Thursday, June 9, 2016

Vocabulary Picture Wall

I thought I'd do a quick write-up of something I found surprisingly effective; it's an activity for introducing vocabulary that I came up with on a Monday morning after working late the night before on my thesis and not really having a lot of energy to offer my students. I had intended to do something much more interactive, but my buy-in has to be obvious for students to buy in, and I knew I couldn't produce the enthusiasm required. Which is okay. We all have days we can't be super energetic, and we need to forgive ourselves for being human.

My solution that morning was to put students into groups of five, and ask each group to produce a picture for each of the new vocabulary words. I was introducing five words, and I can remember them by visualizing the wall (which I neglected to take a picture of): caedis (slaughter), saevus (savage), mors (death), petit (seek or beg), civis (citizen). (Those words may seem a little dark; part of being a Latin teacher is accepting the Romans' penchant for violence. We and our students develop a fine and morbid sense of humor.)

I handed out five pieces of blank copy paper to each group, instructing them to fill each page with an image, without using words. To help them create, I put out crayons and markers. While they worked, I taped a large printout of each word to my back wall, which is relatively huge and empty. When each group finished, they taped their images next to the word they represented.

At the end of the first period, I had six images for each word. By the end of the day, I had a completely full wall, spanning multiple interpretations for each word.

In the activity itself, students are encouraged to discuss the vocabulary in depth and how to accurately represent it without words. Each student is responsible for one word, but the groups worked through ways to show begging, citizenship, etc., through conversations about the vocabulary. I was excited to hear how much they worked on their representations while I paced the classroom; then students had fun comparing their drawings to those of their classmates and the other Latin II classes, which caused further discussion of the vocabulary.

In addition to that reinforcement, when I was using the vocabulary with them afterwards, I would refer to the wall--usually dramatically. For example, when I told the class a story about pirates, and suddenly needed to use the word "savage," I stopped the story and literally ran across the room to point at saevus on the wall, choose a student picture and repeat the word, perhaps multiple times, then run back to where I was constructing the story with my students and review the sentence, now with saevus added in. The excitement and goofiness of stopping, running, pointing, repeating, kept students engaged and helped them build a visual memory for the words. Even after the pictures were taken down, students would stare at the wall if they got stuck on one of those five words, picture the wall, and remember.

Those are probably the words most universally remembered for the semester. It was a nice and surprising result of an activity that really was created to give them and myself a chance to have a quiet, low-stress day.

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