Archives For Vocabulary

If music be the food of love,” as Shakespeare suggests, then the food for the mind is vocabulary.

The term vocabulary is defined as “a list or collection of words or of words and phrases usually alphabetically arranged and explained or defined.” There are a number of reasons to think about these lists of words and phrases as things that are consumable. Consider how often references to words or phrases are framed in metaphors of food:

  • Food for thought;
  • Digesting what was said;
  • Chew on it for a while;
  • Difficult to swallow.

These metaphors continue in today’s digital age, where words and phrases are encoded over “feeds” or electronic transmission of news, as from a broadcaster or an Internet newsgroup. screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-9-06-49-pm

 

All these food metaphors signal how important vocabulary is to a student’s developing academic life. Just as food is metabolized and turned into the building blocks and fuel that the body needs, educators should see vocabulary to be part of the building blocks of critical thinking. Just as any student must internalize food for energy, research shows that for vocabulary to be effective, students must internalize words to use them correctly in both receptive and verbal language. And just as food is necessary every day for physical growth and stamina, vocabulary is necessary every day,  in all subject areas, for a student’s academic growth and stamina.

These food metaphors also support the idea that vocabulary should not be an isolated activity, but a daily requirement that teachers need to incorporate in all lessons. The teaching of vocabulary is too important to be left to workbooks or worksheets; teaching words and word meanings must be part of speaking, listening, reading and writing in every day’s lesson.

While the first step in a successful vocabulary program is explicit instruction, the steps of continued exposure and direct practice are also important. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in teaching vocabulary educators should:

Use repeated exposure to new words in multiple oral and written contexts and allow sufficient practice sessions.”

In their article posted on Adlit.org, Explicit Vocabulary Instruction, researchers have found that “Words are usually learned only after they appear several times.” Words that appear infrequently may not be the words that should be targeted for explicit instruction.

This research is supported by Robert Marzano who outlined a six step process for educators in Education Leadership Magazine, “The Art and Science of Teaching / Six Steps to Better Vocabulary Instruction” (September 2009). These six steps outline how repeated exposure might be accomplished:

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.

There are many ways that students at every ability level can be independently engaged on digital platforms that support vocabulary activities. There are multiple software programs with “feeds” that can help student practice vocabulary with games or flashcards on different devices. Examples of these platforms include:

Research suggests that it is the repeated exposure to words that is most effective, especially if they appear over an extended period of time. Researchers estimate that it could take as many as 17 exposures for a student to learn a new word.

This kind of repeated exposure echoes the practice of the Pulitzer Prizewinning Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, who is featured in the (2015) documentary City of Gold. In the film, Gold explains that before writing a review on its food, he will visit a restaurant sometimes a dozen or more times, often tasting the same dish several times “to make sure I get it right.” Gold’s multiple visits to a restaurant “to be sure to get it right” can serve as an example of how educators need to recognize the need for repeated exposure in vocabulary so that students can “get it right” as they ingest and digest vocabulary words.

Students must regularly read their vocabulary words the same way they eat three meals a day, and a possible snack before bed. They must write their vocabulary words, listen to their vocabulary words, and speak their vocabulary words.  In offering an academic diet that is rich in vocabulary, educators should know “students are what they eat.”

“Diametrically”

“Diametrically…May I have a definition, please?”

“completely; utterly”

“Diametrically…May I hear it in a sentence, please?”

“The debaters held diametrically opposed viewpoints.”

“Diametrically….D-I-A-M-E-T-R-T-R-I-C-A-L-L-Y…Diametrically.”

“That is correct.”

BeeThis past week, two 5th grade students from Carrigan Intermediate School went 24 rounds participating in the West Haven Public School District’s 35th annual Spelling Bee. In 20 minutes, they had defeated a series of challengers going head to head, word for word. Some of these words posed a challenge for anyone, regardless of grade:

“Hubris: H-u-b-r-i-s ”
“That is correct.”
“Infrastructure: I-n-f-r-a-s-t-r-u-c-t-u-r-e”
“That is correct.”
“Resilience: R-e-s-i-l-i-e-n-c-e”
      “That is correct.”

I am not sure who was more nervous….Me? (My first year coordinating this event at the district level) The parents ? The teachers? the  Board of Education members in attendance?


