.

  5. The best part of that post: you are willing to take a look at what you are doing, consider doing it different, and making adjustments. Well done sir.

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  7. Adding a visual element to this learning activity seems like a fantastic idea to me! The words I remember best and subsequently use most are those with which I have been able to make a pictorial connection.

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