Task: Write a blog about building vocabulary

Audience: Teachers in classrooms with kids

Purpose: To take something that has worked well for my students and provide instructions, ideas, and guidelines that might benefit other teachers and students

We’ve all heard that statistic about the dramatic difference in vocabulary between students of low socioeconomic backgrounds and students of high socioeconomic backgrounds. We’ve heard about how vocabulary has been linked with academic success (correlation =/= causation, though, people, keep that in mind).

I argue it is not the number of words they know but a passion and awareness for the beauty of words that we should share. Here’s how I do it:

1) Words do not exist only in school.
A major flaw in our current system is the way that we refer to and categorize the dichotomous life students have. They’re like crappy superheroes – forced to live in two worlds without the laser eyes. They have an in school life and life outside school.

I start my kids with bribery, like every good teacher.

I give them a vocabulary card (that link is to our Gumroad where you can download a template for free or throw us some change if you like the product. Just type 0 for the price.)or two every day for the first month or so of school. It’s just a slip of paper. On it, they write the word they found, where they found it, and their name. In exchange, they get an extra pull for the ones and tens chart or some classroom cash for the classroom economy.

This gets them looking. They start listening more actively when they are not at school for words they don’t know. It builds their awareness.



That is THEIR word wall. Not yours. It is not for you to make it look pretty like an adult did it so you can get a gold star from the principal.

It is THEIRS. Say it with me now: IT IS THEIRS.

Do it in alphabetical order, sure. Have them make the letter headings and add their words to it. Do not predetermine a SINGLE vocabulary word. Got that? NOT A SINGLE ONE. Sure, you can look ahead and make a guess about what words they don’t know, but you do not add a word to that wall without confirming that they do not know it already.

Here’s what my word wall looks like:
[Mostly it’s my coffee, but you can see the wall in the background]

word wall

[These are some of the words we have up there.]

It is theirs and we use those words allllllll the time. When we speak to one another we talk about how dapper a person looks or ask why they’re acting like such a crackpot or why they’re being so aloof.

We say, “That test was horrendous!!” or “That was an egregious error on my part, sorry.”

I use those words so they use those words. I don’t dumb things down for them.

Finally, C)
Observe and STEAL.
Read for reading’s sake then go back and read through the lens of a writer.
Need help with the punctuation for dialogue?
Pull a book off the shelf and look at how Magic Treehouse does it.

Study and dissect how works are built and then steal, steal, steal. Replicate and pay homage to the works you love.

Do this as a teacher and model it for your students. If you want them to be consumers of words, YOU must be a consumer of words.

When you read aloud (which you should do often), point out the beautiful things the author does:
The plump tangerine moon rose in the October sky.
(A line poorly quoted from the novel we’re currently reading, Chasing Vermeer)
The author could have said, “The moon was orange.” Is that as good?

Point out similes, metaphors, hyperbole, even before you explicitly teach it. Even if they can’t classify it, kids can still understand that’s what makes a text beautiful and they can replicate it.

How is nonfiction text built? If you’re trying to convey an idea, what tool is best? Chart? Graph? Timeline? How does the author do it? How can you steal that idea?

I’ve gotten a bit off track, but sometimes that’s what happens and that’s ok. That’s how real learning happens.

If you hate this, please leave comments below or tweet me @weberswords

If you love this, please share with others.

Webs out.

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