“Arboreal: A-r-b-o-r-e-a-l”
      “That is correct.”
“Commodious: C-o-m-m-o-d-i-o-u-s”
      “That is correct.”

There were eight students who qualified for this district final. They had been bussed to the City Hall that morning, and they sat in office chairs reserved for members of the Board of Education. These chairs had never swiveled so nervously.

The Superintendent of Schools, Neil C. Cavallaro, was the moderator. After congratulating the students on reaching this final round, he began to read from the list of the words organized on the Scripps National Spelling Bee website.

West Haven Spelling Bee 2016

Six of the eight contestants waiting to spell in the West Haven Spelling Bee 2016

The tradition of qualifying for the National Spelling Bee began in 1925. The E.W. Scripps, a broadcasting company, took over sponsorship of the National Spelling Bee in 1941. The purpose:

Our purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.

The sponsor for this year’s event for our school district is Quinnipiac University, a new sponsor for our region. They will be hosting the 2016 regional finals and sending a champion to the national finals held May 1-2. Our local spelling bee was set up to determine that champion who would go to the regional challenge. and the grade level winners received $25 gift certificates to Barnes and Noble from the schools’ PTA.

The final two challengers-two 5th graders -were a study in contrasts: Ayannah, calm and collected, facing off against Arin, confidently enthusiastic. The adults in the audience watching the contest sat mentally spelling each of the words or mouthing the spelling: “languish”, “germane”, “ostensibly”. The only sound coming from their area were the audible sighs of relief after each “That is correct” from the moderator.

The word “acoustics” proved to be too tricky for Ayannah. There was hush…and the audience sat riveted as Arin mastered “acoustics” and then spelled “molasses” correctly for the win. Cheers and applause erupted with the last “That is correct!” 5th grade Arin will move onto the regionals, and (hopefully) the national round.  He will be a great representative for the West Haven School District.

Watching our small event was akin to watching a sporting match, so it is no wonder that the National Spelling Bee is broadcast live on ESPN channels. Want to know how exciting a spelling be can be? Watch the final moments of last year’s Scripps National 2015 Spelling Bee, and try not to have your heart race:

“Tachycardia”
“May I have a definition, please?”
“an abnormally rapid heart rate”

While there are whirlwind changes in education such as new evaluation programs, digital devices in school, or flipped classrooms, one element remains constant: vocabulary. In order for students to succeed, they must understand the content area vocabulary in each subject area.

“Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to reading comprehension;
one cannot understand text without knowing what most of the words mean.”
(Nagy, 1988)

The Common Core Literacy Standards have dedicated an anchor standard to the acquisition to vocabulary: 

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

So what strategies work best? While there are familiar ways to teach vocabulary such as flashcards and word lists, every now and then there are the vocabulary lessons that are so effective, that they must be shared…like this political campaign using biology terms.

All month the 10th grade biology teacher centered a political campaign on vocabulary. The campaign immersed the entire school in domain specific words on the parts of a cell.  Teams of students were assigned to promote each part of the cell (EX: nucleus, endomembrane  system, chloroplasts, mitochondria)  for a political election designed to let students determine the most important member of the cell. Students made posters that hung in the hallways, and each poster featured characteristics and functions of the cell’s “candidate.” The posters were filled with content area vocabulary; there were explanations with diagrams or pictures.

For the first week, the campaign posters for different parts of the cell were explanatory in nature:

  • Do you enjoy moving, growing, breathing? Vote for the Mitochondria!
  • Chloroplast: Makes your green last! Carry out Photosynthesis!
  • Let’s assemble or die! Vote for Ribosomes or go home!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The final week was dedicated to a “smear” campaign. Additional information was added to posters; opposing candidates countered the claims on posters with even more content area vocabulary:

  • Algae blooms? They are caused by pollution! Look in the mirror! It’s not the chloroplast’s fault
  • Don’t vote for the mitochondria: They cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancer? Why vote for something that is bad?
  • Ribosome: Subject to mutation and damage that can cause illness
  • The Nucleus: if coded improperly can cause all sorts of defects
  • The mitochondria causes stupidity and mental disorders. The nucleus knows you’re smart and will support you through everything.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wall space became a premium.  Attack ads increased the amount of information and featured even more content-area vocabulary. The stairwell going down to the middle school wing was a cluttered word wall.

