Two teachers (one social studies, one math), came up to me for help with teaching vocabulary in their classrooms. If you were here last year, maybe you remember a vocabulary session that Kapua and I had where we said the students should get no more than 5-7 new words per week, PERIOD (as in, not PER period, but total). Anyway, the first list I looked at had like 30 words (I may be exaggerating, but not by much) and the second list had maybe 20 words. None of these words could be eliminated, they were pretty much all essential to the unit and many of them were very content-specific words (not used in normal conversation, or outside of that content’s classroom). Dilemma.
One idea that they’re both going to try out is what I call a word sort, but it’s also called list-group-label or categories and labels.
How does it work?
Teachers choose important technical vocabulary that is critical to students’ comprehension of content or a text. Variation: if students have some prior knowledge, or they read a piece ahead of time, they can brainstorm words as a whole class by asking them to think of words that come to their mind when they think of the concept.
1. Provide each student with a copy of the critical vocabulary.
2. Read each of the terms aloud as students follow to match pronunciation to print.
3. Assign student groups.
4. Ask groups to discuss the words and decide on how to categorize the word into logical groups.
5. Groups give each category a label.
This is just an initial classification before the teaching starts. You can now engage students in the background building activities of the lesson and tweak/refine the list and the labels along the way.
6. At the end of the unit, students can again group and classify the terms and justify the categories as needed.
Why would I use this strategy?
- students need to access and gain background knowledge related to the topic based on encountering the technical vocabulary related to the topic.
- by discussing and grouping the words into categories, students are creating attributes of the words in relation to each other and the topic being studied.
- by labeling the words, students create a structure for remembering the words and the information they have gathered related to the words.