By Laura Scott
Students are constantly exposed to new words throughout the school day, but do those words stay with them? For new words to become part of students' permanent vocabulary, they need to experience them. Vocabulary boards give students a visual representation, daily exposure, and hands-on practice using new words. Here are some recommended steps for creating a vocabulary board and various literacy activities to practice using the words.
Create the Board
Start with a poster or collection of pictures that support pertinent social studies or science topics. If applicable, incorporate objects by attaching them to the board or placing them on a table. Keep your board active: add to it, allow students to interact with it, and change it as needed. The vocabulary board example I am sharing was used with kindergarten and second-grade EL learners.
Pull Out the Words
Ask students to “find” words, encouraging them to point to a picture and say what they see. Label what they find. If you are in a dual language setting, you can write the words in both languages or the target language of your choice. Consider choosing a few words to write in both languages for opportunities to teach about similarities and differences between languages.
Use an index card to label words. Tape or staple the card next to your pictures. If you use a poster, laminate it and mount it to a big sheet of paper. Use wet-erase markers to draw lines from items on the poster to the paper, writing the word on the paper. Be sure not to crisscross lines; you want students to easily follow the line to the word, allowing the poster to be a valuable reference.
Practice reading the words. Students may take turns being the “teacher” and pointing to the words while the group reads them. Play games with the words. Give clues about the word you are thinking of; the clues can be related to the word's meaning or letters.
Use books and hands-on experiences to find more vocabulary and new items for your board.
- For the vocabulary board in my example, the Hameray Fall Collection books would be ideal for a word scavenger hunt, allowing students to browse content-themed books for new words.
- After reading a book similar to Our Five Senses, take students for a “five senses walk.” Collect items like leaves or pine needles, take notes, and draw pictures about what you see, hear, smell, and feel. Bring objects into the classroom, like pumpkins or apples.
- Practice Adjectives: Hunt for potential adjectives during a read-aloud. For example, books like Pumpkins or Harvest Time have adjectives on every page. Make a list of describing words you learn from the book or a hands-on experience and place it next to the vocabulary board. Add some of those adjectives to words on the vocabulary board. It is helpful to label each part of speech in a different color.
- Add Action: To generate a verb list, brainstorm actions related to your vocabulary board. For example: eat apples, carve pumpkins, rake leaves, and harvest corn. If your students are ready, go the extra step and include adverbs…the squirrel busily gathered nuts.
- Teach Grammar: In a dual language setting with Spanish, discuss the placement of adjectives in front of or behind a noun. Explain concordancia—matching gender and number between adjectives and nouns.
Incorporate Word Work
Directly link phonics skills to vocabulary board words. Write vocabulary board words on sentence strips or index cards so you can manipulate them as needed.
- Syllables: Say a vocabulary board word, clap it in syllables, then explain how many syllables you found: “Pumpkin has two syllables.”
- Word Sort: Sort words by first letter, last letter, syllables, meaning (animals, food, plants), or parts of speech.
- Rhymes: Choose a word and ask students to generate rhymes for that word. Say three words, and students identify the two words that rhyme, “corn, door, thorn.” Say two words and ask students to repeat them, putting one hand up to catch each word. “Tree” in one hand, and “knee” in the other. Clap hands together and say “rhyme” or drop the words without clapping if they do not rhyme.
- Magnetic Letter Practice: Decide on a specific skill to practice with a vocabulary board word. For example, ask students to make the word rake with magnetic letters. Discuss the long a with the vowel-consonant-e pattern. Practice in various ways, creating more vowel consonant e words or switching from long to short vowels by removing the e: change rake to take, change take to tape, tap, trap, trip, rip, ripe, ride, hide, hid
Build sentence frames to help students put vocabulary board words into complete phrases. Sentence frames can come from stories. For example, in Fall Leaves, there is a simple sentence pattern: “This is a red leaf.”
Students can practice replacing the color word and noun with various words from the vocabulary wall. “This is a green rake,” or “This is an orange pumpkin.” Vary the complexity of the sentences based on students’ abilities. Add on to this sentence frame with adjectives, “This is a soft, red leaf,” or “This is a tall, oak tree.” Try question-and-answer practice. Students may ask, “What is this?” Another student can answer, “This is a loud leaf blower.” You can incorporate plurals, “What are these?” “These are birds flying south for the winter.”
Write the sentences students generate with the activity above on strips of paper. Work with students to put the sentences in a logical order. Add introduction and conclusion sentences to create a paragraph about your vocabulary board.
Practice editing and revising what you wrote by discussing ways to connect two sentences with conjunctions. “These are orange and green pumpkins.” Add prepositional phrases to sentences for more details. “These are orange and green pumpkins from the pumpkin patch.” Discuss capital letters, commas, punctuation, and transition words. You can even come up with a title for your vocabulary board. Put your paragraph next to the vocabulary board so students can practice fluency by re-reading what they wrote.
Vocabulary boards are a springboard for hands-on literacy and vocabulary practice for students. The daily exposure to and use of new words in various ways helps students retain vocabulary for life. Vocabulary boards not only boost word knowledge but allow for practice with parts of speech, sentence structure, writing, and oral language skills.
Laura Scott taught English Language Learners of all ages for twelve years and spent three years as a bilingual coordinator and co-teacher in dual language K-1 classrooms. She is a part of the Hameray team. Laura values giving a voice to all students by supporting teachers as they bravely try new approaches to learning in their classrooms.