In order to truly incorporate a new word into your vocabulary, you must encounter it twenty times. And, not just any twenty, twenty iterations in context. To fluently use a word you must witness it used fluently. (No, flash cards won’t help!)
Many vocabulary terms students will have come from historical references or literature. These are great sources because they provide the first encounter with the word in context. However, it can be very difficult to provide a subsequent 19 exposures to the word in context. A few years ago I shadowed a teacher who had figured out a brilliant solution.
This teacher had provided her English class with a list of vocabulary terms which were sourced from the text they were reading. From there, she did something different.
She offered students two bonus points for using the words during class discussions. An unaware bystander, I realized this only after hearing a student comment in class. When she casually slipped a vocabulary term into her answer, her classmates raised two fingers. This was the signal that she had earned her two points. Her classmates were excited for her.
This quick trick is brilliant for a few reasons:
- It encourages students to use new words in context.
- It encourages classmates to listen for new words used in context by their classmates, which provides them a chance to get closer to 20 exposures.
- It is an alternate assessment strategy for students who may struggle with traditional vocabulary testing.
- It’s fun.
In our case, it gets even better. Using vocabulary terms that describe how we feel makes us vulnerable. By providing incentive for the use of these words – by offering points for their usage – teachers can take a little of that vulnerability away.