Finally, election day arrived. To ensure there would be no favoritism, the students in 7th grade were selected to vote on their choice of the most important part of the cell. They had read the posters and become familiar with each of the candidates. They knew the strengths of each part of the cell. They knew the weaknesses of each part of the cell. They knew how each candidate functioned in the cell. They could separate the facts and the hype. The 10th grade waited to hear the results of their campaign.

Who did they vote for?
The Chloroplast.
Why?
Because of its contributions to plant life?
Because of photosynthesis?
Because it synthesizes fatty acids?


Buggin-out-green-sparkle

No….Because, “The poster had green glitter that was pretty.”
Apparently, campaigns for the most important member of the cell do not differ that much from real political campaigns.

Even with all that domain specific language…bling wins.

In the spirit of all end of the year reviews, I have condensed the year 2013 by offering month by month posts from this blog that illustrated the best student (and subsequently, teacher) learning:

January 2013: A Freshman’s Modern Odyssey in the Style of Homer

"Dawn spread her rosy fingers..."

“Dawn spread her rosy fingers…”

The Freshmen final project after reading The Odyssey is a narrative that students complete called “The Wamogossey: A Day in the Life of a Freshman at Wamogo High School.” Writing narratives are once again favored in  Common Core State Standards, and this post explained how students made their own attempt at an epic adventure.

February 2013:  Spilling Over the Corners of a Six Word Text

Short Story in 6 words

Short Story in 6 words

This exercise proves that keeping students “within the four corners of the text” is impossible, even when the text, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is only six words long. This post also serves as evidence that that admonitions on best practices should be limited to those with actual classroom experience, not to the “architects of the Common Core.”

March 2013 If You Want to Watch the Cow Give Birth

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Yes, “If you want to watch the cow give birth, turn on U-stream now!” was an announcement over the PA system. Normally, I am irritated by interruptions to class time, but this announcement cued students about opportunity watch the birth of a calf in the Agricultural Science wing of our high school. The combination of technology in broadcasting and recording the birth of the newest member of the agricultural program with old-fashioned “hands on” physical labor illustrates 21st Century authentic learning.

April 2013 You Never Forget Your First Hamlet

Members of the senior class were fortunate enough to see Paul Giamatti’s “Hamlet” at Yale Repertory Theatre. I’ll let their words speak for the experience:

The performance was a wonderful experience, especially since it was my first time to see Shakespeare.

I wouldn’t mind going to another because it was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realize the 4 hours passing by.

I like the way that a play has a certain kind of vibe. It’s like a live concert, where there’s a certain kind of energy.

It was like seeing a live performance of a film. I would especially like to see another Shakespeare because it is the way that he intended his works to be portrayed.

After seeing Hamlet so well done, it would definitely be worth going to see another one whether it be Shakespeare or a different kind of performance.

May 2013 Kinesthetic Greek and Latin Roots

Spelling "exo"=outside

Spelling “exo”=outside

Understanding Greek and Latin roots is critical to decoding vocabulary, so when the freshman had a long list of roots to memorize, we tried a kinesthetic approach. The students used their fingers to spell out Greek roots: ant (against), tech (skill), exo (outside).  They twisted their bodies into letters and spread out against the wall spelling out xen (foreign), phob (fear). They also scored very well on the quizzes as a result!

June 2013 Superteachers!

Superteacher!

Superteacher!

At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, teachers rose to a “friendship and respect” challenge to make a video. With a little help from a green screen, 27 members of the faculty representing a wide variety of disciplines jumped into the nearby closet wearing the big “W” (for Wamogo). Students in the video production class watched and filmed in amazement as, bearing some artifact from a particular subject area, each teacher donned a flowing red cape.

July 2013 Library Book Sales: Three Bags Full!

The original purpose of this blog was to show how I filled classroom libraries with gently used books. The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut, is one of the premier books sales in the state: well-organized tables filled with excellent quality used books, lots of attentive check-out staff, and great prices. This year, I added three large bags of books to our classroom libraries for $152.00, a discount of 90% off retail!

