Often as teachers we accept that students just need to learn and how they learn becomes irrelevant. We tell ourselves that learning can’t be exciting all the time. In many ways this might be true; students have to get through the boring things about school because let’s face it, many aspects of our everyday lives can be painfully dull.
At the same time I think teachers should do what they can to make the classroom a fun and exciting place- a place where students want to be, and are visibly shocked when the bell signals the end of a period.
After attending a lecture a few weeks back, I decided to narrow my focus to one area of instruction that has the tendency to generate more than its fair share of yawns- vocabulary instruction.
As a Special Education Teacher, I’ve struggled with how to teach vocabulary using more than fill-in-the-blank activities. Through trial and error, reading textbooks, and reviewing various websites I’ve discovered some new and interesting ways to help students develop their vocabulary. Here are some of my ideas:
1. Define the word using terms that the student knows. The worst thing you can do is attempt to define a novel word using other complex words. Keep definitions concise and to the point.
2. Set up multiple opportunities for students to meet the same word in different contexts. Encourage students to practice saying the word and reading the word in different texts for example, fiction and nonfiction.
3. How will students develop vocabulary outside the classroom? Through lots and lots of reading! Encourage students to read every day and write down new words in a “Words I Don’t Know” list in their reading journals. The more students read, the more they will face new words and be presented with opportunities to develop their vocabulary.
4. Find tools to help clarify confusion. Rather than skipping words they don’t know, students should be encouraged to utilize tools to help them figure out meanings. If students use a dictionary, remember to remind them that dictionaries have multiple meanings (I use simplified dictionaries to avoid confusion).
5. Vocabulary instruction should include an element of problem solving. Students can use other words in the sentence to make informed guesses about the meanings of vocabulary words. This means that students have to play “Detective” and use the clues in the sentence to figure out the meanings of novel words.
6. Act out the vocabulary word! Provide students with opportunities to act out the word using drama or dance. Through drama or dance, students will have the chance to connect their movements to the meanings of the words.
7. Create a song or rap based on the word. I like to sing words to my students; it adds a sparkle to the lesson by making students laugh, and it helps students realize that vocabulary instruction isn’t always boring.