What is the best way for students to learn vocabulary?What is the best way for students to learn vocabulary? I am at a loss for fun ways to get my students to expand their personal word arsenal.
Let me start with the WORST way to have students learn vocabulary (prepare to be offended): Having students look words up in the dictionary and write their provided definitions accomplishes little to nothing. Here's why -- the words used in dictionary definitions are often too complex for grade-level students to comprehend, which then leads to endless confusion. Plus, students are rarely taught reference skills, so they have no real idea where to look for etymologies, pronunciations, or other facts. This is why I do an entire unit on research and reference skills early in the year.
All that said, one of the BEST ways I've found for students to remember practical words and their meanings is "Whack-a-word." This activity requires notecards with the vocab words, and two fly swatters. Post the written words randomly on a wall, and ensure that they are grouped sporadically. You can even turn the cards sideways or upside-down for extra challenge. Once you have gone over the words, either in context or through verbal review, provide a pair of students with the fly swatters. The teacher then announces the practical definition of one of the words posted, or gives a synonym. The first student to "whack" the correct word gets a point. This activity is both kinesthetic and effective, particularly when it is used with vocab worksheets and activities.
My main resource that I absolutely love to use is www.edhelper.com. You have to pay $39 for a year, but what you get is worth it. You can load your own word lists into the program and it generates all kinds of activities you can use with your list. I like it because if a student can't seem to grasp the terms using one method, there is always one that makes the light go on. There are CLOZE, sentence writing, paragraph prompts, word searches, crossword puzzles, word chop exercises, picture associations, crack the code games, bingo, flashcards, matching, spelling mazes, fill in the missing letters, and so much more. The site offers definitions, related words, and sentences. It also offers you the option of entering your own. The site also offers reading comprehension practice, practice in standardized testing skills,lesson plans in every subject for grades K-12. The best part is it's all standards based and it really appeals to every learning style. The membership also includes an online gradebook where you can do just about everything, even email progress reports to parents, have students check and keep track of their own progress, and track attendance and skills. Our principal finally purchased a membership for everyone on campus because it was so useful.
With some books the kids are reading, I'll have them keep a "word journal," where they write down words they don't know as they're reading their books, as well as the page number they found it on. They then have the option of looking them up right then, or waiting until class. I know that sounds weird, but let me tell you what we do in class...
Everyone gets out their word journals and a dictionary, and the students take turns giving one of their words to the class. The class then is in a race to find the word in the dictionary, get their hand in the air first, and give us the definition. We then check the page in the lit book to see if the definition makes sense in the context of the story.
Even if a student already knows the definition to one of their classmate's words, they still have to find it in the dictionary - extra practice at dictionary use, and it makes for a fun race. And I have my candy box ready for rewards! :)
I have also used edhelper.com and think it is FABULOUS! It is definitely worth the $39 a year to have access to all of those units.
The word wall idea is wonderful. I use it quite often. In terms of vocabulary in content area reading, or reading, in general, playing games with it also works. Charades or "Win, Lose, or Draw" are excellent in this realm. Another way is by completing an index card with the following specifications. The word is written in the middle of the card. In one corner is the textbook/ standard definition. In another corner is the definition of the word in "Student friendly" terms, something that is in their own phrasing. The third corner has a "keyword"- which I use as a way to summarize the word's meaning without using the word, itself. The Keyword is the student's own key to trigger their own understanding, like a secret hint. In the last corner is a small picture or visualization of the word. The technical term for this process is "IT FITS," but I made my own variations on it.
I use a word wall to promote them to either use the word correctly or listen for the word in the correct context. Before we read a story or chapters of a novel we go over the vocabulary and simple definitions or synonyms together out loud. I have students put an index card with the word and definition up on our word wall. Then, as we read the story we stop when we see those words and look at the meaning again. Then I tell the students that if they hear the word used correctly on TV, in movies, in a book or something someone says, they need to write the sentence and their name on a post-it and put it on the word wall. At the end of the unit I take all the sentences and put them in a drawing for a homework pass. It's fun and it makes them listen for these words used in a context other than what we read in class. They come to my room excited that they heard and understood it.
I have used edhelper.com as well. I love the word searches and crossword puzzles it generates. I also use Wisco Word Power to make word puzzles.
If I'm trying to expand the students' vocabulary, I prefer to use analogies. Holt, Rinehart, Winston has a wonderful text called Vocabulary Workshop. I use the 7th grade level in my sophomore classes! If I want them to learn specific vocabulary for a novel or other unit, I use word walls and deal with the words in context, along with using word puzzles.
I use the web site internet4classrooms.com almost every day. Although it is keyed to Tenn. standards, every teacher can find something useful. There are dozens of links to web pages dealing with every aspect of teaching language arts.
I have found that studying new words in context and then tying them to graphics increases learning. Writing a word in context from a story, for instance, shows how the word is used. Then the meaning can be checked with the textbook's glossary. Finally, have students draw a simple picture that illustrates the word in some way. They love to draw anyway, and they have to really understand the word to create an original picture that demonstrates the meaning of the word. The pictures they come up with are sometimes hilarious, and they enjoy sharing them.
Use it, use it, use it. All of these are great ideas and should be used, but using their new words often and in context is the best way for them to really get comfortable with them. I, too, use the Word Wall, and I actually create "bricks" made of brick-colored card stock and we "build" our wall as the year progresses. Classes compete with each other and we have a good time. They're always amazed at how and where these words--words they think are rather obscure and somehow foreign--are used in the "real" world.