Vocabulary. It needs to be taught, it needs to be explained and it needs to be used, but how do we do it? How do we avoid simply stating what a word means like a fully animated Google simply spouting out the derivation of each word and the related antonyms and synonyms? How can we give the children the tools to work out meanings for themselves? Like most areas of learning, creating a natural and inherent interest is the start for me. If children love words and love using them it will trickle through each aspect of their work and developing this skill is how I attempt to begin each school year. Hopefully some of these activities may be useful for you too.
2. Knock it off. As the name suggests this focuses on the removal of prefixes and suffixes. I provide a list of words the class are unfamiliar with and ask them to eliminate the prefix or the suffix to come up with a host of root words. They have to be unfamiliar otherwise they will do it instantly and making it a timed exercise increases the competitiveness, words like ungoverned work well as there is a prefix and suffix. This can be extended by asking the children to challenge their partner with words they have found in their own reading.
3. Say it how it is. During reading lessons we will take a sentence with unfamiliar vocabulary and I will change the unknown word for an option of 3. Generally they will be similar. For example the sentence ‘slowly the broken figure rose from his slumber’ the word slumber will be unfamiliar for some ‘slowly the broken figure rose from his bed/sleep/coffin. I will then teach the skills of replacement, rereading the sentence with each of the words being used. Children then explain to each other which sounds the most likely. We will discuss what has happened earlier in the book and what happens next and will also look at what we already know about the character. Once this has been practised enough you can start removing the options and start asking the children to come up with their own replacement. This stage will only work if you are embedding quality vocabulary into your day to day life in school otherwise your class may simply not have the range of words to choose from.
4. The Language of Today. Very simply this focusses on modernising language. I have found the best way to do this is through speeches rather than stories. Churchill works well but if possible go back even further. Lots of the Native American chiefs made some wonderful speeches and challenging your children to rewrite them using contemporary language is a great way to test their understanding of what they have read.
5. Collection race. Display a root word the class are familiar with, phone for example. Then challenge them to come up with as many different words that use the root word phone as they can in one minute. Some may only come up with telephone but others may know gramophone and lots will kick themselves when you mention homophone. This leads to a great discussion about what the prefixes themselves may mean. We then write out our new words and split them, explaining in writing what the prefix or suffix means and that the root word remains the same.
6. Can you help? During reading time if my children come across an unfamiliar word they will post it note the page, unless it drastically throws them off understanding the story they won’t spent much time trying to deduce it’s meaning. Instead they will come back to it later, examine the word and try to work out what it is saying, if they can’t this post it note is then moved to the edge of their table at the start of the next reading session and I know that they need some help, we solve it together, often with little prompting from myself.
With the new curriculum, if we can still call it that, the promotion of high quality language and the understanding of what it means has arguably never been more important. As much as children using creative language is important, we also need to teach them not to be scared of language that they don’t actually know. We need to provide them with the tools to dissect this language, to manipulate it to suit them and to put themselves in a position that they will be able to at least attempt to deduce its meaning. I attended CPD last year that said we must give children confidence in maths to make the numbers work for them, to remember they are in charge and the numbers are within their control. Vocabulary is no different.