I do love a challenge, and my friend and fellow Certified Google Innovator, Alicia Brooks offered the perfect one a few weeks ago. Alicia wanted ideas for blending sound vocabulary instruction with intentional technology. I gladly accepted the challenge, it was a way to blend my passions in literacy and technology.
All learning is based in language! It is also a part of the Common Core State Standards, based off of the work of Isabel Beck. But instead of aligning vocabulary instruction to a mandate that could change as quickly as politics, I like to instead anchor my beliefs in what’s best for kids. Word learning is a way to understand concepts more deeply, connect to topics and information intentionally, approach challenging words with strategies good readers use to make sense of complicated texts, and to transfer this understanding into consumption and creation! Along with those beliefs, I also knew there were two important research-grounded assumptions on word learning.
- Word learning is not incremental – it is not like an on – off switch; instead, it is more like a dimmer switch, strengthening what we know.
- Students learn many more words than we can teach them during school hours or with direct vocabulary instruction.
Understanding these two assumptions, educators recognize vocabulary instruction must be multifaceted. Student learning of vocabulary and instruction of vocabulary must come from multiple angles. Students must have multiple exposures to build depth and understanding . On average, students learn 3,000-4,000 words a year from grades K to 12th. This amount of word learning far surpasses what can be taught in the classroom. Learning of words happens incidentally and from all types of contexts; in school, out of school, from communication and conversations, television, social media, and music. Students are constantly learning words!
When determining how to teach vocabulary, I like to use the following neumonic developed by Blachowicz & Fisher.
Flood – Flood your classroom with words related to your concept or topic. Not all learning requires intentional and teacher-directed instruction. Enriched environments that promote interesting encounters students have with words increases incidental learning.
Fast – Use fast instruction when an easy definition or analogy will build on knowledge the students already have. Instruction is fast paced where the teacher identifies the word, provides a synonym, gives an example of use, and then asks students to provide their own connection or synonym
Focus – Use focus instruction for words where deeper, semantically rich teaching of a new concept is required. Instruction involves both definitional and contextual information, multiple exposures to the word and it’s meaning, and deep levels of processing so that students develop a rich base for word meaning.
Technology provides support to both educators and students on vocabulary instruction and word learning. For instance, applying the 4 components of a multifaceted and comprehensive vocabulary instruction, students are encouraged to identify vocabulary that is unfamiliar to them in their independent reading, mentor example, or nonfiction article from another class. This choice recognizes different needs, prior knowledge, and interests students have in your classroom. Use semantic mapping to aid in the learning. Try Coggle, as a way students can organize and group their word work.
Hyperslides (a dynamic presentation in which different slides are linked together, providing choice to the student. Think a digital form of Choose Your Own Adventure.) can be used for a short student analysis, or to provide students with a quick way to strengthen their understanding and exposure through a “Would you rather” question. I have found it best to model an example and provide as a future option for student creation. When students construct their own understanding, word learning is deepened. Click here to experience a short demo I created with Google Slides.
Model it – word learning is supported through enriched environments where students are word aware! Educators must do their part as well, seeing that vocabulary acquisition is largely incidental. Crosswords, word games, vocabulary websites, thinking aloud your own struggles when encountering a difficult word, videos, images and word walls demonstrate the constant vocabulary learning by the teacher. I am a collector of moments and beautiful words, and one of my favorite things to do is identify and Pin literacy devices I find on Pinterest. This modeling is one that students enjoy and frequent, noticing the additions and pinning some to their boards.
Graphic Dictionaries are great for Tier 3 words that are content specific. Have students create their own graphic dictionary according to content or unit. Use Google Docs and the (g)math add-on to create a Math Term Graphic Dictionary! It is not only functional and individualized by each student, but it provides an opportunity to utilize a digital resource available.
Finally, try using social media to engage, create, and collaborate digitally with students through Wuzzles (word puzzles). Share a class Instagram account in which all students take turns posting to, or utilize your own Snapchat app and stories to post Wuzzles to extend learning. Another alternative is to create and use templates that models form and structure found on social media platforms. Create a Vocab-O-Gram with an Instragram template found HERE.
Source: Gambrell, Linda B. and Lesley Mandel Morrow, eds. Best Practices in Literacy
Instruction. New York: Guilford. 2015. Print.