Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vocabulary Soup

Martha from “Martha Speaks!” learns new vocabulary words by eating alphabet soup. If it was only that easy, schools would probably be serving alphabet soup before first period every day, and there would be a huge alphabet soup dinner the night before the SAT! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, but there are lots of ways you can sneak vocabulary education into your classroom and make learning new words fun.

There are many unique vocabulary words tied to the different subject areas, so teachers in all these areas share the responsibility of developing large vocabularies in their students. You’re not off the hook just because you don’t teach in a language classroom! I had a high school calculus teacher that gave us a new vocabulary word for fun every day. He made sure to use the words in his lessons, and it was always very entertaining. I learned one of my favorite words that way: defenestrate…do you think you can use that word in a sentence today?

Students learn new words through direct instruction from their parents and teachers and indirectly as they hear the words spoken by their parents, teachers, peers, and in the media. We need to remember that students often rise to our expectations. If we use “big” words in class and expect them to also use these “big” words, we might be surprised at the amount of new words students can learn and use in and out of the classroom. It may be hard to start introducing new words to your students if you have never done it before, especially if you feel intimidated by learning new words yourself. What words will you choose? If you look around online, you’ll probably be able to find sites to help you develop your own vocabulary so you can share some new words with your students. Some dictionary sites like Merriam Webster have a word-of-the-day. You can subscribe, and a new word will be emailed to you every day. How’s that for an easy increase to your lexicon? If you are more of a smart phone person, there’s probably an app for that, too! When I searched for free vocabulary apps, I came up with a pretty long list. There are even some fun and slightly addictive games you can play on the iPhone and iPad like Words With Friends. There are other different Scrabble-like games for other brands of smart phones.

If you have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, try finding a program that will help you incorporate vocabulary education every day in your class. One site from Scholastic should help get you started. If you search the internet, you can find even more free games and activities.

Often, you will come across words that are unfamiliar to your students while you are reading books or discussing topics. Take advantage of this reading time and explain the words to your students. This doesn’t always have to involve you reading in front of the class. Students can also listen to books online with sites like Starfall, StoryNory, and StoryLineOnline. If you are not reading the stories together, students can write down unfamiliar words to discuss later. You can also ask parents to continue this learning at home. Students and their parents can choose a “word of the day” as they read together. I did that with my kids this year, and it turned into a fun, ongoing game. Whenever they hear a past “word of the day,” later, they yell...DING! It’s a little noisy, but very fun to see them recognizing and remembering the new words they learn.

Don’t forget that you can always search The Gateway for more free vocabulary resources, games, and activities. We’ll see you there!

~Peggy's Corner - 9/9/2010~


  1. Have you seen Save the Words? Your post reminds me of that website. I'm planning to have my 5th graders adopt a word and blog about that word later this semester... and keep coming back to comment on that post when they use the word again!

  2. You are absolutely right, vocabulary instruction is everyone's job and students will rise to our expectations. Let's set the bar high! I love Save the Words and was thinking of it as I read your post as well, I'll second Julie's recommendation!

  3. I love the Save the Words website! Thanks for the suggestion. How fun to adopt a word and blog about it. Sometimes, I think we forget that our students WILL rise to our expectations and we forget to set the bar high enough. Most students won't do more than we ask them to do. I hope we all take vocabulary education seriously this year. Good luck, and thanks for reading!


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