Dear Teachers,

This series of four blogs started with one of my colleagues asking me how to get everything done in a given year. In other words, her Scope and Sequence (S&S) was so packed, she felt she had too much to do and not enough time. To address her issue, which I and most teachers have, I decided to answer her question by providing a program I called Hitting on All Cylinders: Relevant Vocabulary Study. In this program, I demonstrate how I combine and integrate reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary in an English Language Arts (ELA) classroom. Last week's Part I (posted on February 25) is a blog about first developing a list of core literature per grade level. Part II takes the list of core literature and adds the vocabulary development system. 
Once a vertical team of English teachers has designed its core literature of novels and dramas (with administrative approval prior to dissemination of the grade level reading lists), the next step is to find the challenging vocabulary words which are found in those texts. One reason students do not read the classics is that they do not understand the vocabulary and, therefore, cannot understand the stories. Studying vocabulary helps the students to 1) understand the subtleties and complexities of the texts and 2) join in erudite conversations in life. The combination of the two advantages, and there are many more, will help students throughout their lives. Some students say, "How so, Dr. Louis?" I tell them that by reading the classics and contemporary works, they can learn from characters' mistakes and revelations and use that information in their own lives. And when they are in an interview, their language skills provide an immediate positive or negative impression to a prospective employer.
The best way for me to demonstrate THE LIST is to provide an anecdote of one of my school years when I was teaching eleventh grade onlevel students. Our district-wide Scope and Sequence and textbook taught American Literature chronologically.
  • The team had decided that all eleventh grade students would read The Scarlet Letter during the first semester. Before I proceed, let me share with you that my students were children of diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. So, when the department decided on The Scarlet Letter, I pictured those students and thought, "Are you kidding?" Let me also share with you that at the end of the year, when I asked my students to evaluate me, what we studied, and what they learned that year, The Scarlet Letter was one of their favorite texts.
  • As I planned my first semester, I knew that the district S&S designated curriculum which included a Native American creation story unit, then Puritanism, followed by Colonialism, and ending the semester with Romaticism. The only required novels and dramas in the first semester for the onlevel students were The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, respectively. 
  • After the Native American unit, I would begin the Puritan unit (4th week) with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards and then act out The Crucible. I knew that Edwards' sermon would be difficult for 21st century teenage readers to understand, and The Scarlet Letter could be next to impossible if I did not do my due diligence. I was not too concerned about The Crucible because 1) we would act it out in class; and 2) Miller's modern drama was an easier read than Hawthorne's. I planned to begin The Scarlet Letter on the seventh week with my two week Scarlet Letter imagery project as an introduction. Therefore, the students wouldn't actually begin the novel until the seventh week in which we would spend two weeks on "The Prison Door," Hawthorne's chapter one, before they started reading independently. 
  • I created my fall semester vocabulary list with the challenging words from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and The Scarlet Letter. I listed the vocabulary words and definitions in chronological order as they appeared in the novel. The students would learn the meaning and connotation of the words before encountering them.
  • I don't remember, but let's pretend that school started August 22. During the first week of school, I gave the students the first semester's master list of the fall vocabulary study, a one-page front-to-back handout. I explained to the students that the list in their hands contained SAT vocabulary words for which they would be responsible the first semester. Below is an example of the first two weeks and the format in which it was presented:

