Friday, July 5, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 4

 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here

Chapter Four: Squeezing the Juicy Words--Adding Synonyms and Antonyms

In this chapter, we are given an in-depth look at why using synonyms and antonyms (or examples and non-examples as it were) are important for helping our students to build vocabulary. Sometimes giving a synonym for a word is all you need to provide in order for kids' light bulbs to go on and then make the connection and understand the word you're trying to teach them. 

Reference Materials for Vocabulary "Research"
The authors share that they often came up with the synonyms and antonyms to display and one day Leslie was having trouble with her technology. One student suggested that they (the kids) just find their own words. Voila! Suddenly every child in the class was engaged in active vocabulary research using dictionaries, thesauruses and other materials to help them find words. The beauty of how this came out is that a) it was thought up by a student and b) the kids get so excited by the research that they just form their own groups and get to work.  I absolutely love this idea. Having the kids do the research makes it more meaningful for them because they are actively seeking ways to engage with the words, learn the words and words that aren't synonyms or antonyms too. I love the examples of the student talk. At first glance it may make you think "yeah, right, my class can't do that!" but they can. This book really speaks to me because I service the same exact clientele that they do--urban kiddos without a lot of background in words. 
Additionally they return to the modified Frayer model and show some student work of how the kids are putting their research to use on their vocabulary journal. (Click here to get a copy of the vocabulary journal I shared for with Chapter 3.) The authors do point out that they have some preselected synonyms and antonyms in case the student have trouble finding them or get stuck. 

Velcro and Juicy Words
As students begin to dig into reference materials to find their words, the authors ask them to be sure to find "velcro words" or words that will really stick in their brains. As the students become more adept at finding words on their own, they are much more likely to branch out and try other words. Additionally the students become "Juicy Word Hunters". As they feel more confident with their word knowledge, they will purposely begin to search for the juiciest synonyms and antonyms for their selected vocabulary words. I really love how engaged the students seem to be in this section. Don't we all want students who purposely find ways to use the new vocabulary they have been taught in class?? The examples of the students trying to use "peripatetic" is amazing. I can only hope for a class of vocabulary gurus like that!

Code-Switching is defined as the art of knowing when and how to use certain kinds of talk. Most adults are fairly good at code-switching. How you speak in a professional setting is often very different from how you would speak to friends over burgers and brats in the backyard. In order for our students to not sound like "jerks" or stuck up know-it-alls, we have to teach them the art of code-switching. YES please use these vocabulary words liberally at school in our classroom. YES please use these words when you are talking to the adults you encounter at school! NO you do not have to use these words when you are on the playground or at the park after school! The authors caution that we don't want our kids to be ridiculed for being show-offs as they use their expanding vocabulary. In order to help the students know that its okay to share these words with their parents, but maybe not over the burgers and brats in the backyard, the teachers send home a brief note listing the words currently being studied in school. This allows the kids to have a safe place outside of school to use their expanding vocabulary (at home with their parents) without setting themselves up for ridicule by wanting to share their words when it might not be the most appropriate (on a playdate). Code-Switching is definitely an art that students need to be taught and helped to hone. I find this to be very true in writing as well. My students often write exactly the way they talk and while that is often perfectly acceptable if they are writing a personal narrative, if they are doing research or some other form of more "formal" writing, they have to know how to code-switch. They have to know when it is okay to use their slang and when they need to use proper grammar and sentence structures. Its sad to think of any kid being made fun of because they are using their "big words" but sadly we all can probably think of an example. My own brother decided to act "dumb" in school because he didn't like being made fun of when he was put in an advanced class for math. Had he been taught how to embrace his knowledge without sacrificing his friendships, he may well be in a very different place in his adult life than he currently is.

The authors assert that it is important to focus on examples and non-examples of words as students are studying words within the vocabulary cycle. This is because the non-examples help students realize what the word doesn't mean  so they actually are able to build better conceptual understanding of the words. By using examples or synonyms and non-examples or antonyms, students are learning multiple words rather than just one word at a time and are able to further develop their word schemas by finding patterns between word associations, thus building an even bigger bank of words to transfer into writing.

Beyond the Synonyms and Antonyms
Students begin to explore synonyms and antonyms or examples and non-examples by searching for words that could mean the same (or opposite) of the chosen word. One example from the text shows how 3rd grade students were trying to find an antonym or non-example for the word population. Initially the students thought of "alone" or "solitary" but after more researching, they decided upon the word "extinct" because it means "no population". 
Students are encouraged to use their vocabulary journals to reinforce the definitions for the words they are studying. The teacher can introduce antonyms or allow students to search for them. What ultimate goal is that students are truly learning the meaning of the vocabulary words by learning other words that mean the same or provide an example of the word's meaning and by learning the opposite or a non-example to help them solidify what words can be used to describe the concept.
I really like this part of the vocabulary cycle. How much easier would it be to justify the time these lessons take up if ultimately students are learning 25 words rather than just 5 because they are learning synonyms and antonyms as well. I can already envision the "juicy words" my kiddos would have sprinkled into their writing assignments having gone through these vocabulary cycles. 

Vocabulary Lanyards
Each student in the class wears a lanyard containing either a vocabulary word, or a synonym or antonym of a vocabulary word. To start with these might be words only from the current vocabulary cycle but as time goes on, the students will also have words from previous cycles to help reinforce the words. The teachers use the words for transitions and other activities. To have children line up they might say "If your word means {definition}, please line up." Students may also be asked to use their words in a sentence before they enter or leave the classroom. The word cards are changed daily and sometimes in the middle of the day to reinforce the concept that the students are responsible for knowing all of the words in the vocabulary cycle, rather than just the word they happen to be wearing at that moment. 
Younger students wear their lanyards to all areas of the school except to recess. The older students are given the option to not wear their lanyard outside of the classroom to help preserve their dignity as they might feel embarrassed wearing a word around their neck throughout the school. 
I love the idea of using the lanyards to help reinforce the vocabulary instruction. I know I am guilty of using the vocabulary words for that week and then on to the next because there is always so much else that needs to be done. By having the students wear the lanyards, there are many transition activities that can be utilized that will reinforce the words as well as keep all of the words active throughout the year, even when one particular vocabulary cycle has finished.  

I hope you enjoyed my reflections on Chapter 4! Join me next week for an in-depth look at Chapter 5.
The Caffeinated Teacher


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