Giving Students Power Tools For The Holidays

The Power Of Building Working Vocabulary Across Content Areas

by Char Shryock

     Put power tools on your students’ holiday gift list.  Words are the most powerful tools you can give to your students, no matter what age or content area you teach.  Just like any other power tool, the best way to learn to use it is to actually use it on authentic tasks!  For students in your classrooms, giving them many opportunities to read, listen to, write, and speak using academic and content area words will strengthen their working vocabulary. Reading a textbook alone is not enough.   It is our challenge as teachers to provide opportunities for all of our students to add words to their vocabulary toolbox. There are many effective ways to do this.  What research does show is that doing rote vocabulary memorization is not the most effective way to build long term vocabulary skills. Let’s look at some strategies that have been proven to work well for all students:

Use of Text Sets:  Creating a set of 3 or more texts that center on similar topic is a way to expose students to content words, in context.  Multiple exposures to vocabulary helps students to build expertise. This increased expertise allows them to read increasingly complex texts in your classroom.   Developing tasks that require your students to read text sets, then write or speak about the content further strengthens their ability to use key content words.

Living Word Wall:  The key word is placed in the middle of the working area.  Students then add pictures, sentences and related words to the wall.  The teacher refers to the wall often and encourages the students to use the word in their classroom work.

Frayer Model:  This is a graphic organizer that puts the key word in the center.  The top left corner of the paper contains the word.  The top right corner is definitions – both dictionary and in their own words. In the bottom left corner, the students can draw a picture or provide examples to go with the word and the bottom right corner is usually used to include words or pictures to show what is NOT the word…or providing connections to other words or concepts they already know. Maybe include using it in a sentence. Once students have made a Frayer model – have them think pair share to exchange ideas or do a gallery walk to allow them to see and comment on other student’s interpretations.

Marzano Notecard:   Similar to a Frayer model, but more portable, the notecard starts with the word in the middle.  The top left corner is the dictionary definition. The top right corner is the student’s definition. The bottom left corner is a diagram or picture – this works especially well with science terms. The bottom right corner is a list of other related terms.  On the back, the student writes two sentences that not only use the word, but make a connection to other terms in the content area or a real world situation.

Two in One:  In this strategy, students must write sentences using the vocabulary words for a unit or for the week.  The twist…they must use two words in one sentence.  They may change the form of the word if necessary.

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