Teaching Key Words: Part 1

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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Key words are those vital elements of any subject that determine whether or not students…..

  • get the best grades in exams
  • understand the content properly
  • articulate the content effectively
  • master a language they are learning

Key words are essential components of subject knowledge that both native speakers and E.A.L. learners find challenging to master. 

In my 13 years of teaching I have found that there are many effective ways to teach key words to students, with the techniques falling into 5 main categories:

  • Interactive: Games and spatial learning
  • Proactive: Writing frames, scaffolds and models
  • Teacher-driven: Vigilance in pointing out key-words and encouraging action during teacher-led instruction
  • Automated: through software
  • Documented: Through exam-paper mark schemes and model answers, and command-terms exposure and training

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In today’s blog post I’ll describe (there’s a ‘command term’ to begin with!) the most effective interactive and proactive ways I have found to reinforce key vocabulary. You may have more to add to this list – please contribute to the new forum or add a comment below this post!

So, let’s begin our journey with….

Interactive methods

There are a number of vocabulary games you can play with kids of any age. My favorites are ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’ and ‘who am I?’

Splat

This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.

Splat

Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):

Mystery Word

Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.

Mystery word

Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts. Students sit in a circle, you stick notes on their heads with key words on them, and the students explain to each other what the key words are without saying the key words. 

Who am I

Spatial learning can also be a great interactive method to teach key words.

There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:

Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations. 

Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool for emphasizing key words. 

Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:

Why not try out these great spatial learning activities with your students?:
lab girls

Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food?). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.

A human graph might be the right tool for you?

And with ‘true or false’ questions – instead of getting students to put their hands-up for ‘true’, or their hands-up for ‘false’: get them to walk and move. Choose one classroom wall to be the ‘true’ wall, and one to be the ‘false’ wall,  and get them to walk. 

Human graph and true or false

Modelling

In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT

Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.

Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room. 

Spatial Learning ICT Richard James Rogers

Proactive Methods

Take the following body of text from my book, for example. How would you differentiate this so that all of the students in your class could understand and use it?:

Rapport

I had a great professional development session with a group of colleagues this week. We came up with some great ways to differentiate texts, which I’ve included below. Study the images carefully: I’ve linked them to the text above.

Technique #1: The Funnel

Basically this is a filtering system where the students take all of the key words in a text and filter them down into, first, a few sentences; and then, just one sentence:

Dif1

Technique #2: True or False Questions

Nice and simple and can be done in a number of ways:

  • Write the true or false questions yourself, and get the kids to answer them
  • Get the kids to write true or false questions and give them to each other (recommended for high-ability students, as this one is a little more difficult to mark/assess and takes more time and effort to complete).

Dif2

Technique #3: Flow chart

Kids create a flow chart that either describes the process involved, or the reasoning behind the text. Questions can be used as connectives:

Dif3

Technique #4: Fill in the blanks

This is a simple one and can be used to reinforce technical vocabulary, elements of speech (such as interjections and conjunctions) or anything else that’s important.

Technique #5: Cartoon Strip

The kids will need to be quite creative with this one, as they may need to illustrate the concepts using an actual example. Great fun, and can get quite entertaining!

Other techniques

There are lots of creative ways in which students can be assigned to decipher and breakdown texts. Consider these suggestions:

  • Stop-motion animations (takes a lot of time but acts as a great mini-project)
  • Drama and role-play
  • Music
  • Website creation
  • Infographic creation (much better than ‘make a poster’)
  • Make an instructional video

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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