Word Power: Powerful vocabulary instruction (Part 5: How can I help pupils develop #WordPower?)

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about vocabulary development. You can access previous posts using the links below:
Part 1: Word Power! Powerful vocabulary instruction (Part 1: Starting point)

Part 2: Word Power! Powerful vocabulary instruction (Part 2: Choosing words)

Part 3: Word Power! Powerful vocabulary instruction (Part 3: Word-attack!)

Part 4: Word Power! Powerful vocabulary instruction (Part 4: Language ‘coding’)

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) and Marcus Jones (@MarcusJones900) as part of a programme of events organised by Huntington Research School (@HuntResearchSch) and North Yorkshire Coast Research School (@NYCResearchSch).  These FREE vocabulary twilights have been delivered over the last two terms, exploring the similarities and challenges faced by both primary and secondary colleagues when developing instructional approaches to tackling the ‘vocabulary gap.’  You can read more on Alex’s blog here http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/ and this recent post by Marcus entitled ‘A vocabulary- led curriculum’ here https://huntington.researchschool.org.uk/2018/01/17/a-vocabulary-led-curriculum/

How can I help pupils to develop #WordPower?

This is a question that I’m often asked when visiting schools that are keen to develop provision in order to enhance the teaching of vocabulary. Here are a few things to consider…

If vocabulary is the engine driving the curriculum, be the AMPLIFIER!

Often, just thinking about the amount of vocabulary that pupils need to access in order to successfully communicate can seem an insurmountable task.  There are so many words to choose from, where do I start?  I’ve touched on this in Part 2.  We want to get pupils excited about words.  Words are the key to our language and sentences help to unlock and clarify their meaning.    Single words hold multiple meanings and there are a myriad of words that can be used to express different shades and layers of meaning.  Words can make you feel nervous and words can comfort.  Words can make us laugh and they can help us to mourn.  The question is, how excited are YOU about language?  How do you SHARE this love and exploration of new words with your pupils?  What is it about a new word that you encounter that helps you to remember its meaning? How do others remember the same word? How do you make word learning ‘sticky’ for pupils?

Vocabulary learning is personal.  Pupils make connections with new words and vocabulary knowledge is based on previous experiences and linking prior knowledge. We need to help pupils to foster these connections and help them to see how words are related to each other.  As teachers, we need to be the amplifiers.  AMPLIFY words every day when reading aloud.  TALK about new words that are encountered.  DISCUSS different meanings of new words and how they connect known words. DEBATE the meaning of words, in context using clues from the text. ANALYSE words chosen in writing and share why they are effective. EXPLORE the morphology and etymology of words – unlock the historical, cultural and social context in which the word originated.  CONSIDER how words are artefacts, telling us about time and place.  Word learning is exciting – get them to notice!

Teach them ‘Word Attack’ skills

I shared my initial thoughts about ‘word attack’ skills in Part 3.  Since then, I’ve refined my thinking around the ‘menu’ of ATTACK strategies that can be utilised to support direct instruction of new words.  As a result, I’ve created the following resource for ‘Word Power’ CPD events:

word attackLet’s use the following extract taken from the Sky Audio Description advert as an example:

The night air is heavy – dank with the stagnant odour of decomposing leaves. We stumble through razor-sharp brambles, snagging on the vicious thorns, fighting our way towards the glow of a small, flickering light.

Morphology/EtymologyDecomposing comes from the French ‘composer’ meaning ‘to compose’ or ‘to make up.’  The root word ‘compose’ means ‘put together.’  The prefix ‘de’ means ‘removal or reversal’ and the suffix ‘ing’ is an adjectival suffix (decomposing leaves).  Interestingly, may pupils would automatically think that this word is a verb because of the tell-tale ‘ing’ at the end of the word, but alas, ’tis not so. Other words in the word family include – decomposition, decomposed, decomposability, decomposable, composer, composing, compose.

Visual Features/PhonologyDank is an interesting word that stands out when articulated in the video.  Dank has 3 phonemes/ graphemes: d/a/nk.  There is only 1 syllable.  Dank rhymes with rank, tank, thank, drank and also has the same visual letter string ‘ank’ that can help us remember how to spell this word.  If we were feeling frisky and wanted to explore a bit of alliteration around the same theme, we might discuss the words ‘decay’ and ‘degrade’… or to make it even more jazzy we might throw in the antonym ‘develop’. Articulating the word in a dreary and dark voice also will help us to build word memory of its meaning.

Connections/Personal LinksStagnant is an interesting word and, for me, stands out in this selection of text.  Even the way we pronounce it STAGNANT, makes it sound dire!  The coupling of ‘stagnant’ with other words in the first sentence ‘The night air is heavy – dank with the stagnant odour of decomposing leaves’ helps us to clarify its meaning (context clues).  Stagnant makes me think of the water in the culvert at the bottom of my garden.  For some reason, my children always want to look down and comment on the varying degrees of ‘pongyness’ (as they call it)!

Meaning – ‘We stumble through razor-sharp brambles…’ What would this look like if we were acting out this scene?  How would we move if we were moving through razor-sharp brambles?  Why do you think that the author chose the word stumble as the verb in this clause?  Would you have chosen a different verb?  Why or why not?  Can you think of anything else that might be described as razor-sharp?  Why do we think that this adjective has been hyphenated? How does this help to clarify the meaning?  Would we skip through razor-sharp brambles?  Why or why not?

Consider how the visual ‘Word Attack’ resource can be used as a menu of options to explore different words, depending on their structure and context.  If you would like an electronic copy of this resource, please get in touch and I’d be happy to send it through to you kellyashleyconsultancy@outlook.com

Please let me know what you think to this and any other #WordPower posts.  I’d love to hear how you’ve been developing approaches in your own classroom so please get in touch via email or Twitter @kashleyenglish.

As always, please contact me if you’d be interested in organising delivery of #WordPower training for your school, cluster, MAT or TSA.

Until next time…

2017 Copyright, Kelly Ashley Consultancy

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