Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mastering Words

When I was teaching high school English, there were a few things that we all, in our department, knew we weren’t doing a great job of teaching.  Spelling was one.  Vocabulary was another.  Giving a list of random words to study for a week and test over at the end of the week just isn’t very effective.  While homeschooling last year, however, the IEW writing program we used included a pretty effective method of teaching vocabulary. 

And me being arrogant me, I’m convinced I can improve on it.
Here’s how I think vocabulary needs to be taught.  First of all, introduce kids to basic Latin and Greek roots.  There’s an awesome game many homeschoolers use called “Rummy Roots”.  Love it. 
But then, I think you need to teach kids one word a week – one really good, very useful vocabulary word a week.  That’s what I liked about that writing program: the vocabulary words they used were excellent words to know.  Words like “stymied”, “notorious”, “intrepid”.  Words that can be applied in many contexts.  Words that actually improve your thinking as well, because having clear, specific words to communicate specific ideas and differentiate them from similar ideas also sharpens your thinking about those ideas.  Just one word a week.
Use that word in a multitude of contexts during the week.  At home, in school, at basketball practice.  Also, require students to use the word somewhere in their writing during the week – many times, if possible.  This is another thing I like about that writing program.  Every piece of writing had to include four vocabulary words, which was not difficult because, again, these were good, quality words that can be applied in many different contexts.
So, consider:  one word a week is 36 words a year.  In three years of middle school, that would be 108 new, excellent, useful words.  Words they have already practiced incorporating into their writing and their lives and their thinking.  Words that are reinforced every year.  I would gladly take that over the time spent frantically memorizing list after list of words that are quickly forgotten because they are never used.
I like this so much, I may just employ the method for myself.  Gotta start my list of words now . . .

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