Vocabulary twist: Teaching words OUT of context
Kids (and adults) are supposed to learn new vocabulary best when words are presented in literary context.
Well, a teacher at the public Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School has discovered that sometimes, teaching words out of context is just as successful.
Shannon Reed, who is also a playwright, writes in the “Teachers at Work” blog at visualthesaurus.com about an experiment she tried at her school, where a majority of the students come from low-income families.
Traditional vocabulary instruction calls for teachers to present words to students in literary context so they can extract meaning from the other words around them. Kids read a literary work and then study words in the narrative. This words especially well for kids who like to read.
But, as Reed points out, a lot of students don’t: “One reason I’ve frequently heard to explain why they don’t read is that it’s dull or hard. Yep, come to think of it, repeatedly running your eyes over a bunch of words you don’t understand is indeed dull. And hard.”
While trying to find engaging ways of teaching vocabulary words, she decided to twist traditional vocabulary lessons. She wrote:
“I wondered what it would be like to switch the the process – instead of reading something with my students and pulling out the vocabulary words from it, what if I chose some higher-level vocabulary words, teach them, and let them discover the same words while reading? Although I did fear that somehow word would leak out to one of my education professors, who would no doubt swing by my school for a little hand-slapping, I decided it was worth a shot. Especially when no one could come up with a reason not to, and statistics were showing that our students needed some kind of intervention in academic vocabulary, stat.”
Here’s what she did:
“I decided that five new vocab words a week was a sufficient, but not overwhelming, challenge. I chose my words from an up-to-date SAT test prep list, trying to focus on those that I felt actually were used with some regularity. Hence, yes to 'fiasco,' no to 'malevolent'.....
“On Day 1, they got a practice multiple-choice quiz in which the words were used in a sentence and they had to select the correct meaning. Dictionaries were provided for those who chose to use them. We went over these (and I added any additional information, such as a heads-up that the word ‘clique’ was indeed an exclusive group but also had negative connotation).
"On Day 2, they had to try to use each word in a sentence which we then went over. On Day 3, they used the words in sentences and I collected them (returning them with suggestions and clarifications the next day). Day 4, a favorite, brought "Illustrate Your Vocab Word Day," a big hit with my visual learners (and a delight for the rest of us to see how they illustrated insurgents or perplexed... some of these sketches are little masterpieces and were put up on my classroom wall). And on Day 5, they took a quiz, which required them to use each word in a sentence correctly.
"Every four weeks, we took a major test on all 20 words that had been covered, spending a few days beforehand reviewing the words. I also highly encouraged student-led learning, asking, for example, if anyone had a strategy for remembering how to use a particularly tricky word....
“Almost immediately, I saw the vocabulary words begin to appear in their writing. One of the first words was 'ambivalent' and suddenly, everyone felt ambivalent about everything – the Regents, their mom’s insistence that they watch their siblings, Ms. Reed’s choice of clothing.
Another word was 'diminutive' and the next thing I knew, I was being told not to bother starting a new chapter, as we only had a diminutive amount of time left in class. Vocab words appeared on Facebook pages ("U R an Insurgent! Lolz!") and in thank you notes, leaving me to have to explain to a friend who had given my kids a special workshop as to why the word ‘cryptic’ appeared so often in his thank yous (and also why his show was described as "not a fiasco").
"An administrator stopped by to ask if the kids had just learned the word ‘inimitable’ because he had heard a group of them arguing about how to pronounce it as they walked down the hall....”
And Reed concludes:
“I’ll continue to teach words in literary context (we just had a vigorous conversation about the word unobtrusively, learnt from reading Our Town in class), but I’ll also embrace this new-to-me, old-to-education method of words out of literary context. It’s not cryptic, I don’t feel ambivalent about it, and my students agree that this unit has been a zenith of our year!”
Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!
| May 27, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Learning, Reading, Writing | Tags: how to teach vocabulary, how to teach words, literary context, teaching vocabulary words, teaching words in literary context, vocabulary lessons
Save & Share: Previous: Ann Curry gives wrong commencement speech
Next: How Arizona is checking teachers’ accents
Posted by: laura33 | May 27, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 27, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LadybugLa | May 27, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sreed151 | May 27, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rei727887 | May 27, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LadybugLa | May 27, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: zoniedude | May 27, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 27, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LadybugLa | May 27, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LadybugLa | May 27, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.