(By Danielle Hartman)

The Common Core Standards focus heavily on teaching a rich and varied vocabulary. It is expected that, in addition to teaching vocabulary through a wide reading of literature and informational texts, teachers will implement a rigorous programme of vocabulary instruction.

Here’s the secret: learning vocabulary is fun! If you vary your practices and strategies, you can engage students and help them develop their inner logophile.

Here are some activities that have been particularly successful with my classes:

Nuance Activity

This lesson works quite well when introducing new material. All of my classes loved it. When planning a new unit, I look for the large concept words. For example, for our sophomore unit titled, “Coming to America,” I decided that the concept words were “Immigrant” and “Native.” As they entered class, each student was given a word that was a synonym of immigrant or native. They were instructed to create a visual which included the word, denotation, connotation, part of speech, a symbol, three forms of the word, and two sentences (utilizing two different forms of the word).

I then placed a large sheet of paper at the front and back of the room. On one, the word “Immigrant” was written at the top, with most positive under it and most negative at the bottom. Likewise, at the back of the room was a poster with “Native” at the top. The students gathered around the poster with the synonym for their word on it. As a group, they had to analyse the connotation of their words, listing them from the most positive to most negative. They would then report out their decisions to the class, prompting a class discussion on nuance.

Vocabulary Word Panels

This is a great activity that I took from a colleague. Students are each given a vocabulary word. They create a “panel” in which they use the letters of the word to create symbols that indicate a word’s meaning. No additional words are allowed. For example, one student used the O in orient to create a compass while creating directional symbols from some other letters. This can be challenging at first, so it is a good idea to have a few examples. I add incentive by telling the students that the panels will be hung on the wall (even during the quiz or test), and the better they are, the more assistance they will provide.

Inductive Sort

For this activity, I print two or more weeks worth of vocabulary words onto 3×5 cards complete with the word, part of speech, and definition. With a partner, students sort the words into categories. I allow freedom in the choice of categories, though I don’t allow them to sort based on part of speech. After students finish sorting their words, they partner with another pair and explain their concepts.

Power Words

At the very beginning of the semester, I have my students choose 15-20 power words from SAT lists. I tell them to choose words that they really like the sound or meaning of, as they will be getting up close and personal with them. I then print lists of each student’s words on brightly coloured paper (different font for each child, but I’m like that) and hang them around the room. All year I have the students refer back to these words. I keep a point chart and students are given a sticker each time they use word correctly in class or in writing. Prizes are awarded for a given amount of uses. The students love them! They create lessons using their words and share them with peers.

I also like to have students use the Unused Words website to explore uncommon words, as well as Mysteries of the Vernacular. Both are very cool sites.

Students need many interactions with a new word before they truly understand it. By varying your practices, you can keep these interactions fresh and engaging.