Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fab Vocab!

When you read aloud to your class, you come across lots of great vocabulary words, right?  There is so much rich conversation around these words that happens when we are having story discussions, but what happens to those amazing new words after that?  If you don't keep using them, they just flutter away when the book ends.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't expect my firsties to remember and use tons of new story vocabulary, especially if there isn't anything to "stick" it to our classroom lives (for example, some of the farm vocabulary in Charlotte's Web, which I adore, and read every year).  But there are lots of colorful, descriptive words that we come across in books that the kids could be using in everyday life if we scaffold it.

How do I do that in my classroom?  I keep a stack of index cards and a Sharpie nearby when I am reading and when I come to a word that I think is fascinating (oh I definitely play up cool new words), I'll say something like, "Wow, that's a great/smart/interesting new word! (Or "whoa, that sounds like a high school word!" - They think that is the super coolest  thing ever)  How can I remember that word?"  I'll scratch my chin and look around and then amazingly find just what I needed to jot that word down!  So I'll write it down and say it a few times (of course, the kids get into it too, they like to say fancy new words).  And then I'll look all confused again and say, "Wait, what did that mean?"  And since we discussed it in story context, they are more than happy to remind me.  So smart, those firsties.  So smart.  

Then I wonder aloud how I can remember what it means.  Sometimes a problem solver will suggest to draw a picture.  If they don't, I'll suggest it after they've given me some ideas. Now, all of this takes a very brief amount of time, and I don't want to stop and draw right now and totally lose the mojo of the story.  So I'll ask if anyone can do me the huge favor of reminding us all what that word means.  I am never short on volunteers for that job.  I'll pick someone, they take the card to their table and illustrate while we continue reading.  They keep listening too, and often I'll find my illustrators stopping to look up at the story, staying connected.

When the illustration is done, they bring it back to me (usually I am still reading) and I just quietly reach out my hand to take it.  I'll lay the card down until after the story and then show it to the class.  I do ask the illustrator to put his/her name on the back.  Then I add it to the "FAB VOCAB" section on our word wall.  These are not like our sight words on the word wall - I do not expect them to be spelled correctly, etc., should the kids use them in their writing.  And the great thing is that they do!  Once a fab vocab word goes up, I'll use it if I can when I am teaching or talking and the kids follow my lead.  It's pretty awesome at the end of the year to have a nice collection of great vocab words and kids who actually use them in everyday language!  (Many of my kids speak English very well but are bilingual, often speaking Chinese or several Indian dialects at home, and they still get to know lots of great new words!)

Of course, I don't do this with every new word in every book we read*.  Lots of times the kids will ask to put new words on the Fab Vocab board and I'll say "Not right now", mainly because it would take way too much time to do that with every new word in every book I read.  We save it mainly for our chapter books and I do refer to it during writing lessons on word choice, but it is always there.  At the end of the year, I just pull them down and send them home with the illustrators.

*I also don't have a plan at all... like... ever... for what words will go up here.  It happens completely in the moment when we read new and interesting words in context, so every year the Fab Vocab board is totally different!

How do you help your kids to hang on to some of the new and rich language in the stories that you read together?
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  1. Oh my goodness-what a great idea! I will absolutely be doing this in my class this year. I've always written the good words we've come across on a piece of chart paper with a glittery "Fancy Words" header, but only the highest students would ever use any of those words again. I love the idea of quickly writing it on an index card and having a student illustrate it. Even if no one else remembers it, at least that one student illustrating it will remember it! Thanks for the great idea!

  2. This is a great idea! There is a big push in my district to have a vocabulary wall and this would be perfect. I'm moving to a new school and to 2nd grade but I'm still going to plan on using this idea! Thanks for sharing!


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