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A quick, fun and engaging activity to have students learn and practice using vocabulary is a game called Flash Vocabulary. In this game students are paired up. Using a document camera or overhead projector, teacher places a vocabulary words down, showing the words on a screen or wall. Teacher can also just write the words and cover them up as well. One student has their back to the vocabulary and one student is facing the vocabulary (the direction of the screen). As the teacher flashes the vocabulary, the students facing the screen have to describe the vocabulary word or define it WITHOUT using the vocabulary word. As you can guess, students with their backs to the screen have to guess the vocabulary word.

To step it up, teachers may throw down a list of words. The goal then is to be the first pair to identify all the vocabulary words.

This game can be spur-of-the-moment, part of an anticipatory set, or break-up a long day of instruction.

RESOURCES

Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Resourceful Book for Student Teachers and Job Seekers

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It’s a simple premise:  our students should know what they are learning and why.  The best way to accomplish this is through having learning objectives for every lesson.  Yet, teachers tend to make some common mistake around learning objectives.  Knowing these common mistakes will help you maximize your practice of using learning objectives:

1) Clearly post learning objectives.

Don’t make the students continually guess what they will be learning.  It’s not fun for the students, and they will eventually give up trying.  Your learning objective should never be a secret.  Your learning objective should be written or placed in a prominent place in your classroom.  Some teachers write it in PowerPoint, some use document cameras, and others have their learning objectives written in a dedicated space on their white board.  Do what works best for you and your students, but the key is to consistently post it.

2) Make your learning objective relevant.

Reference your learning objectives in the beginning of each lesson.  If you continually talk about (give attention to) the learning objective students will come to understand that this is important and something they should pay attention to.  Another way is to have the students do some activity around the learning objective.  For instance, you may ask students to reflect on their progress in achieving the learning objective and what they need to meet it.

3) Write the learning objective in simple, student-friendly language.

Avoid going crazy with a paragraph-long learning objective.  Keep it simple, allowing the student to understand it.  To ensure students understand the learning objective you can have students rewrite the learning objective in their own words.

4) Double-check to see if  it is really an objective or activity.

Examples of activities masked as learning objectives:

“Read Chapter 2 in the your textbook.”

“Summarize Chapter 2.”

Examples of a learning objectives:

Students will be able to

“Describe the author’s perspective in Chapter 2”

“Compare and contrast between current author and a past author’s perspective”

5) Ensure your learning objectives drive the lesson.

Every activity and assessment must be connected to your learning objectives.  Often teachers have great activities, but they have nothing to do with the learning objective.

RESOURCES

Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job

“Do we juggle too many things in education?”  “Are we trying to take on too many things in the name of school reform?”  I believe so.

Lately, I feel like education leaders are taking a shotgun approach to improving student achievement.  Shoot in any direction and hopefully something works.  However, research shows this approach doesn’t work.  In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, he describes that best performing organizations always focus on a doing a few things well.  These high performing organizations do this by hiring disciplined people who are focused on the organization’s mission, monitoring results, and striving for improvement.

Let’s take a step back and evaluate what we are doing.  Ask if this new initiative, reform, protocol, committee, study group, PLC, reading, training, or activity is REALLY going to impact student learning.  I propose we implement a few initiatives, practice it, evaluate the progress, reflect, refine, and get it right, then do too much, resulting in only scratching the surface of its potential on improving student learning.

“Can’t this be simpler?” 

I continually go back to where student learning mainly happens – the classroom.  I continually go back to the number one factor impacting student achievement – the teacher.  This is where the focus should be. 

Questions begin to flow…

With as much money being spent, why not hire (additional) professional development coaches that can systematically assess and provide feedback to classroom teachers?  Have the coaches visit all classrooms at least 2 twice a month and more for beginning teachers.  The coaches provide timely and targeted feedback, just like how we provide feedback to students (Marzano).  Individual action plans, aligning to building or district goals, can be drawn up, monitored, and reflected on throughout the school year.

Why not provide feedback as a means to professional development rather than taking on the negative tone of evaluation?   When did we – as educators – get to hate the word evaluation?  Why can’t we get an evaluation that’s less than perfect and be okay, knowing we aren’t perfect?  There is always room for improvement; why not focus on that area of improvement, so our students can learn more?

Why not have teachers observe instruction and “evaluate” curriculum in true professional learning communities, providing opportunities for teachers to discuss each others’ work in a respectful, constructive manner?

Why not video-tape our instruction, and receive feedback from administration, a colleague, or even a university education professor – thus helping bridge the gap between academia and our schools?

Lately, I have noticed something was afoot.  I saw school administrators visit and observe my class several times over the past week.  I was not alone.  This team of observers jumped from one class to the next.  They weren’t there to evaluate, rather just look for best-practices in our school’s classrooms.  I haven’t seen this, save planned evaluations, in years.

“WhoooHooooo!”

This is a good step forward to break down the isolation teachers (and the system) build into our teaching practices.  We spend so many hours in professional development and meetings learning about best-practices dealing with curriculum, instruction, and classroom management.  However, what’s the take away?  Maybe the motivated teachers implement these ideas and strategies into their classrooms.  It’s a good start, but how do we know if we are using these strategies correctly?  Marzano – the current education research guru – explains that using a high-yield instructional strategy doesn’t always translate into student achievement. 

