Playing with Words

‘A joke or a pun is where two minds are meeting, sharing and enjoying together’ – Paul Dufficy –Designing Learning for Vocabulary Development May 28 2019
Word choice becomes particularly important
when people are removed from each other in distance and time.

As part of our ‘Designing Learning for Vocabulary Development Project’, which has been designed and run by our Refugee Support Leader, Cindy Valdez-Adams, we have regular professional learning days as well as school visits, consultations and lesson observations. At this term’s Professional Learning Day Paul Dufficy’s sessions were entitled, ‘Vocabulary Teaching and Learning: Delving Deeper’.

Before our session we were asked to read a couple of articles. My favourite was Essential, enjoyable and effective: the what, why and how of powerful vocabulary instruction by Judith A. Scott / University of California, Santa Cruz . Judith emphasised the need for enjoyable and effective vocabulary instruction in order to develop in their students a ‘word consciousness’. She emphasised the need for an inclusive community where the students, especially those from backgrounds where academic English was not used, could be socialised into academic language learning. Socialised by being exposed to academic language through creative, playful classroom activities that used sophisticated and nuanced language.

This was Paul Dufficy’s main message to us in our first learning session. He emphasised how we as teachers, need to enjoy and be interested in words ourselves. Judith A. Scott wrote that we are to ‘actively, explicitly and thoroughly marinate students in opportunities to see, hear and use’ the language of school. Paul stated that ‘challenging learning needs challenging vocabulary’ and that our students should develop the mindset of; ‘This is the place I come to learn words and consequently context’.

‘Develop a community of playful word users’ – Paul Dufficy

Paul spoke of the fact that when we are conscious of a word ‘then we notice it – it jumps out at us’. I have found this to be true for myself but was delighted when a Stage 2 class discovered this fact as well. They have been learning and playing with wonderfully rich tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary in their Science Unit about living things. Subsequently, one literacy lesson, I shared a beautiful book ‘For All Creatures’ by Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool with them and asked them just to listen, look and enjoy. The students’ faces lit up as I read words like chrysalis, camouflage, unfurl and metamorphosis. The students’ word consciousness was sparked into action – they recognised the words, they understood the words and they knew that they could use the words to express their knowledge.

From ‘For All Creatures, by Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool

We have to help our students to ‘know’ words. Their knowledge will develop incrementally over time as we first work out which words to target, then explicitly teach them as well as delve deeply into the other aspects of the words to help raise them to consciousness. We have to build strategies for learning and understanding new words for our students

How do we do this?

Morphology chart
  • As teachers when choosing words to target from a text or texts we have to make decisions about which ones we will just gloss, which we will use for etymology work and which we need to explicitly teach. If we use an academic word list, which is made up of useful tier 2 and tier 3 words, we can see the frequency of their usage and teach the words that are most common.
  • To explore the meanings of these targeted words we could design a morphology wall chart for the ones we are going to explicitly teach.
  • For students to be thinking about the meanings of words and linking them to more familiar words with similar meanings we can design a cloze passage for students to predict what the missing targeted word will be.
  • We can then, in preparation for a synonym cloze passage choose some of the targeted tier 2 and 3 words, and ask students to match them to their synonyms. Our EAL/D students sometimes need picture clues for matching activities.
  • To expand upon the meanings of targeted adjectives that are tier 2 words these adjectives can be put with 8 – 10 of their theme words (e.g those that describe weather -severe, mild, stormy, pleasant ) and grade their meanings from one meaning to its opposite extreme, using a cline.
  • Teaching students, and especially EAL/D students, word appropriacy can be done using a reverse cloze. e.g. My comfortable/ close/ near friend. There are academic collocation lists that can help us design these activities to teach our students which words travel best together.
  • Teach the etymology of a few targeted words because the history of the word can help us to understand and remember its meaning, raising our word consciousness of these words.
  • Play with these targeted words by designing barrier games, flow charts, games like taboo, pictionary and talking heads … anything that engages the students with them and helps them to ‘own’ them.
  • Use the targeted vocabulary in writing tasks and communication activities.
A whole class game for practising targeted vocabulary using affixes

So let the fun continue … and with that I will finish with the three unwritten rules of teaching vocabulary:




Sorry …

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