Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vocabulary Development and Twirling Fingers

This year at Mount Pleasant School there has been a major emphasis on improving vocabulary instruction. I have likewise made vocabulary development one of the key efforts in my own classroom. The idea for reinventing the way we teach vocabulary began when the teachers had meetings discussing Isabel Beck's "Bringing Words to Life" a couple of years ago. This summer many teachers met at Barnes and Noble a few times to talk about how we could teach vocabulary, and thus improve reading, in new and inventive ways.

One personal goal I set was to use pictures to introduce words to my class. I try to find 8-12 vocabulary words in each Scott-Foresman story (these usually are not the words Scott-Foresman chooses) and find a picture or a few pictures that illustrate each word. Of course the words are often chosen because my students may never have seen some of words. For example in the story "Train to Somewhere" I chose words like a railroad "platform", a "trunk" for carrying clothes, "tenement" buildings, "dimples", "locomotive" and other words that a picture can help illustrate . A picture is worth a thousand words is true as students easiliy grasp the meaning when they can see a picture. I would then go over each word and show the picture and hang the pictures and labeled vocabulary word on the wall for constant reference. The children enjoyed "seeing" the words and learning them. When it came time to read the selection they would have a good knowledge of each word and it would help them read and understand a passage.

I noticed my students enjoyed finding the words in the selection as they read and that they liked to tell me when they found a word. I wanted to to come up with a way for them to signify that they found the word and yet not distract the flow of a reading or the lesson. One day I decided, at the spur of the moment, that when they recognized any word that I had taught them from any lesson that they could raise their index finger and twirl it around a few times. The students seemed to like doing this and all of a sudden this little "cue" took off. When anyone mentioned a word or saw a word in their reading fingers would go up in the air and start twirling around.

Their little helicopter fingers have become quite a habit. Fingers go twirling all day long. I like to see their enthusiasm and it is simple way to show that they keep connecting with a lesson. Of course, I am used to this activity, however the other week it unnerved a substitute teacher. She didn't know why the class kept twirling their fingers in the middle of a lesson. I think this habit is fairly well-ingrained with my class so I wonder what the fifth grade teachers will do when it starts happening in their classes next year?

Maybe we will have an end of year finger twirling contest and get it out of our systems. We could set it to music and dress up like this guy and just point those fingers with enthusiasm and twirl away!

1 comment:

borderst said...

Isabel Beck is my hero! I admire teachers who take her research and put it into action. The students truly reap the benefits!