Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tackling Vocabulary in Informational Text -- Part 3: Vocabulary Skits

In our last two posts, we talked about vocabulary activities that can help break down new vocabulary words for students so that when they encounter engaging but challenging informational text they are prepared to succeed.   

Vocabulary Skits
In our last blog on this topic, we turn to our favorite vocabulary activity, vocabulary skits, which incorporate the work of our previous activities (using context clues, dictionary definitions, and word forms), but in a way that is interactive, fun, and creative. 

The activity is short and simple. Give each group of students a prepared slip with the word, the definition of the word, some model sentences using the word, and a scenario in which they will need to use the word. Give them a few minutes (not too many) in which to prepare their skit, and then ask them to perform it for the class.

Below is a sample from our unit (available for free to view and download at www.usinginformationaltext.com) that puts an excerpt on rabies from a 1915 farm manual into dialogue with chapter 10 of To Kill a Mockingbird.

sullen – irritated, gloomy, morose, sluggish
  • I do not advise addressing the principal in a sullen tone.
  • The children were sullen and short-tempered after waiting in a long line in the hot sun.
  • Parents often describe their teenage children as sullen and uncommunicative, but, sometimes, young adults want their space and privacy.
Scenario: Because of a recent flood in the school gymnasium, the school dance has been cancelled. The students are understandably upset, and their behavior in class is sullen. Create a skit in which the English teacher tries to engage her sullen students and ask them to talk about their feelings. Many of the students remain sullen.

The only rule for this activity is that each student in the group must use the vocabulary word at least once. Notice that for these, we provide both definitions and several model sentences as well as the skit scenario. We want the work of this activity to center around using the word (and circulating around the groups as they prepare their skits is still crucial to insure optimal student success). The big payoff for this activity is that in rehearsing their skit, the students in the group will be using the vocabulary word numerous times. And as their classmates watch the performances, they will also see the word in use several times. 

Vocabulary work is inherently difficult. Students need “massive practice” (Moffett) to make new words their own, but that practice doesn’t need to be tedious. And with this sort of set-up, students will be ready to take on the challenges of any informational text!

Stay tuned for our next post on how we recently shared some of these activities and an informational text with a 9th grade class.

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