1. This is the best thing that can happen to us!
2. This is the worst thing that can happen to us!
It's great, because well, it's good to know more words. Vocabulary is something that we might neglect (or abandon, desert, shirk) if we don't pay attention to it. Knowing more words can empower writers to speak in more precise terms, because they consider the nuances (or shades, or distinctions) of meaning.
However, it can be a problem, because it might cause us to slip back into practices that are less than authentic. That's why it's so important that we make our vocabulary instruction fit the context-embedded structures that we enjoy in workshop teaching that makes literacy learning so relevant (or pertinent, applicable, germane)!
So here I offer you some ideas on how to build vocabulary without going the way of the worksheet.
Every morning, I greet the students coming in to school. I help them out of their cars. However, when traffic backs up, I start to move myself further back in their line and let kids out. I don't want them walking in the traffic to get in, so I direct them to walk on the sidewalk. One day, instead of saying "sidewalk," I used the word "curb," and realized that this was a new word for some kids. Now, I use it all them time, and they get it.
There are three tiers of vocabulary. Tier 1 is the words that are basic speaking vocabulary. These are words that kids use a lot. Tier 2 is the words that are just slightly higher level (curb for sidewalk). These are words to which kids are not exposed so much, but will help them with their comprehension in many situations. Tier 3 is the words that are domain-specific, used only when talking about something very specific. By introducing Tier 2 words to kids' natural vocabulary through real speaking situations, we are increasing their access to meaning!
Another inquiry that I developed was the T-chart in which we gather synonyms and have kids create their own definitions for the words. For example, when figuring out words that mean "good looking," we might think of the word "handsome." Kids would then create their own kid-friendly definition for it (when a man or a boy is good-looking.) "Sharp" would sound something like, "when something is perfectly good looking in style." You'll notice that this breaks the ancient rule of not using the word in the definition. When working on nuances, the word is actually an anchor for kids, so it's good to include it.
Once kids have either ranked or defined these words, they should be up somewhere in the room where they can access them, so that they can use them.
These are some examples of inquiries that help develop the nuanced side of vocabulary instruction, but all of this is for naught if kids don't apply this new vocabulary into their writing right away. It's in the act of revision that we help to create an authentic context. Let's turn it into a strategy..."Writers use precise vocabulary by finding a describing word in their writing and asking, 'How (describing word) was it?'" A student writing about being happy when her baby sister was born would ask, "How happy was I? (Referring to the list) Was I content, or was I jubilant?" The meaning that comes with the emotion of the story will help to reinforce the word for the student.
If you don't employ the word right away, it's just another school activity that will go the way of the forgotten math fact, state capital, or spelling word! It will never make its way into the child's long-term memory.
However, the motor to these words coming alive is in the conversations you have about them. Ask the child who discovered the word to talk about where it was discovered and why it seems to be such an important word. Engage the class in discussing the situations where the word might be used. If it's an adjective, talk about words it might describe and not describe. If it's a verb, have students act it out. If it's a noun, have students draw it. Bring the word to life. Talk about its spelling or derivation if you know it. Immerse your class in every shade of the word possible.
Imagine the power (or potency, capacity, potential) we can give our kids with good vocabulary instruction! Let's do it, and let's do it right!