Site icon Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom

When Building Vocabulary, Less Is More

Vocabulary instruction used to be my Achilles’ heel. I tried tons of different strategies, but each one brought very little yield in terms of student retention. Frustrated, one summer I tossed aside the yellowing school-issued workbooks and went rogue, building my own plan and materials.

The result is Words on Wednesday, a close examination each week of five words students will actually use in their adult lives. Instead of memorizing a list of 10 themed words each week, we focus on just five words and really get to know ‘em. We discuss the denotation, connotation, synonyms, antonyms, and present a relevant, real-world sentence featuring the word. I also tell a funny story from my life or talk about a current event related to the word while the students jot notes from the slide being projected on the white board.

A critical piece of successful vocabulary building is, of course, holding kids accountable. To keep things manageable, I give a weekly quiz on Fridays of just three questions and the word list builds as the semester rolls. For the first question, I give the class a vocab. word aloud and have students write a definition, which can be in their own words; the definition just needs to be accurate. For the second question, I give a different word and have the students write an accurate synonym. For the third, I give a third word and have students write an antonym.

This method is quick, discourages cheating (I choose different words for each of my classes on the spot as I’m giving the quiz), and takes less than five minutes to grade because, as I said, the quiz is only three questions long. I have 170 students this year (ack!), so I need something that holds them accountable, but doesn’t take all weekend to grade.

In my 16 years in the classroom, this is the most manageable, effective system I’ve found. Give it a try. You can use the word slides I built or build your own level-appropriate slides.
high school English

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