What’s the next step?  It’s not simply just checking off the best practices, but providing targeted individualized feedback.  There are certain ways of implementing, using, practicing these high-yield strategies, which may result in the desired gains.  Therefore, we need feedback to determine if we are implementing these targeted ideas/strategies correctly, and identify ways to improve.  We desperately need other teachers in our classes to watch us teach, and having them provide timely and constructive feedback on how to improve.  In my last 6 years of teaching, I have had only 2 teachers observe my class and how I teach.   If research shows that the teacher is the #1 factor in student achievement, then why aren’t we observing, practicing, and reflecting on our peers’ and on our  own teaching practices on a much greater systematic scale?

Make vocabulary fun and the students will be more likely to learn it.  A great way to deliver this fun is through Jeopardy.  Please see the link below for grade-level and subject area Jeopardy games.  If none of the listed pre-made jeopardy games meet your needs, then they have a template to create your own.

What do you use in your classroom?  Send links, suggestions, ideas on how to best teach vocabulary to eric@road2teaching.com.  We will then share it with other teachers.  Love to hear your thoughts!

Allowing students to use descriptions composed of everyday language is important in effective vocabulary comprehension and retention.  One way to do this is through a vocabulary self-awareness chart.  Teachers then can revisit this chart throughout the unit of study, creating multiple opportunities for students to monitor their learning of the vocabulary.

Here are the steps to completing this chart:

Student Directions:

  1. Examine the list of words you have written in the first column
  2. Put a “+” next to each word you know well, and give an accurate example and definition of the word.  Your definition and example must relate to the unit of study.
  3. Place a “check” next to any words for which you can write only a definition or an example, but not both.
  4. Place a “?“ next to words that are new to you.

You will use this chart throughout the unit.  By the end of the unit should have the entire chart completed.  Because you will be revising this chart, write in pencil.  

RESOURCES

Vocabulary self-awareness chart (PDF)

Vocabulary self-awareness chart (WORD)

Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Another way I have my students interact with vocabulary is creating crossword puzzles.  This can be done by hand or computer-generated.  Students write the definitions and construct their very own crossword puzzles.  Typically, I ask students to include prior vocabulary to continually build their vocabulary comprehension.

Then, I collect the students crosswords, without the answers, and re-distribute them to the students at random.  Students are required to complete the crosswords, again, interacting with and learning the vocabulary.

Finally, once the students have completed the crossword puzzles I have the students pair up with student that originally made the crossword puzzle, allowing them to discuss their answers.

RESOURCES

Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Create a Crossword Puzzle On-Line

Learning games can be another venue to increase students’ vocabulary comprehension.  I have used this learning game with 5th graders and, currently, with seniors in high school.  The benefits of this game are that it’s hands-on, engaging, and everyone is learning.

Here’s how it works:

1) Teacher has a list of the key vocabulary words posted in the room (word wall).

2) Teacher explains the instructions and rules.  Instructions are each student is required to make 2-3 paper airplanes, and then write the definition of their vocabulary word on each airplane.  The class will be divided into 2-4 groups.

Rules

3) The aim of the game is to knock out members from other groups by flying their airplane over to that group.  The students that receives the airplane, reads the definition out loud, then answers it.  If the student doesn’t answer it correctly, then the person that flew the plan needs to give the correct answer.  The student that is knocked out has one last chance to fly one of his/her airplanes to another group.

4)  If a student flies their airplane and it comes back to the original group, this is called friendly-fire.  Someone, at the teacher’s choosing, has to answer that question.  If their answer is incorrect, then they are knocked out.

5)  Teacher is ultimate decision-maker.  Students can not argue with the teacher, or they will lose a chance to go.

This is a fun, silly activity, but highly effective in engaging even the hardest to reach students in thinking about vocabulary.

Resources

Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Quizlet is an EXCELLENT resource for teaching vocabulary.  Students can play, interface with vocab in different ways, learn word parts, and much more…

One more thing…not a strategy, but a tool for vocabulary.  Have you discovered Quizlet yet?  It’s a website where you input the vocabulary list and the students can play games, print flashcards, test themselves, etc. on the words. Teri

Please send your strategies or resources to teach vocabulary to tips@road2teaching.com.  Let’s keep it going!

Resource

Quizlet

I’d like to add to what Teri said. I also like students to do what I call “cartoon vocabulary.” We discuss the word in context. Then the students fold their paper in half twice (once “hamburger bun” style and once “hotdog bun” style). This means that there are four panels on each side of the paper.

They write the definition of the word at the bottom of the square and draw a picture that helps them remember it’s meaning. It has to have meaning to THEM, not just a picture from the book.

We play a pair and share game where they have one minute to pair up and each must say the definition of a word in their own words and then demonstrate to their partner why they drew the picture they did to remember the word.

This has the added benefit of seeing how more successful students draw pictures to remember their words and to reinforce what we have done previously.  I notice that words done this way ARE remembered better. And yes, as Teri says, brain research bears this out. Memories are made in pictures, not letters and words. – Mrs. Prudent Classroom

Please check back to view updated posts on our Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page.

How do you teach vocabulary?  Email your ideas / instructional strategies to tips@road2teaching.com