Yesterday our district had a professional development day on the topic of vocabulary.  Some 4th grade colleagues presented to all the elementary and middle school teachers a method of introducing vocabulary that they had started last year.  What they were doing was centered around Robert Marzano’s teachings from his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement (2004). The goal of the PD was to get teachers on the same page and allow us time to work in teams and start creating vocabulary lists in our content areas that we can use.  We played some fun vocabulary games based on the games of Taboo and $10,000 pyramid which really got us up and active.  They also gave us some other great ideas on how to work with vocabulary words, and this is where I’d like to focus today’s post.

A handout was given to us titled “Characteristics of Effective Direct Vocabulary Instruction” from Marzano’s book.  Characteristic 2 stated:

Students must represent their words in linguistic and non linguistic ways.

  • For the word (meaning) to move to long term memory according to dual coding theory (DCT) it must have the linguistic (language based) and non-linguistic (imagery-based) representations  associated to it.
  • A meta-analysis (Powell 1980) showed that students who were taught with non-linguistic based representation of words (in addition to linguistic) had 34% higher retention of words than their peers who were taught with linguistic only techniques.
  • Linguistic examples: writing descriptions of vocabulary words
  • Non-linguistic examples: using graphic organizers, graphic representations, pictures, pictographs to represent the meaning of words; create mental images and act out the meaning of words.

As a teacher who embraces arts integration, you can probably imagine how I loved that this was part of the presentation. But it also makes me ask some questions and ponder a few ideas.

For one, I’m sad that the terms “arts integration” were never mentioned.  (And I’m personally disappointed that I never had the guts to speak up on the matter.)  Now, I realize that this was not a presentation on arts integrated activities to build vocabulary.  However, what a perfect way to incorporated those ideas.  I’m planning on making this a main topic for our district’s first Arts Integration PLC coming up in two weeks.

Another thing I noticed is that most of the non-linguistic activities noted were very visual.  Graphic organizers and pictures of words may assist many students with memorization and more in-depth usage of the words, but other means could be explored.  What about dance and music and incorporating true arts integration?  The possibilities are endless and could be quite fun!  Here, again the multiple intelligences and arts integration can work in harmony to meet all students’ needs.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  Last year, my students really got into using dance to illustrate math concepts.  At the end of the year we took all the math dances we had created throughout the year and made a music video.  Be sure to check that out HERE.  Drama was mentioned in the handout we were given, but imaging the possibilities here with some abstract ideas such as generalization or author’s purpose (both terms found their way to our list of 30 words).  Storytelling could also be a great way to monitor students’ use of words they have been learning, as they create a story using certain words you have assigned to them.

I’m glad we have started talking about vocabulary in my district and it’s provided me with a great starting point for our PLaiC meetings.  There will certainly be more on this topic after that meeting later this month.

I would love to hear from you!  (of course 😉 )  What are some activities you use with your students to help them to build vocabulary?