More On Vocabulary/Word Lists

Jennifer sent this to add to the word list discussion:
Hi Ben,
I’m still trying to figure out how to teach in this new bureaucracy I find myself in.  But, I’m getting ideas that are starting to gel together.  Thank you so much for all the wonderful, thought-filled posts and conversations. Without them, I’d be quitting my job and changing professions right about now.  As it is, I’m rolling up my sleeves and trying to stay in the fight 🙂
I’m thinking about making a vocabulary list for the beginning of the year with all the words they are expected to know, and all the high frequency words (all 10 million words give or take a thousand) and as we cover the words in our stories, have them write the definitions in their pre-made list.  As the year goes on, they should have more and more of the packet filled out, then they can “see” that we are “learning” the same information as their peers in other classes, even if we are going “out of order.” 
I discovered this year that words I thought were “throw away” words in my stories early on, ended up being vocabulary words in later chapters.  And it was nice to be able to say, we already learned this.  It took some of the stress off of me too, no need to defend why my kids knew “volcano.”
I will have to be super-organized and not as free-flowing in my stories as I’d like to be… but, I’ve given the exams now and I know what is emphasized and what is not.  I can cut extraneous words from the program. I also know which lesser frequency words are vital to the exams… *rolling my eyes*
But next year will be easier on several fronts. The quarter exams are gone next year! So I have half a year to align my classes with the district, way less stressful. And there is talk about not switching teachers mid-year which would also be less stressful, I’d have a year to get the discrete grammar in.
I know you warned me last summer about how hard this would be.  I had no idea how right you were.
I’m slowly winning converts though.  Two of my colleagues want the frequency vocabulary list. My dictados are popular, even though I give the kids the answers before grading them.The upper level teachers love my FVR, they expect their students to be able to read fluently.The first year teacher has used some of the TPRS stories… I’m not expecting any out and out miracles, but there is head-way. 
I’m also contemplating how to weave Krashen into a local presentation.  He’s a big “buzz word” ie. Use the Monitor Theory! But nobody seems really to know what that means. 
Anyway, your blog is as close I get to collaboration most days.



3 thoughts on “More On Vocabulary/Word Lists”

  1. We worry much about counting words, frequency of words, which words are most common, etc. It seems to me that if I spend 300 hours over a two year period speaking to my kids in comprehensible, interesting, and meaningful French that they would come away from those 300 hours with a whole lot of French words. Might it not be easier, at that later point and only then, to start a list of words they don’t know? The list would be shorter and we could spend more time relaxing and not spending our summers making lists and planning “which words we need to teach next year” – that just sounds funny to me. The planning team in Jefferson County (CO), my previous district, wrote this hellatiously detailed pacing guide. It took us three years. It had all the words in there. But, for some reason, a typical Jeffco language kids doesn’t know many of those words at all – trust me on that. That is one of the big lies of traditional teachers – the kids remember it for the test and then forget it but by the summer nobody cares and only the smart kids sign up for the next level and the beat goes on. Those kids don’t know the words in the summer because the teacher didn’t embed them in a rich layer of listening and reading. How long is it going to take people to get that we remember words when they are presented to us only in relationship to other words and in settings contains emotion? Jennifer – the author of the above blog entry – made a great comparison between pacing guides and what we do in teaching for fluency using comprehensible input. It is now a link on this site – on pacing guides.

  2. Jen,
    Here is a trio of lists that I made for our Level 1-Level 2 kids. It’s a basic check ’em off as you go in English so that other language teachers could use it. It might help you as a base…….
    When you get to the page, the first two documents are what I am referring to.
    Not sure if it will help, but there is no need to start from scratch if you don’t have to!!!
    with love,

  3. I like what you are doing to have your kids experience success. You know those key words coming up on the district tests aren’t high frequency or totally useful, but your students don’t. Important words for them–sad to say it–are what are on the tests, and if they get put in those situations and “magically” know the word, they will think that they know Spanish. As much as we’d love for them to get their linguistic validation from how well they understood a native speaker, their biggest ego benchmarks are those tests; especially if they are the same tests that all their friends in other Spanish classes are taking.
    So teach to those words; good for you. Our students aren’t really tracking what words you are emphasizing more than others. This falls under the same category that Anne talked about of doing backwards design to preparing for a certain text by targeting those words during the week, and then the kids “just know” the words when they need them; they don’t connect the preparation with the performance. So when they hit those district tests and think “It wasn’t so bad” while all of their friends in other classes are grumbling more, you will get next to none of the credit in their minds; they will think instead “Hey, I can speak Spanish.” And that’s probably how it should be to build them up going forwards.
    And, not being able to be as freeflowing is not all bad either. One thing I really need to nail next year is not getting as wide with my vocabulary in stories as I did this year. Forcing yourself to develop and milk those key words repetition is a skill we all need, whether voluntarily done or not.

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