Sunday, July 14, 2013

Creating Vocabulary PowerPoints

In some circles, PowerPoints are rather--well, old-fashioned. With ever-expanding technology choices, who uses slideshows anymore? I felt a twinge of embarrassment as people at a recent meeting exchanged glances when I admitted to making vocabulary PowerPoint presentations. I think that people have the perception that teachers make PowerPoints and then just read them aloud to students.

But then I decided that there is nothing at all embarrassing about it! PowerPoint is the perfect tool to use to help kids learn new vocabulary words. With just a few simple slides I can project definitions, examples, and engage kids in using these words. It is not a lecture at all as kids are actively engaged on every slide. Even better, we can go back to the presentation again and again to review the words and think about them in new ways.

Here is how I go about making presentations to go along with texts. If you are getting started with this, try making just a few your first year, going along with high-quality texts that you know you will be reading and rereading several times. Each year you can add a few more.

1. Select your words
Hm, this is easier said than done, isn't it? I like to use words from the Academic Word List, and I choose about 3-5 per text. You can also write to me and I'll send you an Excel spreadsheet that has the AWL words, Common Core words, and other important words, all filtered according to important characteristics, roots, and so forth. This list is a little easier to use because the words are in alphabetical order.

2. Definition slides

I make about 4-5 slides per word. On the first slide, I introduce the word with a kid-friendly definition. I make this definition based on dictionary results and how the word is used in the text. In the case of characteristic, I used the words "feature" and "trait", words that students have already learned.

I add a pretty visual to go along with the definition--sometimes a picture that goes along with the word, sometimes a picture that goes along with a future activity. I have a huge library of photos that I've taken on my rambles around Pennsylvania, and kids are always interested in hearing about my photos. When I can't find the photo I want from my own library, I visit Wikimedia Commons.

3. Link pictures with words
I have learned so much about integrating visual and verbal strategies from the work of Gary Woolley.  For these slideshows, I like to give kids an instant connection between photo and word. This is especially important for academic words, as they often have abstract meanings. If I can give kids something concrete to think about as they apply the word meaning, I can help them to remember the word for the future.

A word of caution here. As you call on students to share their answers (and these lessons are usually informal, friendly conversations), make sure that they are using the word in their response. Consider this conversation:

Teacher: What are some characteristics of the butterfly?
Student: Eyespots!
Teacher: That's right! An eyespot is a characteristic of the butterfly.

Who practiced the word? That's right--the teacher. It is so easy to fall into this pattern. It takes some practice and time to get to this kind of conversation:

Teacher: What are some characteristics of the butterfly?
Student 1: Eyespots!
Teacher: Can you put that into a sentence using the word characteristics?
Student 1: Eyespots are characteristics of the butterfly.
Student 2: Some characteristics of the butterfly are wings and antennas.

Often this will take prompting and framing. However, it's so worth the effort to get kids using the words! Having kids put their responses on whiteboards is also helpful. I try to have as many kids say the word as possible, whether it is by sharing with a partner or getting up and doing a word "meet and greet".

4. Apply the words to students' lives
This works better with some words than others. The point here is to help students use the word in a way that applies to their own lives or experiences. Many students will need help with framing sentences for their responses--"My physical characteristics include..."

A new photo isn't necessary here, but my kids love fun visuals and I like to give them lots to look at. The key is to keep the pace quick and upbeat so that this will be something that you come back to.

5. Think about how the word might be used in the text

The text that goes along with this presentation is about the red-tailed hawk. Notice that the word predator is also in the slide. This word has a much more concrete meaning, and some kids in the class already know it. Instead of giving up valuable real estate to this word, I integrated it into this slide. Connecting the word characteristic with predator helps students to get ready for how both words are used in the text.

When we return to this presentation after reading the text, I encourage students to use their "soft eyes" to scan for the word characteristic in the text. We read the sentence aloud together. Then we talk about how their early sentences compare to their new knowledge.

And that's it! I like to do this with about 5 words per text. We use the presentation before and after reading. It is so gratifying to hear how their examples and sentences quickly improve in quality the second time around. Like all instructional techniques, PowerPoint does have the potential for misuse--if I just read aloud the definitions, kids would quickly be bored. But a slide presentation with lots of conversation and interaction can be a powerful way to help kids connect visual and verbal information.

This year, I'm going to add a vocabulary notebook for students to use to keep track of words that they are learning and reading about. I'm not sure what I want this to look like--are there any formats that have worked well for you?

This presentation is included in Reading Intervention for Academic Vocabulary and Fluency.

1 comment:

  1. Great ideas. We are starting a vocabulary program this year that goes with our reading program (Making Meaning). I love the idea of putting the words in power point as you have described. In years past, I have used Vocabulary Cartoon, where the kids copies the cartoon, the word, definition, and their own sentence. They did all this in a notebook. They loved it because they loved drawing the cartoons.