Category Archives: Vocabulary

How to Lessen My Workload

In a previous post I discussed how I combine skills when assigning work in my classroom. One poster responded, “that though this seems like a lot of work on my part, I do think and hope that it will pay off for me to try with my students.” However, I have actually reduced my workload and gotten more success out of my students.

I should state right away that I like my students to move a bit in the room and to complete short tasks that build, which keep my students attentive and reduce discipline issues.

Let’s use my assignment example from my previous post: explain where an example of situational irony is employed in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar using 2-3 sentences. Include two vocabulary words and a coordinating conjunction (correctly using a comma) in the answer.

I would give my students about 5-10 minutes to write the 2-3 sentences, and then I would have the students share with a partner. This would allow the students to help each other edit their work first in a no-pressure situation. Sometimes I would have the students placed in groups of three, and the first editor would look for a correct example of situational irony while the second editor would check the comma rule use.

Or, if my students seem a bit nervous about the assignment I might have them work as team with a partner. In this way, the students can experience the assignment and work with another student to complete the assignment. We’ll be doing this type of assignment numerous times, so working in tandem the first time is not a problem.

Then, no matter which method was used to create the sentences, I would ask the students for a good example of an answer. I could either project the student’s paper onto the screen with a document camera or have one or two responses written on the white boards. Next, we could look at the example(s) and check to see if all elements are present: 2-3 sentences, an example of situational irony, two vocabulary words, and a coordinating conjunction.

We edit as a class, and the point is to create a good example to keep for later. Sometimes I will post an example on a display wall or just keep a copy for students to use later (like an anchor paper).

At first this entire process might take 20-30 minutes, but after a couple times the time drops dramatically to 10-15 minutes.

At this point everyone has

  • reviewed a part of the content (the text),
  • used two vocabulary words,
  • connected a literary device to a text,
  • practiced a comma rule,
  • made an attempt at the assignment which synthesizes skills (high on Bloom’s Taxonomy),
  • helped edit 1-2 others’ assignments (thus seeing other examples),
  • looked at a couple examples as a class,
  • and edited one or two examples as a class.

Plus, we now have an anchor or two for comparison later, and I didn’t need any special supplies to gather. And, I still have half of the class period for another activity!

Note: I do not grade this assignment. It is practice only and not grading it allows students to have a risk-free, low-stress activity to improve their skills. I can move around the room and check on the students and help here and there as they work, which allows me to see who is struggling and who is excelling.

Teaching in Isolation

When people hear the term “teaching in isolation,” they probably think it has something to do with PLCs or collaboration (or its lack thereof). But there’s another kind.

I believe many teachers make the mistake of teaching every skill set or unit separately, in essence in isolation. Instead of teaching sentence structures, then comma rules, then vocabulary, and then the reading content, why not combine these after introducing a skill at a time.

For instance, my department’s curriculum calls for Sophomore students to learn how to integrate correctly about 18 comma rules, active voice, parentheses and semicolon rules, and so on all the while teaching the content (the readings). Most teachers with whom I speak teach the list of comma rules and then a book and then active voice and then a book and then semicolons and then a book, etc. What drudgery for kids!

I prefer to combine these elements after teaching one skill at a time. As an example in a typical week, I would introduce the week’s vocabulary on Monday and one comma rule Tuesday. I would also ensure none of these activities would exceed 10-15 minutes, so we could continue discussing the novel and work on the writing skills (thesis statements, quotation use, etc.).

Thus, a Wednesday assignment might be: explain where an example of situational irony is employed in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar using 2-3 sentences. Include two vocabulary words and a coordinating conjunction (correctly using a comma) in the answer. If I were to go a step or two further, I might add the requirements of using active voice or labeling the independent clauses or some other part of the sentence.

On Thursday I might have the students do a similar response using dramatic irony, active voice, two different vocabulary words, and another coordinating conjunction.

These short responses might take a few minutes of class time but could be shared with partners, shown to the class, or turned in to me to check for understanding. It doesn’t have to be graded–not everything does–but used as a practice and a risk-free attempt to incorporate seemingly separate skills.

I like having a grammar/punctuation focus of the week as well as a writing skill of the week to use with the reading and vocabulary. The more that I teach these together, the more I have seen students use them in their own writing. Exposure and practice, practice, and practice. Repetition isn’t always such a bad thing. Neither is avoiding isolation.

Mini-lessons and recursive teaching works.

Vocabulary Joke

While teaching a unit on vocabulary, a teacher says to her young students, “knowing words is important. Use a word ten times, and it’s yours forever.”

From the back of the classroom, a young male voice chanted, “Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna.”

ABC For Learning

I have been thinking for the last few days (sad, I know, during vacation time) about how I want to conclude the first semester with my Sophomores. We will be reading The Princess Bride during the final two weeks of the semester before finals begin, so I wanted one more writing assignment to finish off the first half of the class.

Now, I have decided. We will compose an ABC paper. “What is an ABC paper?” you may ask. Well, it is a 26 sentence paper with each sentence beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. The first sentence begins with the letter ‘A’ and the second sentence begins with the letter ‘B’ and the third begins with a ‘C’ and so on. Since we will be reading a parody of the fairy tale story, I think I’ll have the students retell a fairy tale of their choosing.

But, there’s a catch. The 26 sentences have to be perfect! That’s right: no grammar errors, no punctuation errors, no misspellings, no word usage errors, etc. The paper will be worth 100 points or zero points. In a sense this will be the final exam for writing in the class (and the rest of the final will be the vocabulary, literary terms, and the rest of the course content), and I’ll allow the students to rewrite as many times as they want until the day before the final.

I will split my final two weeks of classes into two parts: the first half will be for discussing The Princess Bride, and the second half will be writing and editing time for the ABC paper. I will help students as well without telling the students answers. When I help edit the students’ papers, I will simply put a check beside the lines where I see an error, and the kids have to figure out the error and make the necessary corrections. I will mark the first three errors I see and then hand the paper back to the student, so he/she can make the corrections and ensure the errors do not repeat. I think this will be a good practice for the students, and this group is extremely driven to locate every error, essentially making everything perfect. Here’s the opportunity for perfection.

What I like about the ABC paper is that the students have to become creative. Varying sentence structures must be used, new words are learned, past vocabulary words are used, the writing is entertaining, and the students can’t just shrug off simple errors for the loss of a few points. I think they’ll appreciate the challenge and rise to it.

A Teaching Resource

One site I enjoy using is Discovery’s Puzzlemaker site. You can create crossword puzzles, word searches, double puzzles, and more.

My high school students love the puzzles I make for reviews and for introducing new vocabulary words. Sometimes I make puzzles for characters, locations, literary terms, vocabulary words, and even grammar.

Why not change it up a bit in class? A little fun never hurt.