This session was presented by Jennifer Watson from Atlanta. I’ve been looking forward to this, since frankly I don’t have any great ideas for teaching vocabulary. She started things off by having us write a list of words that are important in our own classrooms. I chose a bunch of geometry words. From there she built a case for deliberately teaching vocabulary, including what happens to kids from poverty who aren’t exposed to academic vocabulary, or much vocabulary at all, for that matter; poor kids are exposed to one-fourth the number of words as those from middle class families.
One of the shifts in education since the advent of CCSS is the increased emphasis on literacy in all content areas. Jennifer described an example from biology and we discussed some of the essential vocabulary involved in genetics.
After making a strong case for teaching vocabulary, she went into an explanation of Marzano’s Six Steps to Building Vocabulary.
Step 1 entails simply describing or explaining the word in simple, student- friendly language and examples. I choose scalene. Scalene, I explained to the ladies at my table, means a shape in which every side has a different length. Scalene triangles have no equivalent sides.
Step 2 asks students to restate the definition in their own words. It gives us a chance to see where they are in terms of understanding the words. We accept partially correct definitions at this point, since we’re still building their understanding. The two ladies at my table both understood scalene in terms of triangles, but weren’t sure whether or not any other shape could be scalene. (They can, by the way)
Step 3 involves constructing an image that represents the word and having students explain their representation. This is also the point at which we have students rate their own understanding of their term. At this point my new friends both fully understand scalene.
Step 4 simply has us periodically engaging students in activities that use these words. This step, and the ones that follow, are optional; if your kids understand the words as evidenced by step 3, the last three aren’t necessary.
Step 5 has us periodically involve the students in conversations with the vocabulary with one another. This would probably happen in a structured setting, in which you model the thinking process. You could use the word, for example, in another setting and model the thinking process whereby you make the connection.
Step 6 is having kids play with the words. Vocabulary games! We played password; one person looked at a list of words and gave clues until the rest of the team said each word. We did not win.
This was a fun session. I like it when the presenter bites off a small chunk and does it well. Vocabulary instruction is important, but not terrible complicated, which was the overall takeaway from this hour.