Week One: August 29 (from "Sinners" -- Remember, the students aren't even going to begin "Sinners" until the fourth week. I do not explain the method of my madness to the students. I want them to experience the serendipity when it hits them!)
  1. abhor – v. – to regard with disgust (The bold words and phrases will make sense soon. Keep reading.)                                          
  2. abominable – adj. – thoroughly detestable               
  3. appease – v. – to bring peace, quiet or calm                            
  4. ascribe – v. – to attribute to a specified cause                        
  5. deliverance – n. – rescue from danger                       
  6. incense – v. – to cause to be extremely angry
  7. inconceivable – adj. – not able to be understood or imagined                                          
  8. loathsome – adj. – arousing great dislike
  9. mitigation – n. – lessening of something that causes suffering                                         
  10. wrath – n. – fierce anger                 
Week Two: September 5 
  1. edifice – n. – a large, imposing building
  2. arduous – adj. – very difficult to accomplish or achieve
  3. obtuse – adj. – dull of mind, insensitive, stupid
  4. furrow – v. – to make wrinkles or grooves
  5. sagacious – adj. – wise, shrewd, very discerning
  6. alacrity – n. – prompt and cheerful response
  7. eulogy – n – praise or tribute
  8. fervent – adj. – ardent, showing great emotion, impassioned
  9. torpid – adj. – sluggish, inactive, dull
  10. witticism – n. – a clever and witty remark
  • On Monday of Week One Vocabulary - I told everyone to get out the vocabulary list, and I had extra copies for those students who 1) lost the handout from last week; or 2) had shown up the second week of school. Here's how the vocabulary study works:
    • The teacher explains that s/he will say each word. The class will repeat it. Then, s/he will give a synonym or short phrase that defines that word. The class will repeat it. The teacher goes over the list several times in and out of order. Focus on pronunciation and the synonym or phrase. The students should be looking at the list as they repeat it aloud to remember the correct spelling. The class, led by the teacher, creates a rhythm. And all are engaged and having some fun. Some students might start moving to the beat that is created. 
    • The class orally repeats each word and its associated synonym or short phrase. The first ten words only.
    • Students highlight the synonym or short phrase as the teacher presents the definition to remember. For example, 
      • I say, "abhor." The students, in unison, repeat, "abhor." I say, "regard with disgust." The students, in unison, repeat, "regard with disgust." (See the above lists. What I have highlighted in bold is what I would say and they would repeat.)
      • I say, "arduous." The students, in unison, repeat, "arduous." I say, "difficult to achieve." (See how I abbreviated it above?) The students, in unison, repeat, "difficult to achieve."
    • Remember, create a rhythm. It helps them to remember; it creates a fun learning experience; and, when students know how to pronounce words, they'll use them in their speech and in writing. 
    • Review only the first week's ten words.
  • It's still Monday. Each week, the teacher asks for a volunteer student SAT Coach. (For Week One, I ask one of the extroverts in the class.) 
    • For each period/block, the teacher selects a different SAT Coach. 
    • All students perform the role of SAT Coach during the course of the year. 
    • For differentiation, I volunteer to be a co-coach if students feel uncomfortable. We perform together: I give one word; the coach gives the next.
    • Starting Tuesday, at the sound of the tardy bell, the SAT Coach (without prompting) stands up, moves to the front of the class with his/her list and begins the rhythmic version of the week's list of ten words and their associated synonyms or phrases (five minutes).
    • The SAT Coach reviews the words Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday while I am checking role and dealing with the 20,000 other tasks! 
    • Note: This activity is dynamic and fun and memorable! Quick story: One day, in between classes, I had to run to the office and pick up some copies (three long hallways from my classroom, especially wearing high heels!). I was running late, and as I drew nearer to my classroom, I heard a sound; there they were, practicing their vocabulary. I was such a proud teacher!
  • Friday -- After the SAT Coach practices with the students, the students get out a sheet of notebook paper, and the teacher orally gives them the words (out of order).
    • Students write each word and its synonym or phrase (they are successful; they have been practicing all week -- also good for attendance!)
    • Scoring
      • Week One -- Ten words;
      • Scoring: five points spelling; five points definition;
      • If the student misspells a word, s/he must write it ten times on the back of the quiz and turn it in within twenty-four hours.
  • Week Two 
    • On Monday, the teacher presents the next ten words to the class on Monday while the students highlight their sheet. The teacher quickly reviews the first ten words, reminding the students that the quiz will include the first ten words; 
    • Starting Tuesday, the SAT Coach practices only the new ten words Tuesday thru Friday;
    • Friday Oral Quiz -- Twenty words (Week One plus Week Two);
    • Scoring: two points spelling; three points definition;
    • Misspelled words must be written correctly ten times on the back of the quiz and submitted within twenty-four hours.
  • Week Three 
    • Present new ten words to class on Monday and SAT Coach practices only the new ten words Tuesday thru Friday;
    • Friday Oral Quiz-- Twenty words (all of Week Three words; five words from Week One; five words from Week Two);
    • Note: For the second half of the quiz in which you pull words from Weeks One and Two, feel free to have different words for each class period. Doing so helps to prevent cheating among classes;
    • Scoring: same as Week Two.
  • Week Four 
    • Present new ten words to class on Monday and SAT Coach practices only the new ten words Tuesday thru Friday;
    • Friday Oral Quiz-- Twenty words (all of Week Four words; Ten words from a sampling of Weeks One, Two, and Three).
  • Week Five 
    • Present new ten words to class on Monday, and SAT Coach practices only the new ten words Tuesday thru Friday;
    • Friday Oral Quiz -- Twenty words (all of Week Five words; Ten words from a sampling of Weeks One, Two, Three, and Four);
  • Week Six -- no vocabulary this week -- break for student summative assessment studying; break for teacher end of cycle grading, summative assessments preparation, forms to complete, et.al
    • Weeks 6, 12, 18 - no vocabulary  (for schools on six-week cycles);
    • Weeks 9, 18 -- no vocabulary  (for schools on nine-week cycles)
  • Week Seven
    • Present new ten words to class on Monday, and SAT Coach practices only the new ten words Tuesday thru Friday;
    • Friday Oral Quiz: Twenty words
      • Drop Week 1 -- By now the students know those words well -- and what's really great is that they'll remind you when they see those words in other readings and on the PSAT/SAT;
      • All of Week Seven words; Ten words from a sampling of Weeks Two, Three, Four, and Five;
      • From now until the semester's end, you will have no more than five weeks of words, because the first of the weeks are dropped one at a time.
  • Week Eight
    • New ten words; SAT Coach;
    • Twenty words
      • all of Week Eight words; Ten words from Weeks Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven;
      • Drop Weeks One and Two;
  • Week Nine -- Continue this process thru the end of the semester, dropping earlier weeks one week at a time.
  • Spring Semester -- New semester. New list correlating with spring reading. Same process. No words from fall semester.

What I Discovered:

  • The students do not like to be absent because they learn the words by being present in class. Not only do they learn how to pronounce the words, but also they see the words so frequently, they spell them correctly.
  • When we started reading "Sinners" four weeks later, they understood the text, because they knew the words. You should see their faces when they start seeing all of the words they have been studying. They didn't realize what was happening. When they come across the word "abhor," they would look up at me and say, "regard with disgust"! They were so happy, and, of course, I would tear up!
  • Once we start The Scarlet Letter, they meet each word with delight. They know the meaning and, therefore, they know the context in which it is being used. They are so proud of themselves.
  • If Monday is a holiday, I push everything one day. But we have vocabulary every week (with the exception of the weeks off listed above). 
  • When they took the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP exams, they returned to me and would say something like "inconceivable" was on the test, Dr. Louis. I looked at them, secretly knowing my intention all along, and said, "That is inconceivable!"

I am happy to share my lists with you. Just contact me at info@janeschaffer.com.

Next Newsletter -- Part III - Integrating Grammar and Syntax!

Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. D'