Y’all, I’ve said it before: I hate teaching vocabulary. I do. It’s the worst and I’m the worst at it. (The worst as in, I just don’t because I’m so bad).
In the past, vocabulary has felt like a chore to me. It’s boring, it takes up time I need for other things. It’s just…ugh. And thus, it has been moved to the back burner, which I have then turned off completely.
Which is bad. I know that. I’m aware of the importance of vocabulary. I’ve read all the articles. I have all the ideas. I’ve bookmarked all of the resources. And then ignored everything and just kept chugging along because I couldn’t make it work.
Thankfully, a couple things changed this year, including my approach to vocabulary.
Enter Vocabulary.com AND Melissa Kruse at Reading and Writing Haven to save the day. For reals.
Our first year at our new campus has been bumpy, to say the least, but one cool aspect has been the ability to start fresh and try new things. In the fall, we started looking for resources that could help us streamline our teaching since we were losing an entire face-to-face class period per week compared to our sister high schools. We figured finding some online resources to help us address grammar or vocabulary would be a good starting point.
After doing some research, some lobbying, some negotiating, and some paperwork, we ended up with vocabulary.com. So far, this has worked out pretty well (I’ll write a review later on the pros and cons).
My Vocabulary Tools
This semester I am relying on two things: Vocabulary.com and resources from Reading and Writing Haven to supplement our in-class practice.
- Vocabulary.com has four main features for interacting with the words: practice, vocabulary jam, spelling bee, and a quiz. Right now, I’m using practice and the quiz, although some of my students have done a jam on their own to study.
- Reading and Writing Haven has so many amazing resources (on the blog and on TPT). Melissa is like a vocabulary ninja, I swear! Check out her blog–she has so many articles and ideas about vocabulary, it’s seriously impressive. I’ve been reading her vocab pieces for a while now, but until recently had not consistently put them into practice.
My Current Approach to Vocabulary
I start by assigning a vocabulary list on vocabulary.com. The teacher can set the date parameters, which for now are at one week. I give the list on Monday and it’s due the following Monday. All students have to do in that week is practice the words to 100% progress. They do not have “master” every word, but they do have to complete the practice.
This one week of practice is great for a few reasons:
- I don’t have to use a lot of class time introducing the words
- We don’t waste time copying the words down (although I agree that writing them down is helpful for learning them, but it does take up class time)
- Kids enjoy the “competition” as their scores go up and they can compare to the rest of the class
- If we do have a few minutes here or there with downtime, kids have something they can be doing
That’s it for week one. I remind them each day to practice their vocabulary. That’s it. Easy peasy.
Week two is more fun: First, I print their word list with words, definitions, and sample sentences (all from the site). On the first day of the week, they tape/glue the list into the back of their writing notebook. We use the other side of the page for our week two practice.
These activities come from Reading and Writing Haven, straight up. I am not creative enough to come up with the on my own! I purchased her vocabulary bundle from TPT (because I know her stuff is great) and it was totally worth it.
This week my students did the following warm-ups:
- I showed them a slide with four images (from the bundle). They had two choices: write a sentence using one of the words OR make an association between a word and one of the images. At first, they hemmed and hawed because it was “so hard”, but they actually did great! They had fun insights, entertaining sentences, and as we shared in class, I was able to clear up any misconceptions that came from their practice. We then talked through which words could connect with each picture so we didn’t miss any.
- Make a connection between three vocabulary words. One student said “this is the hardest I’ve ever thought for a warm-up! Haha! I said, “good, so that means you’re THINKING!” While this was definitely hard for them, I was impressed with many of their connections. I collected several good ones to share next time we do this activity so they can see how it works.
- Pictionary style: Draw a picture clue for one of your words and have your groupmates guess the word. In some classes I gave the tables two or three words, had them choose the best picture for each one and then draw them on the board so the whole class could guess. It was fun!
I’m not saying these are earth-shattering ideas (although in the bundle she does have some really cool stuff and no, she did not ask me to write or say any of this–haha!!), but they were new to me and new to my kids and they ate. them. up! I was so surprised by their enthusiasm for these activities. They made great warm-ups to start each day, and my kids were actually using the words in class after!
On Friday, they took a quiz. (It was kind of a pain. I do not like having my kids quiz on vocabulary.com, but I do like their questions, so I had to remake quizzes in Classroom to make it better for my kids and to accommodate for some of my learners).
And that’s it. That is my new easy-to-manage and enjoyable approach to vocabulary.
4 thoughts on “An Easy Approach to Vocabulary”
I’ve used Vocabulary.com for four years, and I like it, especially the Vocabulary Jam—I pair up kids on Chromebooks (I have a mini-set for my room), and they like to play the team competition. However, what is even better is Membean—we have a school subscription, and if your school can purchase it, I highly recommend it. It’s personalized vocabulary instruction and practice, and you get lots of data on each student as a teacher. I have my kids do two fifteen minute sessions weekly—I provide time in class for one, and they do the other on their own time or can do in class if they finish early.
I am liking vocab.com so far, but Membean did look cool too. Unfortunately, since our school is so new, we don’t have a ton of money and had to make an economical choice. We will reevaluate for next year, so I’ll put membean on the list of things to consider. 🙂
Oh no!! I’m sorry teaching vocabulary has been painful for you!! I actually specialize in this and LOVE it! Vocabulary.com and Membean are both great tools. My approach is a little different — I have a background in languages, and essentially do an “immersion” method with English! You’ve learned tens of thousands of words in the story of life, and you could keep learning words this way if we had more interesting stories with big words in them! I write fun stories that (hopefully!) kids would want to read anyway, that also happen to be jam-packed with hundreds of vocabulary words. It’s worked great, and the kids don’t even realize they’re studying! : ) Hopefully it’s not spammy to say, but you can check them out at http://www.vocabbett.com if you don’t want to write the stories yourself!
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