Building Vocabulary

So far this summer, I’ve been thinking about a lot of big things I want to do for next year. But here are some smaller things I’m considering that I’m hoping will have big impacts on students’ vocabularies and confidence.

For years now, I have wanted to implement a word wall, but I haven’t been very sure of how to do it. Is it OK to include English on the word wall? Or should I try to use pictures? What words should I put on the wall? Should I change them regularly? How will I ever keep up with that? So, up to this point, I haven’t had a word wall. I have decided to answer all those questions by…not answering them. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of not doing all the work. I can’t remember if it was Colleen or Amy or someone else who pointed out that if the teacher is doing more work than the students, there’s a problem! Obviously, every teacher ever loves that idea, right? So I’m going to try it out with my word wall.

I think I’ll put up a sign or something along the lines of ¿Cómo se dice…? and let kids post their questions underneath. So, if a kid wants to know how to say, for example, eat, they would put up a paper with “eat” on it, and someone else can come along and put the Spanish word on the paper. Maybe I’ll do some kind of incentive for kids to include both an English word and a picture or drawing of the word they want to know?

As I see it, this addresses lots of issues. First, it lets kids build their own vocabulary as they choose. It allows kids to ask for help without asking for help. Hopefully, it will let kids see that other people have questions, and that they can all help each other. It should help build vocabulary as the wall grows and kids start pulling words off of it that they didn’t ask for, and I’m hoping that it will help kids feel proud of what they know when other students ask for words that they can answer. The logistics still need some consideration here, but I’m pretty excited about it.

But that’s not my only thought about vocabulary building! At the end of the school year, I asked my principal if I could make the switch from desk/chair combos to tables. There were some extra tables and chairs that had been taken out of the cafeteria in the empty classroom across the hall from me, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask, especially since I’ll probably need a few more desks next year and there’s not much space for them in my room. She seemed pretty on board, so I’m optimistic that I’ll find tables in my classroom when I go back in the fall. Which will make my next idea much more do-able.

Last year, I gave my Spanish 2 students the little words quiz as described in the Creative Language Class. My Spanish 2 students overwhelmingly cited this as being one of the things that helped them learn the most. I could see it, too, when students were using these words in conversation and writing, especially the connector and transition words that are so key to moving into and through the Intermediate proficiency levels. Honestly, during our final interpersonal assessment of the year, I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the way these kids were talking, and then it hit me – they’re using words from that list! I knew they were, but it was sort of an all-of-a-sudden realization about how useful those words really were.

However, grading was a nightmare, and there are some kids who just don’t care to do well on a weekly quiz. There are some kids who would really like to do well, but just simply struggle or forget or whatever. And then there’s the issue of time. One of the things that has been mentioned a lot during #langchat this year (and that has stuck with me) is the idea that, if it’s not advancing proficiency, then it has no place in my classroom. Well, I do think that quiz advanced proficiency for lots of students, but I don’t think it’s worth taking that much time out of every week.

So instead of a quiz next year, I think I’m going to take that list of words, break them into “levels” and add a few more of my own. Then I’m going to tape copies of them onto my new tables. Voilá! A tiny word “wall” for the most commonly used words that kids can refer to all the time! As far as breaking them into levels – I heard someone (I think it was Carrie) say once that there’s no better way to  get kids to do something than to tell them they shouldn’t! If I break them into lists for Spanish 1, 2, and 3, and tell the lower level kids not to bother with the upper level words because they’re too advanced, hopefully I’ll have some stubborn, smart aleck kids who want to use them just because.

And one more idea for building vocabulary. The Phrase (or Word) of the Week. I have tried various iterations of this in the past, but it hasn’t worked out terribly well for me up to this point. I teach all three levels at my school (hoping for Spanish 4 after next year, too!), so choosing a phrase of the week that’s appropriate for Spanish 3, but accessible for Spanish 1 has been a challenge for me. So I’ve decided to do three phrases of the week for next year. One for each level. And probably offer a raffle ticket for using the phrase in context for a weekly drawing. I did a different kind of weekly drawing last year, so the kids will probably be on board, I just need to work on what to offer as prizes…. I’m thinking that I could offer the lower levels the opportunity for bonus tickets if they can use a higher level’s phrase, and hopefully get them even more into the game.

One of the things I’m excited about for the Phrase/Word of the Week is the opportunity to personalize. Since I’m going to try to do one per level, this will give me the chance to get some “extra” vocab on whatever topic we’re studying – or to really hit hard on a particularly important word or phrase for that topic. I can include simple verbs or adjectives for Spanish 1 to help pad their vocabulary or increase their comfort with a tough word (joven/viejo, anyone?), transition and ordinal words in Spanish 2 to push them beyond Novice land, and more advanced phrases, words, or idioms for Spanish 3. I’ve already started on a list of potential phrases/words of the week, so that I don’t have to decide on Monday morning every week. I know myself, and I know that it will probably fall by the wayside if I don’t at least have some backup plans in mind for those weeks when inspiration is lacking. Any ideas or suggestions of things that you’ve used as a word/phrase of the week or thought, “Man, it would be nice if they knew [x] right now,” would be greatly appreciated!

There you have it. Three simple ideas to help build vocabulary and confidence in my students without making my life any crazier!

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Señora Shares says:

    I’ve been wanting to do Word of Phrase of the Week for a while but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. This post has reminded me of the importance of focusing os establishing a good vocab foundation. Thanks!

    1. Melanie says:

      It has always seemed like such a great idea to me, but I just haven’t been able to make it work up to now. I hope this time I’ve figured out a good method!

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