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Direct vocabulary instruction was an instrumental part of my daily instruction. Used for homework, stations, and bell ringers, I intentionally taught students words and required that they use them on a regular basis.
Here are two different schedules for instruction:
Once the schedule is complete, the breakdown is as follows:
Day 1: Introduction and Direct Instruction
- Introduce the new words. Have students use context clues to determine the meanings rather than just giving the definition or having them look them up.
- Provide the definitions. I’ve never found much value in having students look up definitions. For one thing, many words have more than one option. How could I effectively assess students when everyone did not have the same definition? Second, now that we all have Google and Siri, the actual use of a dictionary is pretty lost on this generation. I wanted to maximize instruction time.
- Require students to write the words down. In a recent issue of Educational Leadership, there was much focus on the importance of having students write things down. In fact, the stuy showed that…. So, before turning in their vocabulary activities, students were required to write the words in a notebook. Randomly we would revisit previous words or do activities, and I would reward students who had word lists.
Day 2: Independent Practice – Vocabulary Graphic Organizer
I gave students a graphic organizer of some sort that allowed them to break down their words in a variety of ways – synonyms, antonyms, derivatives (different parts of speech), use each word in a sentence, and provide the definition.
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Day 3: More Practice
More practice. On this day, students were given 2-3 different activities ranging from analogies, writing original definitions, using the words in a creative story or a reflection, and/or sentence completion. Each of the activities allowed students to take ownership of the word and showed me the level of mastery for each word.
Day 4: Quiz Day
I used to give students a spelling test and have them write the definitions, but this didn’t really bring about the results I had hoped for. Some students had great phonemic awareness and others great context clues, so when I said the word and then read it in a sentence, it still did not prove that each student really knew and could apply the word. As a result, I switched to multiple choice quizzes. These quizzes used original short stories or excerpts and students has to answer common core aligned questions. These proved far more challenging and gave me more information that allowed me to make data-driven decisions.
After a quiz day, an entire set of vocabulary was complete. I then started the process over with a new set of vocabulary words. After 3 sets of vocabulary, students took a summative assessment over all 3 lessons. From definitions to sentences, analogies, and close reading, the assessment required students to put every skill to use. In the beginning, it was a major catastrophe. Students were not prepared to display knowledge in this manner. However, each summative got better and better. Students studied differently. They used their words without prompting. Many even used their words at home and with friends. It was at this point that I knew the system worked.
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