Sunday, August 11, 2013

Colorful Vocabulary

Every year I drive myself CRAZY trying to figure out the best way to expand my students vocabulary. I have a variety of students every year from an array of different backgrounds, cultures and home situations. My ESL students naturally use different vocabulary, as most are taught textbook formal English by their English speaking parent. I have several students who have been read to, traveled and exposed to a variety of experiences that naturally grew their vocabulary. Then I have a handful who grew up as latch key kids, had a tv as a babysitter and probably were not given many experiences or even opportunity to engage in picking up vocabulary from interactions with their parents. ( Put down the phone people, and start TALKING to your kids rather than texting them!)
   Anywho, THOSE are the babies I worry about the most. So, every year I struggle to find a quick, efficient, and useful way to put vocabulary in front of them without bombarding them with useless words or just having a word wall that is nothing more than a pretty wall space taker upper.
   I've tried everything...personal word walls, differentiated word walls, sight word only word walls, you name it, in my over a decade of teaching, I've probably tried it.
     This year, I sat down and asked myself what the PURPOSE of my word wall is going to be. After much conversation, debate and arguing with myself (it's okay, no need to call the local mental hospital, I won the argument!) I decided that the purpose of my word wall this year is going to be to give them new vocabulary rather than a source of sight words or correctly spelled words. (I'll address those two matters in upcoming blog posts.) Nope, this year I'm strictly using it for vocabulary. Let me explain my thinking.
     Let me start off by saying I hate standardized tests....but after I burst my bubble and sink back into reality, I realize although no one loves them, it's the world we live in and it's a necessary evil. With that established, we all know that there are items on those tests that we KNOW our kids know the answer to, but they didn't understand what the test writers were asking because the vocabulary tripped them up. One of the biggest complaints I've heard voiced K-5 is that we use different vocabulary for the same things. We used to call nouns "naming words" in lower grades. After much conversation, we decided to be on the same page and use the same terminology. One problem solved.
     Another issue is that word walls become cluttered....sight words , math vocabulary, LA vocabulary, science vocabulary, social studies vocabulary, grammar terms, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So what do you put up? Do you have five different word walls? Do you keep the same words up all year or cycle them through?
     I'm not pretending to have the be all, end all answers. But I'll let you know my plan and what works for me. First of all, the first part of my plan I stole, er , I mean was inspired by a post on Pinterest. This word wall used ribbon and clothespins.(See picture)  Words are able to be added easily and alphabetized ( my inner OCD child is so happy!) without major problems. So, I put up my letters and ribbon. (And had a math lesson for the lady at Jo Anna who swore she sold me a spool of 9ft of ribbon and was proven wrong when I measured and added it for her! Ha!)
    Next, I had to decide what words to use and how to distinguish them. Have I mentioned how much my inner OCD child LOVE, LOVE, LOVEs color coding? Well, she does. She's crazy like that! So, naturally, I conclude the only way to shut her up is to color code the words by subject.
     But what is going to constitute a word to be word wall worthy? Well, since my purpose is meaning rather than spelling, it will be words they need to learn to use in context. (Again, don't freak out, I've got the spelling issue covered in upcoming posts). So, my words will be color coded by subject and only be used for meaning, not spelling.
      How many is too many? Well, that's where the ribbon idea is genius. When the words get to the end of their rope, I mean ribbon, then the first up goes into a binder....a binder of Colorful Vocabulary that is put in alphabetical order. The definition is put on the back so a variety of games (again, an upcoming post) can be played to reinforce the word. This keeps the amount of words to a manageable number but also takes care of the "out of sight, out of mind" problem.
       So, what's your plan for your word wall???

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