Like… actually using it. For real.

Ok, so whether you’re teaching Greek & Latin root words or SAT terminology, you know what it’s like to feel that pull-your-hair-out level of frustration when your kids come in the next day or the next week and Don’t. Remember. Anything.

I personally went through a phase a while back where I decided that I wanted to learn how to code. Like, as in computer languages.

Such a nerd.

I figured I could do cool, creative side projects like build websites and projects and stuff. I spent a month learning HTML and CSS on my own and it was super cool to feel smart in that techie world. But I had to really study to get it.

I had to go back over and over those codes. I had to use them every day so it felt sort of natural.

I was literally learning a foreign language.

Yeah, so I gave that up. Not my thing in the end.

But I realized that this is what it’s like for kids learning new vocabulary (and for some, it really is a foreign language).

Therefore, I know kids have to use new content vocabulary consistently and in real-life practice in order to internalize it so it’s no longer just “vocabulary”.  Right, I’ve always known this, but sometimes after a while we do forget what it’s like to learn something totally new, totally from scratch.

3 Ways to Get Students to Own Their New Vocabulary

  1. Give them a partner or small-group challenge where they have like four minutes to use all the new words in a sentence. Or in two sentences. And yes, tell them it has to make sense and that they have to use context clues to prove they know the meanings. It’s ok to be silly, though. Then let them read those sentences aloud (if they wish). Even if the group didn’t get to finish by the time the four minutes has passed, let them share what they had so far. Always have them throw in one or two old words, just to keep them fresh. So yeah, they’ll have like four minutes to make up a sentence or two in which they use like all ten of their new words plus one or two of their old words. It’s pretty fun to see what they come up with!
  2. Always, always, always have them choose a word or two to include in anything they have to write for class. So for example… You have them write a little paragraph response to something you just read. Make them also choose even just one vocabulary word to put in that written response somewhere. Train them to hi-light or circle it every time. I let mine choose a new one or an old one to use. Doesn’t matter. They can pull out their vocabulary notes and flip through them to find something that fits. Plus, that gets them in the habit of keeping their vocabulary notes with them all the time.
  3. Ok… Let’s say you’re halfway through the school year (or more!) and it’s a Friday and there’s a three-day weekend coming up and you’re just not feeling it today. Here’s a really challenging way to get kids working together productively in using their vocabulary, and it requires nothing from you!  The challenge is to have them work in small groups to create a “vocabulary chain” with their words. Maybe at this point in the year they have dozens upon dozens of words. Tell them to link as many words (using both new and old words) together as possible by writing them down and having a “chain” where the last letter of a word is the same as the first letter in another word. And so on. And so forth. Pull in the use and purpose of prefixes and suffixes to change the form of a word if needed in order to make it link up to the next word in the chain. For this, you could time them, give them a certain number of words to include, etc. They could post their papers up around the room or in the hallway (so there’s accountability without you having to grade anything! Yes!).

There you have it! 3 fast ways to get students using their vocabulary terms without YOU having to do a thing!

Watcha think about this? Ideas? Questions?

Leave your comments below so we can chat!

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