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Vocabulary: A New Approach to Teaching


We've always disliked giving students a list of vocabulary words, having them look up the definition, and then immediately use the word in a sentence. Often, their sentences end up with the word not quite in the correct form or even in the right contest. This year, we're hoping to avoid this issue by starting our language arts classes with a new graphic organizer using the vocabulary we've selected from the opening novels we're reading (Charlotte's Web in 3rd grade, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in 4th grade, and The Westing Game in 5th grade, just in case you were wondering!).

So here's what we do.

  • Create a three column table using the list of vocabulary words we want our students to learn. 
  • In the first column, is the vocabulary word.
  • In the second column, is a sentence we create using the word with ample context clues, 
  • The third column is left blank for students to speculate the meaning of the word. 

We are requiring our students to highlight the context clues in the sentence before generating a prediction of the definition. We will then discuss the different theories as a class before writing down our final definition. 

The vocabulary words are continuously reviewed on subsequent days by playing pictionary and charades, among other activities, to include different learning modalities, so that hopefully the meaning will stick! 

Finally, when we assess our students on the new words, they will have to go above and beyond simply matching the definition or filling in the blank. For example, on the first quiz from the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, students will be asked, "What would be more monotonous? A one minute roller coaster ride at Disneyland, or a two-hour math lesson on subtraction? Explain your reasoning."

Fingers crossed that students retain the definition, and even better, that they start using the words in their everyday language!

How do you teach vocabulary in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below! 



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