August 2013 Picture Books Are not for Kindergarten Any More!Cat in Hat book cover

At used book sales, I am always looking for picture books I can use in high school classrooms. For example, I use The Cat in the Hat to explain Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and Superego . Thing #1 and Thing #2 represent Id, and that righteous fish? The Superego. Yes, Dr. Seuss is great for psychological literary criticism, but he is not the only picture book in my repertoire of children’s literature used in high school. This post features a few of my favorite picture books to use and why.

September 2013 Close Reading with Saki and the Sophomores

Saki’s short stories open our World Literature course in which our students will be reading complex texts required by the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS). After a “close reading” the conversations in the room showed the text’s complexity. Saki’s The Interlopers has all the elements suggested by the CCSS:  figurative language, the ironic wish, and multiple meaning in the revenge sought by man versus the revenge exacted by Nature. Our close reading should have been “textbook”. The evidence proved the characters’ demise…or did it? The ensuing discussion forced the class to consider other positions.

October 2013 Close Reading Art

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire

After “close reading” short stories, the sophomores were asked to use the same skills to “close read” several paintings that thematically connected to the Industrial Revolution. They studied a Constable pastoral painting, before J.M.W. Turner’s famous painting, The Fighting Temeraire. While some called attention to the the dirty smoke stack, others saw the energetic paddling as a sign of progress. They noticed the ghost-like ship hovering in the background, the light created by the sunset which gave the painting “warmth”or “light extinguishing”. When they were asked to use these elements as evidence to determine the artist’s message, there were some succinct responses to the painting’s “text.”

November 2013 Thanks for the NCTE Conference

Five members of the English Department attended the conference and selected from over 700 sessions at the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on English Leadership.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated. We are also grateful that four of our proposals were chosen to share as presentations for other educators. The explanations of our presentations with links to these presentations are included in this post.

December 2013 Drama Class Holiday Miracle

Cast photo!

Cast photo!

An ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise their performances of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at three local elementary schools.

Their “dress rehearsal” was a disaster, but, as the adage says, “The show must go on!” and once they arrived at the elementary schools, the students were anxious to do well. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor, the Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger, and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not. I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, with congratulatory e-mails from the principals that offered praise.

End of the year note:

I am grateful to be an educator and to have the privilege to work with students that I learn from everyday. In this retrospective, I can state unequivocally that 2013 was a memorable year… as you can see from many of the reasons listed above.

Welcome to 2014! May this coming year be even more productive!

Christmas storyThe holidays are here and network television takes full advantage of our want to replay our favorites, to stir memories, or to remind us of our childhood. Perhaps no film is more nostalgic than the 1983 film A Christmas Story based on a novel by Jean Shepard, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Director Bob Clark and writer Leigh Brown also collaborated on the screenplay for this time piece of the 1940s that highlights one family’s battles with Oldsmobiles, coal-burning furnaces, and spotty electrical wiring. The film is also a timeless story of a young boy’s obsession for toy, a Red Ryder B.B. gun, for Christmas from Santa Claus, the guarantor of all secret wishes.

The casting of actor Darren McGavin (The Old Man), actress Melinda Dillon (Mother), and the young Peter Billingsley, as the bespectacled Ralphie, was perfect, but it is the voice of Shepard himself narrating the story that makes the movie so memorable. The viewer sees the events through Shepard’s eyes and hears his emotional range as he reflects on this one momentous Christmas season. In recalling his youth, he is at turns indignant (“Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?”)  terrified (“Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So, help me, God! Yellow eyes!”), and determined (“No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!”)

The visual laughs abound in the story: Flick’s tongue stuck frozen to the flagpole, Miss Shields’ morphing into a witch, and the camera closing in on Santa’s boot as he shoves Ralphie down the slide into a soft pile of cloth snowballs. But it is the language, Shephard’s script, that gives the film its enduring appeal. Long after December, I have heard people quote lines from the film such as:

  • Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.
  • It… It ’twas… soap poisoning!
  • Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!
  • But those who did it know their blame, and I’m sure that the guilt you feel is far worse than any punishment you might receive.
  • You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

Not only are the lines marvelous in construction, but the vocabulary in Shepard’s recounting is of the highest caliber, with many words worthy of an SAT rating, for example:

“We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.”

“Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness.”

“Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

“Mothers know nothing about creeping marauders burrowing through the snow toward the kitchen where only you and you alone stand between your tiny, huddled family and insensate evil.”

When a word is not suitable, Shephard turns Shakespeare-like and creates his own:

“Gradually, I drifted off to sleep, pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.”

Shephard also preserves the language of a different, perhaps more polite, time when a more conscious effort was made to create substitutes for profanity. The actor McGavin peppers the “Old Man’s” frustration with all things mechanical: nincompoop, dadgummit, keister, and for cripes sake, as well as more colorful expletive sound-a-likes: You wart mundane noodle! You shotten shifter paskabah! You snort tonguer! Lame monger snaffa shell cocker!

The script is also filled with a myriad of examples of figurative language guaranteed to please any English teacher. Here is an opportunity to teach students the power of similes:

“My kid brother looked like a tick about to pop!”
“Randy lay there like a slug! It was his only defense!”
“He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny.”

Shephard’s metaphors are also exceptional. These are constructions of “dictional elegance”, the rare combination of the sacred and profane:

“In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”

“Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.”

“First-nighters, packed earmuff-to-earmuff, jostled in wonderment before a golden, tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy!”

“Next to me in the blackness lay my oiled blue steel beauty.”

122208lampleg

My personal favorite metaphor of all time centers on the infamous lamp, a prize won by Ralphie’s father who in one hilarious sequence, digs wild-eyed through packing material in a large wood carton. He uncovers a tribute to all things burlesque:  a glass leg adorned with a fishnet stocking and a fringe shade covering the upper thigh. As Ralphie stands, slack-jawed in admiration staring at the lamp, his alarmed mother shoves him back into the kitchen. Ruefully Shephard intones:

Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.

So, during the next 24 hour marathon showing of A Christmas Story, when you tune in for the memories, to watch the exceptional acting and the period piece visuals, pay attention to the language that makes the film so unforgettable. You may even develop an appreciation for Ralphie’s theme essay on “A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.

Poetry. Sheer poetry, Ralph! An A+!

boringMany educators use Twitter to communicate as part of personal learning networks (PLN). I appreciate the means to share messages with other educators, but I am sometimes alarmed by some of the tweets I read. The brevity of 140 characters does not allow for nuances. The tweet is, by design, blunt.
Example #1: Most teachers do not share a professional language. And they don’t share prof lang with students. 
I wonder, “Really? Is there evidence to support this claim?”
Example #2: Freedom—for educators and parents—is necessary, but not sufficient, for excellent schools
I think, “Define Freedom. Define sufficient. Define excellent.”
These tweets are made of some sentiment that begins an argument, but they are so brief and banal that they cut off debate.
Such was the case this week when prominent author and educator Dr. Tony Wagner paraphrased a statement made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan (week May 21, 2013) in a response on his twitter feed.  Wagner is the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard; he is a former high school teacher, K-8 principal, and a university professor in teacher education. Wagner’s tweet read:

“‘Too many high school students are dropping out, not because school is too hard, but because it’s too easy @arneduncan’ Wrong! It’s boring!” @DrTonyWagner.

