Big Tech Ideas for Vocabulary Front loading unit vocabulary with #EdTech by Gary Brady

Vocabulary is where the "rubber meets the road" in subject areas like social studies, science and language arts. If students do not understand the key terms and definitions in a given unit then they most certainly cannot master the content. By now most educators are realizing that technology can go a long way in empowering students to be creative and engaged in the learning process. However, in most classrooms there is a lack of technology utilization when it comes to student vocabulary acquisition.

I have been tinkering with various strategies, both digital and non-digital over the past few years in order to front load vocabulary. Specifically, I have aimed at front loading key terms so that ELL's, students with reading comprehension gaps and special education students experience a more leveled playing field in the inclusive classroom environment. The strategies and technologies that I am sharing here offer some wonderful advantages in accomplishing this goal.

The first step is to digitize your vocabulary list. I found that using animated GIF's on my website that students can access quickly with a QR code works well. Click the button below to visit my site to see for yourself.

Use animated GIF's to help students understand meanings of key vocabulary

In addition to the digital list I have students complete four-square organizers so that they have a hard copy of the list. For each term students must; write the word, define the term, use it in a sentence and illustrate it. This can be accomplished using mobile devices or desktops. I prefer to use mobile devices because they can accomplish this task anywhere, anytime, and on any device.

Here is a sample of the double sided four-square template that I use. Notice the QR codes so that students can complete the assignment anywhere with an mobile device.

Four Square vocabulary templates for students to engage with the words

Once students have completed the organizer I then assign them to small expert groups where they are responsible for storyboarding one particular term. I use a simple comic strip template to do this part, but you can go digital with comic strip or storyboarding sites like ToonDoo.

Finally, once the story template is completed I have the expert groups present their terms to the whole class. The audience members (the groups not presenting) are instructed to update their four-square organizers, if there are errors or omissions. I limit the presentations to 2 minutes each and ask that every group member participate in presenting their story. I display the presenting groups template to the class using a document cam which projects on an LCD screen.

In order to exit out of the activity I like to go digital with a "Twitter Battle." I choose two words from the digital vocabulary list that have opposite meanings, and then have students square off with a partner and try to persuade their peers as to why their assigned term is better. For safety and security I use either Microsoft Forms or Google Forms to do this. Below is the button to access this unit's tweet activity. As students create and submit "tweets" the key is to project the responses form on the LCD screen so that the class can see and interact with peer posts in real-time.

Exit out of the activity using Microsoft Forms or Google Forms by creating a safe social media style exchange
Use Forms Responses feature to display real-time results on a projection screen so that students can interact and give feedback on their peers posts

Thanks for reading. I hope this gets you thinking about new and exciting ways that we can engage students in vocabulary acquisition. I teach middle school social studies in New Jersey. Reach out on Twitter @Mr_GBrady with any comments or suggestions.

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Gary Brady
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