Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SV: Not another Law and Order Class

This summer I found out I was going to be teaching another section of Spelling Vocabulary, a class we offer at AHS. Rather than teaching another section of ninth grade or a section of English World Literature, I was asked to teach another section of a class that I think is pointless. It is basically a drill and kill type class that meets only on Tuesdays and Thursday for kids to “learn” SAT vocab words. We also have incorporated many of the commonly misspelled and confused words on essays (i.e. effect/affect, it’s/its).

Each set of three class periods, the students are assigned 10 SAT words, and 10 spelling words. From the list, they are to know the definition, spelling, synonyms, antonyms, and be able to use it in a sentence. After the first class of introducing the words, the kids are in-charge of the second class period. They pick groups at the beginning of the semester, and each group is assigned one set of SAT words. On their assigned review day, they create games/activities to review the words. The students created a rubric to assess their organization and teaching of the review day. To prepare the kids to teach a full class period, we spend time talking about what good teaching looks like. On the final day of the set of words, the kids review, then take the test, and then we grade them together. Each test contains multiple parts: spelling words, matching word to definition, synonym and antonym matching, fill in the blank, and finally short essay. The essay is really creative (and my favorite part) because we have them use the vocabulary words, but writing about crazy things (videos, movie posters, slideshows, songs, cartoons, etc…)

The challenging point of teaching a class like this is that many of the words are out of context. Although I like the book we use for practice, I still can’t seem to separate the feeling that the kids regurgitate these words for one test, only to be forgotten when the next week’s words roll out. How do I teach this class in a relevant and meaningful way that keeps these words ingrained in their memories?

So I began this year talking with my best buddy Kristin Leclaire about how to change my feelings about the class- she luckily, also gets to teach one section. We decided that the more creative approaches we used with the words (drawing, movement, songs, stories, etc…) the better these kids would actually know the words.

This past week, we did an exercise called Vocabulary Frames. The kids were to take each word and write it on a notecard. After the word was written down, they were to break it down. Then in the top right corner, they were to define the word. The top left corner contained the antonym of the word, and then they crossed it out. In the bottom right, they were to draw a simple picture of the word and in the bottom left, use the word in a sentence that conveys the meaning of the word. We talked in class about how useful these cards would be in reviewing for their test. They could cover up each section to review, slowly revealing each answer they need.

We have some other great ideas in store, but I am hoping to hear some more from you. What has worked well for you in your class? What are creative approaches you have to learning vocabulary? Any links you can provide would be helpful. More than anything, I can see that the more enthusiastic I am about the words the more the kids will hopefully be. If I can find a way to match my passion of technology with learning these words, the kids will be all the better for it!

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