Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vocabulary Toolbox

One of the things that can quickly weigh me and my kids down and easily puts us into a rut from which we might never return is vocabulary acquisition. Sometimes I struggle with coming up with new ways to teach and work with vocabulary that the kids find interesting. Here are some of my favourites:

Circling/TPRS/Asking a Story
Rachel did a post a while back on asking a story and while I am not the best at coming up with stories, I do this activity often enough when an opportunity presents itself while circling. I really like taking 4-5 words that I need to teach, putting them on the board, and just asking questions. There is one time in particular that comes to mind where my Latin I class took the vocabulary and ran with it. We ended up having a nice story that is still referenced whenever we come across the vocabulary. I was teaching words like "comedere" (eat), "placere" (to please), "ferox" (ferocious), and "timere" (fear/be afraid). I went around asking students for animals and whether they were ferocious or, if not, what they were afraid of and whether these kinds of animals were pleasing to the students. I'd then ask if the ferocious animals wanted to eat the non ferocious animals. I got to one student who told me his "feles ferocissimus est" (cat is very ferocious), but, as I discovered, his cat did not want to eat any of the other animals. I asked him why not and my student said, "volo comedere animalia" (I want to eat the animals). To this day, any time the word comedere comes up, someone asks him if he wants to eat whatever is in our story. 

It is simply for this reason that I enjoy circling so much. Unlike asking a story, I don't need a shell or an ending in mind, I just need words and basic questions. The more we do it, the more comfortable I and my students become and the more willing they are to play the game. Some of my best stories have come this way and my students love telling them. 

Circling with Stuffed Animals AND Practice Stories
Another way that I love circling and telling stories is with stuffed animals. This is essentially the same as above except instead of asking students about their animals or interests, we build on a stuffed animal I already have. I usually do this when I know for sure I want a story to come from it or have a story in mind. I can lead students and give them a chance to visualise it with the stuffed animals. This is by far one of my students' favourite ways of practicing vocabulary. The next day, I'll have typed up the story as a "practice story". You can do this just as a reading activity or as a cloze passage. By day 2, the story will be easily comprehensible and a good review for students. Here's an example practice story I wrote for my Latin I students. Allow me a moment to also point out:

I know that we often don't collaborate across languages and tend to stick with those who speak our language and teach our curriculum. I've already stated that I am not very good at coming up with story shells for my students. This practice story I've shared and many of the other ones I've written are based off of a Spanish teacher's stories. He is much better at this, especially the ending part, and I know enough Spanish to easily change it into Latin. I strongly encourage us all to reach out across languages and, even if you don't know the other language, ask for ideas and stories. 

Embedded Readings
You can read about specific reading activities here and learn all about embedded readings here. I tend to introduce 3-4 words/phrases on embedded readings. A lot of times I may be reintroducing ones that I think we need more practice with. I like to use read and discuss activities and circling to practice vocabulary and then read dating or a close passage to practice and review. 

Movie Shorts and Dictationes
I will be following up with a post on dictations specifically, but they are a great way to introduce new vocabulary and you can introduce around 8 new words or constructions. I will update with a link to that post when it is ready. 

You can read my original post on movie shorts here. I love this activity and use it at least once a unit. My students also love the videos and find them as a great discussion tool. You can use them in any level and I usually try to limit vocabulary to 5-6 for these. If I cut a video in half and only introduce one half a day, you can introduce 8-10 (4-5 each day). I will do circling, Q and A, and story telling all with this on differing days. 

Picture Descriptions
This is an activity that Rachel, I admit, is much better at creating than me. I love doing them with my kids and my kids absolutely adore this activity, I just can't, for the life of me, think to write these when I am making lessons. In this activity, you can review and teach (a select few) words using short descriptions that you write and pictures students draw. 
  1. Create simple descriptions of pictures that contain the words you want to review. The weirder they are, the more interesting they are to the kids. For example, if I wanted to review "cat", "woman", "big", and "small", I might write this:
    In my picture there is a woman. The woman is small. In my picture there is a cat. The cat is big. The big cat sits on a chair. The small woman eats the chair. 
  2. Tell students you will read the description three times. The first time, they are to listen and nothing else. The second and third times, they may draw their picture. Read the description slowly three times while students draw.
  3. Reveal your own picture. 
  4. You might circle the words some more, ask questions to see who understands what, or just let them enjoy your artistic talent. 


One Word Pictures
This is becoming one of my go to ways of teaching and informally evaluating vocabulary with my students. It is incredibly low prep and low intensity for the teacher and it can open the door to so many other activities. Keith Toda describes his version of the activity here.
  1. Put up a picture that clearly demonstrates the word you are teaching. Define the word for students and write it down so they can see it. 
  2. Choose a student drawer. You can do this yourself as well, but I find it easier to continue circling and asking questions if a student draws. 
  3. Start slowly circling the vocabulary. I ask simple questions which paint the background and, if necessary, give us characters. Where is the picture? Who is in the picture? What is in the picture? You can expand this to include adjectives and feelings if you want. What sort of man is in the picture? What is he doing? 
  4. Once I get a clear picture, I like to expand on the why (mostly with my upper levels) and get into less concrete ideas. I enjoy seeing how kids demonstrate this in the drawing. What I've found is that if kids disagree with the drawing, they will speak up. Usually this opens the discussion up for more discussion and, sometimes, an all together changing of the picture or some great additions. 
  5. You can go a few different ways with this. You can turn this into a story as a class and, if you have a writer, it can become a reading for the next day. You can also turn it into a timed write where the students make up their own ending (and you can read those the next day). 

I would love to add to this collection of vocabulary resources. I've shared a few more below, but please leave in the comments any experiences you have with these or any new ones you know!


Other Resources