154: Colorful Vocabulary Activities: Story Tiles, Wordy Decor & More

Hands up if you watched the Princess Bride eight million times as a teenager like me! Remember that part where Vizzini keeps saying everything is “inconceivable!”? Finally, Inigo turns to him and says “That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Maybe Vizzini didn’t pay much attention in English class during vocabulary lessons!

This week, we’re diving into how to teach vocabulary in creative ways that make it a part of the curriculum you and your students can look forward to. There is so much to balance in any given unit, adding vocabulary can feel like the blob of guacamole on the burrito that just simply can’t be folded into the tortilla and makes the whole thing fall apart. So let’s talk about how to turn vocabulary into melty cheese that fits (and tastes good) instead.

Still with me? Fabulous. Let’s dive in.

You can listen in below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

I think we’ve all played the basic version of the vocabulary game. Give kids a word list on Monday, give kids a vocab quiz on Friday. That’s certainly how I started. I felt like I was doing pretty well if I made the quiz formatting fun, or added an interesting extra credit question at the end. And sure, this weekly routine will help bring new vocabulary into our students lives. But let’s look at some more options for integrating vocabulary with the kinds of creative, critical thinking and multimedia skills we’d really like our students to have. So it feels more like an integrated part of the program instead of an add-on.

Vocabulary Sketchnotes

If you’re interested in having students integrate sketchnotes as a note-taking option (which I highly recommend!), vocabulary provides a great opportunity to practice. By representing their words through both imagery and text, they’ll be more likely to think deeply about the meaning and remember it later. You can have partners create sketchnotes for one word to share back to the group and let everyone present, give students time to sketchnote the three words they find most difficult to remember, sketchnote one word a day as part of your routine, or build in a sketchnotes activity in every unit where students sketchnote each word on your list. You can snag a fun set of free sketchnotes templates right here (52,000 teachers already have!).

Vocabulary Story Tiles

Back in episode 109, we talked about how to make digital poetry tile activities, and this is still a favorite go-to for me! With any digital poetry tile kit (here’s an example), you can simply add text boxes with vocabulary words highlighted in color, and then invite students to create a story, poem, or series of sentences with the tiles that shows the meaning of the words. Once they’re done, create a class gallery or invite students who wish to to print their poems for display on your walls.

Vocabulary Posters

Combining classroom decor and vocabulary is a rich creative challenge. I’ve had such fun this month designing vocabulary posters for gradations of color and emotion. Think about where your students tend to fall into boring language in their writing, then show them alternatives on the walls. You can even create a project for them to each make their own posters for the walls featuring specific vocabulary around a theme you (or they) choose.

Vocabulary Hexagonal Thinking

If you use hexagonal thinking already as a tool for approaching literature or film, then your students won’t need any prep to dive into vocabulary hexagonal thinking. Simply add the words on your list to hexagons (grab your free digital templates here) and put students into pairs or small groups to connect them. It’s a bit of a wild ride since the words won’t always have obvious connections, but that just forces everyone to think even more deeply about how to fit each puzzle piece in. Sometimes the weirdest connections help the most with paying attention to the meanings of words.

Vocabulary Podcasts

The great thing about vocabulary podcasts is that they hit sooooo many things at once. Your students learn to script and record audio, practice their speaking skills, integrate visuals and music with their message, AND think carefully about the words they want to teach and how to teach them.

Divide up your words for a term and give them to students, so each individual, pair, or group is covering some of what you want to teach. Then walk them through some models, let them brainstorm ideas for their show, and record it using Vocaroo. Once your students have recorded short podcasts teaching the words, you can then play the episodes back over the course of the term as part of your instruction. They’ll be teaching each other in a unique way.

PSSSST. Don’t forget to sign up for Camp Creative: The Roadmap to Student Podcasting! This free digital mini-course, delivered to your email June 13-15, will get you started with everything you need to know to easily help your students flourish with podcasting projects like this one. Sign up here.

Vocabulary Roots

Another way to approach teaching vocabulary is to introduce Greek and Latin roots. In this way, when you introduce the concept of a single root, you’re actually introducing students to a building block of meaning that can help them understand many words they’ll encounter in the future. You can create root bellringers, add a root to your daily agenda slide, or build roots into the podcasting project assignment, sketchnotes activities, or the vocabulary hexagonal thinking.

Mix-and-Match Vocabulary Quiz Templates

OK, so there may still be a place for some vocabulary quizzes or check-ins, as a part of your creative vocabulary program. But here’s my hot tip. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you design one! Create a template in Google slides with a bunch of different sections all formatted and lovely, and then just mix and match and add your words whenever you need a quiz. You’ll save yourself so many hours during the year by pulling this together and sticking with it. If you’d like to use the templates I created above, you can sign up for my weekly emails below and I’ll send the templates over right now!

    Wrapping Up

    Now, if only Vizzini had recorded a podcast episode on “inconceivable,” he would never have gotten so confused! Of course, (spoiler alert) then maybe Wesley wouldn’t have managed to get by him, and Inigo’s lifelong dream wouldn’t have been fulfilled, and Buttercup would never have found true love. But don’t let that hold you back from trying some of these creative vocabulary options!

    By the way, all the visuals in today’s show notes feature curriculum from our June vocabulary theme inside The Lighthouse. Have you heard about The Lighthouse, my creative ELA teacher membership? If your curiosity is piqued, read on. If not, no worries! See you next week.

    Inside the The Lighthouse site, members have access to twenty-two themed sets of curriculum I’ve been adding based on member requests over the last two years. We’ve covered one-pagers, creative annotation, choice reading, short stories, poetry, the writing makerspace, podcasting, argument, research, discussion methods, classroom decor, escape rooms, back-to-school activities, and a whole lot more.

    The Lighthouse will reopen June 16, so be sure to check your inbox in a few weeks if you’d like more information. If you’re not on my email list yet, start by choosing any free resource on this page to get signed up.

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