Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hydraulic Cylinder: Own It

I have a three year old son. He is MY kid, so he’s a LITTLE BIT of a talker. He has a hilarious combination of “baby words” and regular words. He is obsessed with trucks, which I may have mentioned before.

This makes for hilarity at our house because he says things like “night-night” and “boo-boo” like a baby -- but also uses words like “hydraulic cylinder” that came up on a book of truck parts.

Yes, my three year old uses the term “hydraulic cylinder” and uses it correctly. I think it’s hilarious -- with his little baby lisp and everything.

I don’t tell this today because my kid is awesome (although I, personally think he is). I tell this because even though he is little, he is OWNING a term that most people would assume he couldn’t handle.

So I would like to propose that we help our students to “own” some of those words that sound tough for them.

There’s a difference between learning a term and “owning” one. Learning a term means you read or copy a term and its definition or maybe your teacher tells you the definition. It means you memorize a definition.

Maybe after that you can identify the term when you see it again.

Maybe not.

OWNing a term means you can recognize it -- AND use it correctly.

I have some suspicions about learning vocabulary.

  • I suspect that all the classroom minutes we spend having kids copy the definition have been for not much in the results category
  • I suspect that kids don’t OWN words by looking up definitions.
  • I suspect that if kids don’t OWN the words, they can’t actually use them

So how can we teach kids to OWN their vocabulary -- both content specific terms (like treaty, imperialism, or revolution) and academic vocab (like significance, impact, or contributions)?

The quickest and most effective way I’ve found is the vocab turn and talk. It takes literally one minute.

This is how it works.

  1. Pick a term you want your kids to “own”
  2. Explicitly teach it to them. Tell it to them -- use a dictionary definition, your own words, give examples, whatever.
  3. Have them turn to their neighbor and use the word in a “good” sentence.
  4. Have groups share out their sentences.

*Side note -- I usually explicitly explain about “cheater” sentences. Like “I saw a revolution” or “do you like significance?”. Sentences that show absolutely no understanding of the term. Then, I can bust them when they try that ridiculous nonsense. Because kids will try you. True story.

THEN -- have them use the word another time in that class period, like when they answer a question or do a quickwrite (Explain blahblah and use the word “imperialism”)

But a GOOD vocab turn and talk tackles several problems in vocab instruction. Like, it solves a WHOLE BUNCH of problems!

Why Vocab Turn and Talks Are Awesome:  

  • First, you don’t have to hold your breath that kids are understanding the dictionary or glossary definition.
  • Second, you can see from their faces if they are at least part way with you when you’re explaining.
  • Third, it gives kids a chance to practice the word -- so they own it. They use it, they think about it, they say it.
  • Fourth, it gives them a low-risk environment to practice the word. Meaning, if they don’t use it correctly, their partner can let them know and it doesn’t come with whole-class embarrassment or a red pen.
  • Fifth, they hear a whole bunch of uses of the word (and possibly some discussion on whether the word was used correctly or not) -- from their peers who will always make more kid-culturally relevant examples than you-the-grown-up will.
  • Sixth, if you eavesdrop on their conversations, you have a pretty good formative assessment to find out if they own it correctly or if you need to go back and explain it again.
Seriously -- so much bang for so little buck (and so little time!)

Try it -- explain the term, have them turn and practice it, and have them share out. Then, have them use it again that period

A couple of pitfalls to avoid...
  • Be sure to explain the word clearly so they get it
  • Don’t read the dictionary/glossary definition aloud. It isn’t any better out loud than it is in print.
  • Make sure to LISTEN in on their conversations. If you don’t, they aren’t accountable

Then, make it a big deal to use the word in class that day or week or whatever -- so they OWN it and so it doesn’t slip away from lack of use.

I think you will be amazed at how little time it takes -- in comparison to having kids write a definition. And I think you will be amazed at how much better your kids will OWN their vocab.

Try it. It takes 60 seconds. Let me know how it goes.

Hydraulic cylinder. Significance. Revolution.

There are a lot of terms kids need to know. Let’s help them OWN those terms. Try it -- and email me!

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