While I disagree with Duncan’s generalization that schools are too easy, I was even more disturbed by Wagner’s response, about school, “It’s boring!”
I hear this complaint enough from students before they read the class novel or before we start the unit. I did not expect to hear it from Wagner.
Students say “this is boring” so much that I will not let them use the word “boring” any more.
But, is school boring?
Is it?
I take issue with Wagner’s claim. I would like to debate this.
As someone who attended Mr. Orontias’s History and Geography class in 1970, I can confidently say I have experienced boring. His 45 minute lecture delivered in a monotone right after lunch was not in a time space continuum; the clock hands did not move.
I know boring.
In contrast, my students’ high school today is not boring. As examples, I offer the following:
  • We have a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative;
  • We employ student driven learning with choice on reading, topics, and presentation;
  • We include project based assessments and encourage reflection on tests.
We do, however, require that students do schoolwork. They practice math problems. They do research. They must complete reading assignments. They have deadlines. Some of this work is repetitious; some of this work is tedious. Some rote learning may be necessary to develop background knowledge before students can engage in active participation or collaboration.
So, when I hear from students that they are “bored” with school, often what they are saying is “schoolwork is not fun.”
This is not unexpected. A great deal of time is spent everyday in “not fun” activities inside school, just as a number of “not fun” activities are required in the real world.
I sympathize, but the reality is that not every lesson in school is fun. Education objectives require students to work rather than have the teachers be the engine of the classroom.
Wagner is one of the innovative educators who promotes education to incorporate more real world problems, reforming education to prepare students with 21st Century skills in order to engage students in meaningful enterprises. Whatever innovations are developed by education reformers like Wagner, students will experience frustrations, and experience failures. There will be efforts expended by teachers and students successfully and unsuccessfully. Work will be necessary, and some of that work will not be fun. If the goal of schools is to prepare students to learn the value of work, to prepare students for the workforce, work should be applauded, even if the work is not fun, or if the work is “boring.”
Arne Duncan’s statement that high school students are dropping out because schools are too easy is a gross overstatement. How easy will the real world be for those high school dropouts?
Similarly, Wagner’s accusation that high school is boring is infuriatingly terse, using only 20 out of Twitter’s 140 characters. How bored will students be if they drop out and cannot find fulfilling employment?
There are isolated cases of students who may write code for some fabulous new social media or video game that goes viral, but those are isolated. A high school diploma is necessary for even the most menial employment.
Today’s schools are not boring. Today’s schools are preparing students for work environments just like schools have done in decades past. Historically, teachers do not predict the job market, instead they prepare students with the fundamentals so that their students may create the job market. Some of that preparation is not fun; it is work, and in student lingo, it is boring.
Stating this needs more than a pithy remark that negates the efforts of teachers who are engaging students with 21st Century skills, with active rather than passive instruction.
Education has come a long way since my experience in the 1970s because of the efforts of education reformers like Dr. Wagner. Forty years ago, education came in primarily in the form of direct instruction. We sat in rows and listened to lectures, and yes, that was boring.
Except for the day that Mr. Orontias stepped into the wastebasket.
That was not boring at all.
The Twitter English Chat (#engchat) last night (5/6/13) was on vocabulary, and I was too late to join the conversation. There was, however, one tweet went by that I would like to answer. Shawn White (@swpax) posted:

Does anyone have fun, effective ways to teach/learn Latin & Greek roots?

Yes. Try a kinesthetic approach.

This past January, I posted two sets of Greek Root vocabulary words on Quizlet. This free software allows anyone to “study anything” or “find or create what you need to learn.” I found two sets of Greek roots that were already posted. Quizlet allows teachers to share materials, so I copied the words and posted them to an account that students could access.

Set I:http://quizlet.com/14668765/greek-root-list-i-flash-cards/

Set II: http://quizlet.com/14668889/greek-root-list-iii-flash-cards/

Quizlet also posts the lists to Twitter so students can access the lists. There are a variety of ways that students and teachers can use Quizlet. The flashcard mode has an audio mode which is really helpful for students to hear the correct pronunciation.

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 8.32.41 PM

After the 9th graders had the lists, we practiced the words and their meanings kinesthetically. The students used their fingers to spell out Greek roots: ant (against), tech (skill), exo (outside).

TECH-(Skill)

TECH-Skill

ANT-against

ANT-against

ORTH-Correct

ORTH-Correct

EXO- Outside

EXO- Outside

They twisted their bodies into letters and spread out against the wall spelling out xen (foreign), phob (fear).

This was fun. (Sorry you cannot see their smiles)

This was also effective. The class average was  96% on Set I and 87% on Set II.

Greek roots are difficult to memorize, but they are essential to decoding other vocabulary words. Between 5-25% of English words are derived from the Greek. The Greek roots are particularly important in understanding today’s vocabulary in science and medicine.

How fitting, then, that kinesthetic is a synonym for biomechanics. And guess what the etymology of biomechanics is? Greek, of course!  Bios (living organism) + mechane, (machine).

This connection between my activity and the root might just be Greek fate…. but that’s another lesson!

PHOB-Fear

PHOB-Fear

XEN-Foreign

XEN-Foreign