After seven years of teaching, I am still baffled as how to teach vocabulary effectively. I know that students who read a lot have better vocabularies than students who don’t read all that much. Encouraged by books by Kelly Gallagher and Donalyn Miller, I carved out ten daily minutes for my students to read this past school year. I know that extra time helped to create or rekindle a love of reading, and the daily reading surely helped my students widen their vocabularies.
But just saying students can improve their vocabularies by silently reading without any instruction from me seems to be a cop-out. In this past year, I had the goal of having my students record new words they encountered in their reading in their notebooks. They divided up a page into quadrants and labeled each one Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Other respectively. Sometimes at the close of our ten minutes of silent reading, I would ask students to capture a word in their notebooks. This is a strategy I had seen modeled at the 2010 Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute, and while it was originally used in an elementary classroom, I saw no reason it wouldn’t work for my high schoolers. However, after a month or two, I stopped reminding my students to do this practice, and it fell to the wayside. I blame myself for not training them enough to do this procedure, but at the same time, I question it. Is writing down a personalized vocabulary list really helping my students?
Maybe what students need are skills to attack an unfamiliar word. Most of them know about context clues, and most them have a smart phone they can use to look up just about any word they come across. So why even bother with vocabulary? Aren’t there more important aspects of English that we should spend our time on?
I’ll close these ramblings by sharing a story from today. My 2001 Ford Escape was smoking today as I drove to a training session for some Deer Creek High School teachers. The smoke was very small, but the smell was even worse. I compared it to a rotten potato, although I don’t think I’ve ever even smelled a rotten potato. Since I had just had my oil changed yesterday, I decided to take it back and see if they could check it out. Sure enough, they had not cleaned all the oil out properly, and some of it was on the manifold. When the man said manifold, he may as well have said jibber-jabber or wiggle-waggle. I have no clue was a manifold is. However, I can guess it is a car part underneath my hood (where the smoke was coming from), and I can also guess it probably is located near the oil container/compartment/thingy.
When I looked up the definition of manifold on Merriam-Webster, I was reminded that the adjective form of manifold means “marked by diversity or variety.” What an appropriate word for the kind of vocabulary I’d like for my students to build in my class! (For some reason, when I heard the word manifold today, the phrases “manifold witness” and “manifold blessing” popped into my head; I have not clue why.)
As to the manifold in my SUV, it apparently is
a fitting on an internal combustion engine that directs a fuel and air mixture to or receives the exhaust gases from several cylinders (www.m-w.com).
I attempted to find it in the video below, but I had no luck. I guess I just have to have faith that the manifold is in there somewhere.