Word of the Week – A Year-Long Vocabulary Strategy

Word of the Week

I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of the cardinal sin of English teachers.

I have given out a list of vocabulary words, told students to define the words, and given out a quiz the following week. Most English teachers have. It’s not because we’re trying to be lazy, I’m sure. It’s just that between bell-ringers, learning targets, taking attendance, engaging mini-lessons, ongoing lessons that focus on content that align with the common core, and homework that engages critical thinking, sometimes it can be hard to find time to teach vocabulary.

I do include vocabulary in several of my literature units, but those words are not based on age but on the content it’s being pulled from. Over the years I had been looking into ways to incorporate more vocabulary, preferably based on suggested words from the SAT list, but it always seemed to get put on the backburner.

An idea struck me one year when teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I was trying to explain how Brutus was a stoic, and I wrote the word and definition on the board behind me. It stayed up there all week and we referred to it a few times.

The next week, we discussed the very topical (for the time) discussion of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric. I told him that he was the definition of “bombastic,” and that word made it up on the whiteboard. As we discussed it later in the week, students attempted to use the word “bombastic” in a sentence to earn a star (a silly sticker reward in my class). And from there, Word of the Week became a regular fixture in my classroom.

It’s not a complicated procedure. Every week I choose a word from an SAT list, such as this one. I write the word on a small whiteboard in the front of my classroom. Monday mornings start with a quick review of the definition and some example sentences. Starting Tuesday, students can attempt to use the word in a sentence in class, and if they do so correctly, I give them a star.

I do not give any quizzes or require any homework with the words of the week. However, I do collect the words and definitions on a Quizlet list and include the Word of the Week words on our final exam.

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It may not be preparing my students to ace the ACT, but each week my students learn an age-appropriate word, learn how to apply it in a sentence, and hopefully, most of them make it into their long-term memory. It’s certainly better than my previous method of vocabulary…which was basically nothing.

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