Tips From Dr. Marzano

Vocabulary Games for the Classroom

 

Vocabulary Games for the ClassroomThe following tips are designed to assist you in applying the latest research in tangible ways in your classroom, school, or district.

 

 

Use data from student responses during game play to guide a three-step process of direct vocabulary instruction. The three-step process helps teachers apply direct instruction postgame to improve student understanding of specific terms.

When using vocabulary games in the classroom, it is important to use data gathered from student responses to enhance students’ knowledge about specific terms. This requires a three-step process in which teachers (1) note terms students have trouble with, (2) identify what students know and do not know about a term, and (3) have students make changes in their vocabulary notebooks. This three-step process helps teachers implement vocabulary games in the classroom effectively, as it ensures that teachers use games not just as a means to boost student engagement, but also as a way to apply direct instruction to improve content knowledge (p. 5).

The first two steps of the three-step process involve (1) identifying difficult vocabulary terms and (2) clarifying their definitions.

For the first and second steps, teachers should (1) identify vocabulary terms that students get consistently incorrect and (2) later clarify their definitions. To discern problematic vocabulary when playing a game, note words that give trouble to a majority of students. Once these vocabulary words are isolated, make a mental note to focus on clarifying student knowledge after the game or to return to their definitions the next day. When clarifying, the teacher should determine whether difficulty arises because students do not understand critical characteristics of the term or because they are inaccurate about some of the critical characteristics of a term. Use direct instruction to clear up any misunderstandings or inaccuracies surrounding difficult vocabulary (pp. 5–6).

The last step of the three-step process involves students amending previous entries of a vocabulary notebook—a space for students to track understanding of specific terms as definitions are learned and expanded upon.

The final step in the three-step process asks students to make changes to their vocabulary notebook entries by amending inaccuracies or misunderstandings about specific terms. A vocabulary notebook is a space for students to keep track of new terms with both descriptions and nonlinguistic representations of specific vocabulary terms, which in turn helps students build understanding and creates an easy way for students to review content. Vocabulary notebook pages should be revisited often and modified as student knowledge about a specific vocabulary term grows and solidifies (pp. 2–4, 6).

When creating new vocabulary games, each game should be constructed into five categories.

  1. Design: The overall object of the game
  2. Materials: This section may vary greatly but will include any materials needed to complete the game
  3. Set-up: Preparations needed in advance
  4. Play: Outline or rules of the game
  5. Vocabulary words: Provided list of words that will be discovered or re-emphasized during the game (pp. 8–10, 14)

Classroom games can be adapted for younger students in the following ways:

  • Provide students with a shorter list of terms, maybe only two to three words long.
  • Provide a photograph instead of a puzzle that students must put together.
  • Ask students to construct only a sentence about what they see rather than the whole story (p. 20).

Ideally, after each game is played, students should review the terms in their vocabulary notebooks that were addressed in the games.

Teachers should have students make changes in their vocabulary notebooks. Ideally, after each game is played, students should review the terms in their vocabulary notebooks that were addressed in the games. While students are reviewing the terms in their vocabulary notebooks, they should be asked to add anything new they learned about the terms as a result of the games and change anything about a term they realized was inaccurate (p. 6).

Only teachers know their class well enough to decide how much competition is appropriate.

Only teachers know their class well enough to decide how much competition is appropriate. Should teachers decide to award points and select winners, we do not recommend that points from games be used when grading students. This does not mean that a game cannot be used for formative evaluation, quite the contrary. During play, teachers can glean valuable information as feedback to guide instructional discussions (p. 5).

Teachers should identify what students know and do not know about the difficult terms.

Teachers should identify what students know and do not know about the difficult terms. When it is clear that students are having difficulty with a term, the teacher should determine whether their difficulty arises because they do not understand critical characteristics of the term or because they are inaccurate about some of the critical characteristics of a term (p. 6).

There is an effective six-step process for teaching new terms.

Dr. Marzano's rationale is a comprehensive schoolwide or districtwide approach to the direct instruction in academic terms as well as terms necessary for general literacy. This recommendation can be attempted by using the following six steps:

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of terms in their notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with terms (p. 1).

Direct vocabulary instruction is fundamental to effective teaching.

Direct vocabulary instruction is fundamental to effective teaching. Our knowledge about and understanding of any topic is rooted in our mastery of the terms relevant to that topic. To some degree, this is common sense. Consider social studies students learning about the U.S. government. Certainly they must have a firm grasp on terms such as executive, legislative, judicial, presidency, bill, amendment, and vote (among others) in order to demonstrate proficiency for learning goals on this topic. In other words, there is a direct link between an understanding of academic vocabulary and an understanding of academic content (p. 1).

Data collected as far back as 1941 indicates there is roughly a 6,000-word gap between students at the 25th and 50th percentiles on standardized test in grades 4–12.

What is also clear is that there is a vast difference in the vocabularies of low-versus high-achieving students. Data collected as far back as 1941 indicates there is roughly a 6,000-word gap between students at the 25th and 50th percentiles on standardized test in grades 4–12. Since the 1980s, researchers have estimated the difference to be anywhere between 4,500 and 5,400 words for low- versus high-achieving students (for a discussion, see Marzano, 2009). This means we can take the commonsense connection between vocabulary and content one step further and conclude that the size of a student's vocabulary is directly related to his or her academic achievement (p. 1).

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