Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Teaching Vocabulary, Successfully

by Tara Seale
The best advice I received this year came from my students, and it related to vocabulary instruction. I struggle with the best way to teach vocabulary; and unfortunately, like most English teachers, I do not have the time I need to devote to vocabulary instruction (maybe it should be its own class, I thought, grammar too, but that is another blog post). I also recognize that a strong vocabulary is essential for effective reading comprehension. Looking for contextual clues only works if students understand the other words in the sentence.

Frustrated, I tried guilting my students into learning words because they just need to know them to succeed in life. That doesn’t work. I related a story about how my husband, at twenty-four, attended his first board meeting. He realized that it was imperative that he increase his knowledge of words and bought 30 days to a More Powerful Vocabulary. We still have this book with all of his annotations. They liked the story and realized that they might end up in this same situation one day, but they also decided that they would rather play video games, text, work, go to band practice, football practice, or any number of teenage life distractions that make additional learning outside of class something to put off until absolutely necessary.
After nine weeks of frustration, I asked my students, “What can I do to help you learn the words you need to know?” They told me that Paula Barker, their pre-AP 10th grade teacher, helped them learn words through vocabulary bingo, and they also received the added bonus of candy. I told them that if I was going to buy candy, I needed proof. I was amazed as my 11th grade students recited words they could still remember because of vocabulary bingo in 10th grade English. Of course, I immediately contacted Paula and asked her to explain her visionary bingo game.

This is it:
  • 20 - 3 x 5 index cards will fit on a desk uncut, but you can cut the index cards to fit more.
  • Students write the vocabulary word on one side and the definition on the other.
  • The teacher also has her own index cards.
  • The class plays bingo during the last 10 minutes of class.
  • Students place all bingo cards word-side-up on their desk.
  • The teacher reads the definition, and based on the definition, students turn over their card.
  • The teacher goes slow at first letting students look through all of the cards, but the longer the game is played the more the teacher speeds up.
  • The first student to bingo receives a piece of candy.
  • Another version is to allow students to pick one card and stand up next to their desk. The teacher reads the definition, and students sit down as the definition to their word is read. The last one standing receives a piece of candy.
  • After two weeks, the teacher quizzes the students on the vocabulary words.
This idea is great for several reasons. First, it takes care of the last moments in class when some students would rather pack up than listen or participate. Second, competitive students want to win and just doing well on a quiz is not really winning, but blurting out bingo or surviving as the last one standing is winning. Third, it doesn’t take much planning or time out of class, so teachers can implement vocabulary bingo and not feel like they are sacrificing precious time.
The last reason involves a different implementation. I recently used vocabulary bingo for rhetorical devices instead of vocabulary words. It worked well; students wrote the definition and an example on their index cards.
Regardless of how a teacher decides to use this idea, students will be engaged because of the competition and the chance to win an inexpensive piece of candy. Learning vocabulary through vocabulary bingo is a win win situation for both the teacher and the students.


Tracee Orman said...

I've used this game with novel review, using characters (I give the quote or description, they find the character) and vocabulary. I will second that it is effective for high school students. And a sucker or Jolly Rancher worked like a charm. Thanks for reinforcing this; sometimes I feel silly playing "BINGO" with my sophomores, but now I know I'm in good company.

readingcare said...

vocabulary problem come when we are learning new words and language..

ACT vocabulary flashcards
TOEFL vocabulary flashcards

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zephyr said...

I like this, but how do you know students aren't just turning over cards randomly to win?

Katie (Veritas Learning Labs) said...

I love the idea of vocabulary bingo!

I actually work for an education technology company that is facing this same problem - vocabulary instruction is so important, but it can take a lot of time for teachers to do (and they're already so busy), and it's hard to find something engaging for students.

We're looking for teacher feedback on our game - if you like it, we' interested in teachers trying out the game, for free, in their classroom. If anyone was interested, I feel free to shoot me an e-mail at support (at) veritaslearninglabs.com. We're not trying to sell anything - just get more feedback on our products.