This week we were still reading Romeo and Juliet. I don’t really want my students to go home and try and read it themselves (would like them to not get completely frustrated), so I decided to look at vocabulary – words that might still be in every day use but that they might not know.
I used 18 words from Act I that still are actively in use in modern English, and I asked my students to NOT look the words up but to write any definitions that they knew (or kind of knew). For the words that they did not know, I asked them to guess based on words that they knew that are similar.
I struggle with making vocabulary study more active and dynamic. It’s hard to shake the years of “look it up” training that I experienced in my own education. So when they handed in their work (from the iPads via a WebDAV server) I printed the pages, cut off the names, and handed out a random page to each student. They then cut each word and definition from the page in a strip, giving them 18 strips of paper. I asked them to turn the strips face up. Each student was randomly handed a word and they went around and collected all the definitions from their classmates desks for that one word.
I asked them to group the strips in definition clusters – were there similar definitions? Were there outliers?
Every student had the chance to report on what their word was defined as. That day I heard from all 72 of my students – what did they see? What patterns emerged? What did they think their word meant? How had the word changed from when Shakespeare used it? As far as all class conversations about language go with seventh graders, this was a good day.
Image by Jack Dorsey