Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vocab Strategies that Work: Do This- Not That!- word walls

In Vocabulary Strategies that Work: Do This- Not That! Lori G. Wilfong writes about the most critical element of reading comprehension- vocabulary. While the strategies are not new, the book's approach is an inviting method of presenting them. Besides, in spite of copious research, we are, as a unit, terrible  about teaching vocabulary. Although students can learn about 8-10 words in a week (p. 4), across the subject areas we often see numbers of required vocabulary words upward of 50 per week. We see the major strategy that did not work for us revisited as we teach- present, test, repeat. We know about strategies that do work, but do not reserve the classroom time to implement them with fidelity. If we want our children to develop in to literate, well-educated adults, we need to change this. I have blogged repeatedly about vocabulary and vocabulary texts:;;;

My favorite part of this book is the format. While the book truly targets middle school, the strategies described easily cross to elementary and high school levels. It is presented as 10 chapters each with 3-5 strategies highlighted. For those who need to cite Common Core State Standards (CCSS), each chapter contains a section describing how the strategies described connect to the CCSS. Each chapter then proposes action steps. This makes the book particularly valuable for use as a PLC. If a school wanted to focus professional development on vocabulary, a single chapter could be addressed.

My favorite chapter is on word walls. It is the best description of how to use word walls that I have come across. It made me reflect on a middle school math teacher that I work with. She presented a mathematical symbol word wall at the beginning of the year. All the symbols the students will encounter on the state tests are included in a flap format. Symbol on top and description underneath it. She refers to the word wall during her lessons. Students can point out a symbol under discussion and it is self-correcting. Although she has not defined it specifically to the students as a word wall, that is what it is. As the authors point out, the key to an effective word wall is using the words from the wall. Students can group them, identify missing words, add synonyms, antonyms or sentences using the words with sticky notes, write a paragraph using either a self selected or teacher selected subset of words, compare and contrast two words, etc.

One activity that I think I will try is word wall baseball (p. 90).  Teams are made up. Words are removed from the word wall and distributed to the player "at bat." Misreading the word equals an out. Students are asked to spell, define, use the word in a sentence and connect the word to another word wall word. For each of the steps they correctly complete, they advance a base. For my struggling learners I would change this. Spelling is the least important of the ideas and for many students the either easiest or hardest step. If students were given the choice of one of the four for each base or perhaps you could add connecting the word to another subject correctly, using it in a metaphor or breaking out word parts and describing how the word part is seen in both the definition of the target word and an additional word as an option. For example:

  • defined: the process in which plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen
  • sentence: Plants need to carry out photosynthesis or the world will run out of oxygen.
  • connection to a word: photosynthesis is the opposite of respiration because photosynthesis is where plants use carbon dioxide, water and energy to create sugar and oxygen  and respiration is where cells use sugar and oxygen to create energy and carbon dioxide.
  • connection/metaphor: Photosynthesis is like writing a paper. You use raw material of energy, paper and pen to produce an essay like photosynthesis uses energy and raw material to make sugar.
  • word parts/etymology analysis: photo-light; syn-together; thesis-place- photography both use light

Erie Canal
  • defined: A man made waterway that connects the Hudson River at Albany in eastern New York with the Niagara River and the Great Lakes.
  • sentence: When the Erie canal was built, people could more easily move farm goods to the cities of Albany and New York and manufactured goods to the "west."
  • connection to a word: Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes that the Erie Canal connects to the Atlantic.
  • connection/metaphor: We took a ride on the canal boat, the Mary Jamison, last year.
  • word parts: a canal is something that is dug; canal comes from the word channel- cut a channel in the ground. Both channel and canal are something that is dug.
  • defined: a four sided polygon.
  • sentence: we studied many types of quadrilaterals: squares, trapezoids and rectangles.
  • connection to a word: Quadrilaterals are four sided polygons and triangular pyramids are four sided polyhedrons.
  • connection/metaphor: The golden quadrilateral is a highway system in India that connect four major cities.
  • word parts: quadri- four; latus- side; quadriceps are a group of four muscles in the front of your thigh- both words use the root quad to tell that there are four parts.

A student would get a chance to do any of the six for each of the four bases. If there was a mistake it would be an out. They could try to complete as many as they can or stop when they have done all they are comfortable with. You could have the other team have the option of completing the six for an out. It would be a fun way to practice the vocabulary. Active children might really enjoy walking around the room's bases.

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