You’ve planned. You’ve toiled. You’ve assembled flip books, created Prezis and turned boring old spiral notebooks into colorful, interactive journals. You’ve bought paint and made playdough. You’ve begged egg cartons and empty toilet paper rolls off of friends and neighbors alike. You’ve mined the data, conjuring up the perfect combination of kiddos to work with in small groups. In short, you’ve taught it. The question is, how will they remember it?
Direct vocabulary instruction paired with vocabulary games for retention is a powerful one-two punch that makes learning last. Bonus: kids LOVE games. In fact, brain-based learning is all about being up and active, talking about and playing with information.
The truth of the matter is, if we don’t practice, strengthen and deepen new knowledge, it withers away like a little sprout without water or sunlight.
Here’s how we nurture new knowledge through direct vocabulary instruction at our school and in my classroom:
- At our school we have aligned our vocabulary across grade levels. This means that each grade level is responsible for teaching a particular group of vocabulary words, so that – by the end of their elementary school careers – our students positively OWN the words they needed to master the objectives along the way. We refer to these crucial vocabulary words as “depth words.” The term “depth words” comes from a book called The Art and Science of Teaching, by Dr. Robert Marzano.* Depth words are the building-blocks of new knowledge. They are the words which we, as a High Reliability School, must guarantee our students will know backwards and forwards, by heart. Here’s a list of our school’s third grade depth words. As you can see, there are about 20 words per content area (except math, which is vocab laden).
- I teach depth words directly. As often as possible I use a Frayer Model* with the students; it’s a four square graphic organizer. In one square students write down, word for word, “what my teacher says this word means.” In another square they use the word in a sentence. In another square they draw a picture of the word, and in the last square they make connections to the word (what the word reminds them of, associations to other topics or subject areas). Here’s a Teacher Toolkit video of my students and me using a Frayer Model, and here is my version of Frayer Model:
- The students keep their Frayer Model pages in a vocabulary binder along with a master list of words to refer to when we play our vocab games. Which brings me to the last and best step…
- We PLAY!! We play vocabulary games using our depth words as often as we can. Ideally, we play for 15 minutes three times a week or for 45 minutes once a week. There is laughter, there is movement, there is teamwork and conversation all around the content. The icing on the cake is that all of this strengthens our classroom community; a class that plays together stays together!
As I began to get a good little stash of ideas for vocab games to play, I put together a PowerPoint to keep handy on my computer desktop. I’ve added the PowerPoint to my Teachers Pay Teachers collection. Here it is: 10 Epic Vocabulary Games for Strengthening Content Knowledge. Each game includes a slide with directions and a slide to put up when playing the game. Most of the games take little to no prep at all, and some require a bit of work up front, but once you’ve gathered the materials they are quick and easy to pull off.
Here’s a link to a freebie game called Triple Play, which is part of my set. It’s three-headed monster kinda fun and one of my students’ favs.
That’s about it! Here’s hoping that all of our students grow into true word lovers with a PLETHORA of amazing vocabulary words at their fingertips.
*Our school is part of the Marzano High Reliability Schools Network, which my colleagues and I will write much more about in the days to come. The Art and Science of Teaching is beautifully transforming the way I teach.
*Frayer Models were developed by Dorothy Frayer and colleagues in the West Virginia Department of Education.