Vocab Squares (Pre-Reading)

One thing I like about Vocabalogues is that they keep kids moving and active and doing and a little loud the entire time. Sometimes, though, I'd prefer they not be quite as moving, or loud - although hopefully the 'active' and 'doing' parts are still in play.

Vocab Squares are not new. You've seen variations called Frayer Models and other such things, and to be honest I no longer remember which are which. Once you've started using these silly things, you can vary them endlessly as you see fit for your darlings. 

Here's my standard Vocab Square (also attached below):

Vocab Square Blank

Rather than explain each square unnecessarily, here's a completed example: 

Vocab Square Example

Note that the top two segements - "Sentence from the Text in which Term is Used" and "Dictionary Definition" - are things ANY level of student can do. Both are useful - the first gives context and the second is a requisite step in figuring out the meaning of a new word - but neither are difficult. In other words, if a student doesn't do these segments, or doesn't do them somewhat well, he or she is simply not trying.

Those of you for whom this is a useful distinction understand entirely why I point it out. The rest of you may simply nod knowingly and move on. 

"Plain, Simple English" is generally the toughest part for kids. It's not the same as a dictionary definition with half the words omitted. If it doesn't make sense to an 8-year old, it's not a plain, simple English definition. "Illustration" should be hand-drawn, unlike my sample. I generally discourage any illustration consisting of two stick figures with word bubbles - I have many students for whom that seems to be the ideal visual for every word ever used in any language in the history of mankind. Not helpful. 

As I said, there are many variations of the magic vocab square. The one I remember from some workshop or the other was something like this:

Vocab Square Alt Format

Note that "non-examples" don't have to be opposites. They're just things that aren't examples of the term:

Vocab Square Alt Example

I haven't liked the "Examples" / "Non-Examples" format for history stuff. It seems to work better in math or some sciences, or in non-linear Social Studies subjects like American Government, so... your call. 

I prefer learning HOW to do them as a class, practicing them in small groups or pairs, then using them as needed - either assigning 5-7 words to do individually or as pairs. Groups tend to simply split the work and avoid learning what the activity is designed to help them learn - or so my experience has been.

Finally - as I've said with other activities - I'm all for spending hours and hours laboring creatively to keep each class fresh and unpredictable. I'm a big fan of teacher suffering and exhaustion. BUT (and I have a big 'but'), these can be effective tools, require almost NO prep time (other than choosing your vocab), and are ridiculously easy to grade. So, on the off-chance any of those issues are factors in your world from time to time, I thought I should mention it. 

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