Vocabulary in a Bag

This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By: A. Castillo

My fifth grade students and I were reading an expository article, from Time for Kids magazine, about magnets to support (or add) to their knowledge they had previously acquired during their Science block.  I was shocked to discover that many of my students could not tell me the meaning of disconnect.  I thought this would be a word they could easily explain; however, they were genuinely stumped by the word.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was in awe!  Afterwards, I remember thinking how my students have truly struggled with vocabulary all school year – with words that I took for granted they would understand.  So, the wheels started turning.  I had to figure out an activity interesting enough to keep their attention and, yet, meaningful of an experience that they would value the purpose of it.  I immediately thought of an activity my oldest daughter had done in her middle school math class.  All I had to do was tweak it so it could be utilized for a reading class.  As a result, vocabulary in a bag was created.

In her book, Yellow Brick Roads (2000), Janet Allen quotes research from Baker, Simmons, and Kameenui that confirms “reading is probably the most important mechanism for vocabulary growth throughout a student’s school-age years and beyond” (p. 184).  During reading, students kept record of unknown words in their journal.  These words were from a read aloud, class novel, or their personal reading.  At the end of the class period, we would collaborate to discuss the words as a whole group, small group, or with partners.  After numerous discussions, I instructed the students to narrow their lists to a couple of words.  We would then use these words to illustrate vocabulary in a bag.

 Their chosen vocabulary term(s) was written creatively on the top center of the white bag.  Next, they would re-read the word in the context it was used and write a definition of the word.  Then, they would select a picture from magazines that coordinated with the word.  The purpose of the picture was to help my English language learners (ELLs) match the word to a visual.  On the left side of the bag, students would create synonyms of the word. This helps students broaden their vocabulary by becoming familiar with other words that have the same meaning.  On the right side of the bag, students would create antonyms of the word. This assists students to differentiate between examples and non-examples.  The motive behind creating synonyms and antonyms was because I noticed they had a limited vocabulary of basic words.  For example, they knew what the word cry means and how to use it in a sentence, but they had never heard of whimper, bawl, or wail.  I wanted to expose them to new language.

blog post 2As I mounted the vocabulary bags onto the wall to showcase our personal class word wall, I noticed that the activity resembled Janet Allen’s Language Choices, from Yellow Brick Roads (2000), in which she had recorded overused words in books her and her students were reading together (p.189).  My students had created their personal language collection.  I happen to agree with Allen with “using language collection with my students as a way to help them become more aware of language and find words they could appropriate for their own use” (p. 184).  This activity has had a positive impact on my students’ speaking and writing skills.  For example, I can recall a student tell me “Ma’am, this assignment was easy.  No, I mean effortless”.  I also noticed how they would use their creation as a resource while they wrote. 

It is moments like these that signal to me this activity was interesting and meaningful to them as I had hoped for.


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