Saturday, March 23, 2013

Amplified Vocabulary Lessons: When Words Speak, Students Listen

Vocabulary study can be lackluster, unless the words speak to the students on some level. The following 31 activities will turn humdrum into curiosity, and this inquisitiveness will spark learning because these exercises allow students to hear the words' meanings and messages.  Although most of these activities are included in my Word Clouds ($) which corresponds with my product: ($), I have updated them and want to offer them to you for free so you can add them to your bag of teaching tricks.

Why do I say tricks? Because as any ELA teacher knows, without stratagems that allow the students to own the words that they study, the announcement of a vocabulary lesson can create an instant epidemic of eye-rolling, groaning and ennui. Besides, using these exercises fire up students to make these words a part of their life-long vocabularies instead of some definitions to learn for a test. Teachers can choose an exercise to focus on a needed area of comprehension, to accompany a literature-based or general writing assignment or to assign during a study of the parts of speech. The point is-encourage students to write these words, and to speak them, as often as possible.

With every list that they study, students will choose some words that really speak to them.  I remember falling in love with the word, ergo, during an SAT lesson in high school. Since then, it has become one of my favorite words, ergo, I use it often.  I love the sensory explosion of onomatopoeia, too. It caroms off the sides of my mouth like a handful of M&Ms do when they tease me to be patient while the outer layer melts into the rich center (Taste). Onomatopoeic words make writing whiz and whip across the paper. When I say it, I imagine how a xylophone would ping a note for every syllable (Hearing).

The point is, students will choose words to write and to speak that appeal to them on some personal level, too. And the more they include them in their pieces, the more likely they are to travel from the factual and dispassionate world of Denotation to the comfortable and individual country of Connotation. These words will morph from lists to study in school to vital components of their writing and speaking worlds outside of the classroom.

How you choose to use these lists depends on your students' grade levels, their thinking and writing skills and your time frame. I do suggest that you encourage them to use the words as often as possible when they speak and write, from the point they are introduced to the words on. This doesn't need to be time-consuming, but will smoothly fit into any class period.  Ask them to choose an exercise to complete during a 10-15 minute warm-up or for closure at the end of class. You could remind them to use any words during literature discussions, or offer extra credit for any completed exercise they can attach to their vocabulary test. Be sure to clarify a maximum number of points they can earn, though. An idea is 5 points for each test-1 per completed activity. Finally, entice students with one point for every word used in any expository or creative writing assignment assigned during a literature writing or research lesson. Just be sure to explain that you won’t add the points unless they underline or bold the words, and give a maximum number they can incorporate into the piece.

As you read through the list, you will note all of the other ways that you can empower students to make vocabulary study as integral to their lives as eating, texting and talking. Let the words live. Here are a few to whet your appetite:
 31 Vocabulary Enrichment Ideas:
Directions: Students- these exercises will help you to understand the meanings of the vocabulary words, so that they become a part of your writing and speaking lives. Note: when using the words in any of the writing assignments, you might have to change their spelling to show correct usage. This is especially important for nouns and verbs. Choose one whenever you have time to write in class, to help you understand the words and their usage for a test, or when the words urge you to write outside of school.

1. Work alone or with a partner to create a fill-in-the blank story along the lines of a Mad Lib. Earn one point for each word that is used correctly and that gives a clear context clue. If a word changes the part of speech (adj. to n., or adj. to adv., or if it changes its ending : verb), use the correct spelling.
2. For every word that you find in your reading (texts in any class-not just English, newspapers, recreational reading or websites),  copy the sentence where it is used, and underline the word.
3. Try to use the vocabulary words orally in class. If the teacher notices, you earn one extra credit point; if another student notices, each of you earn an extra credit point, and if no one notices and you have to mention it, you earn 2 points.
8. Write a song using a minimum of 7 words.
9. Create rhyming couplets using the words, one vocabulary word per line.
13. Create a haiku that uses a word and shows its meaning.
14. Start a short story using all of the words on the list.  Add to the story as you study the different lists.
15. Choose a headline of the day from a newspaper of your choice-online or hard copy (News, features, sports, or review) and write an article on the subject using at least 8 of the words.
19.  Use the idea/theme of a children’s story as a basis for an original story using all of the vocabulary words. Examples: The Three Bears, Snow White, Cinderella, or Strega Nona.
22. Show the meaning of a list of words through illustrations-your own or pictures that you've found in hard-copy or on the net.  Make them into a booklet. Hint: if you find the pictures on the Net, you can use a program like Publisher to create cool booklets with pictures.
31. Create your own exercise that invites your vocabulary words to live in your world.

Now,  print off this Freebie from,  and hand the list out to each of your students. She Ra, Queen of the Jungle might have gathered power from her Sword of Protection, but after completing these Amplified Vocabulary Lessons, your students will have the strength that only the power of words can give them.
What vocabulary ideas work for you? I would love it if you shared a few here.