Sunday, February 8, 2015

Vocabulary Instruction | Flocabulary

**Just sharing, not getting paid for it, per usual.  Opinions are my own.

Oh vocabulary.  I do love you.  I often think about how I should really work on expanding my own vocabulary.  Or maybe just using more of the words I know instead of the same old, same old.  I should get one of those word of the day calendars or apps or something.

Our district tells us we are to spend 5-10 minutes on spelling/vocabulary a day.  That's...not a lot.  We don't have any set vocabulary instruction, so it's basically up to us.  I love that.  So I set out to see what I can do that is low maintenance, but highly effective for our time in class.  

So this year I started with Flocabulary.  I wasn't quite sold on it because it's $99/year, but I signed up for the free subscription and then I couldn't NOT pay the $$ because I loved it too much.  Flocabulary vocabulary words are based on words that are most seen on student testing.  I was a little skeptical on how often these words actually show up but my students can't stop pointing them out to me, so now I know they see them all the time.

Then I introduced it to my students and OHMYGOSH.  We have to watch our video every day.  They love it.  They do have a few favorites, but they have yet to completely dislike or be unengaged during a unit video.  They sing and do their actions and memorize the lines.  They also have their homework done every time.

It always surprises me when I think students know what a word means, but they still don't use it correctly.  They can read a word and tell me the meaning, but they try to use the word in their own writing or speaking and it doesn't make sense.  So although there aren't a ton of words that the kids have never heard of, they still don't grasp the meanings well enough to use them properly all the time.    I think that's why I'm still drawn to the words that Flocabulary has chosen.  Plus, there are 10 words each unit, so it isn't overkill and I don't feel like I'm pushing words into their brain just to have them spit them back out at me.  

I can't just throw a video on the board and tell the kids to do some worksheets (well I CAN, but that's not really great teaching) so here's how I set up my Flocabulary lessons for the Word Up Project.  

I do put the "exercises" together into a unit packet for each unit.  We use it almost every day in class for lyrics and meanings, and the exercises are used as homework in my classroom.  They aren't hugely time consuming and the kids find them pretty painless.

During class, we watch the video every day.  At the beginning of the unit we make up hand signals or motions to help us remember the meaning.  The kids do our signals when they get to the word in the video.  Lots of the kids also do the signal any time they hear the word during the day, which really keeps me on my toes.

Flocabulary does offer two timeline approaches to unit instruction.  There are only about 15 units included for each level, so I don't do "weekly" vocabulary.  Instead I just teach by unit and when we are ready to quiz, we do.  It's around a week and a half per unit in my classroom.  

I teach fourth grade, so I use Level Orange.  My units look something like this:
*parenthesis "section" is corresponding to the printable exercises for each unit

Day 1: 
Hand out packet.  Introduce Words.  Watch the video.  Possibly answer the comprehension questions for the video as a class.  Done.

Day 2:
Highlight meanings in the song lyrics (section B), looking for synonyms/antonyms/text clues for the meanings.  Watch the video. 

Day 3:
Make hand symbols/actions for the first 5 words (section C).  Students make up the hand signals, I do not- I have no idea what they will come up with.  Watch video.
Homework- Unit _section D/E

Day 4: 
Make hand symbols/actions for last 5 words (Section C).  Check homework (no talking allowed, they show me the answers with our motions).  Watch video.
Homework- Unit_section F/G

Day 5: 
Review hand motions and meanings.  Check homework (again, motions only).  Watch video.
Homework- Unit_section H

Day 6: 
Review.  Check homework.  Watch video.
Homework- Unit_Bonus crossword

Day 7: 
Collect packet (all checked, yay!).  Watch video.  Take quiz.

Now my students walk up to me every time they see a vocabulary word in their reading to show me the word.  It's... well, it's a lot.  Almost to the level of distraction but it's so great that they are noticing them, and pointing them out, and doing the actions, and using them, that I just can't stop them!  Instead, once I said "We should keep track of each time we see each word!" and suddenly the "students" thought of the idea of putting all the words up and keeping track.  So now we have... this.

I can't stop laughing at "Happy Word Finding!"- obviously they are my students!  It's bright (it's all I had at the time).  But they tally themselves and we add our new words after each unit.  Now we can see just how often we are seeing these words.

Then we have special guests in our classroom teaching (guidance counselor, parent art docents, etc) and my students are interrupting them to tell them they saw a vocabulary word!  I can't help but smile and be embarrassed at the same time...then teach a lesson on how to keep track of those words without yelling it out and scaring our presenters.

Most criticism I've read about Flocabulary is criticism of the project as a stand alone way of instruction.  But since I've added motions, class discussion, plus our own keeping track of the words we are seeing and using, I feel like our class goes well beyond just watching the video and hoping the kids get it.  We take it to using the words in our daily lives, which is the point.

I would recommend viewing each video before you show it, particularly with older students, since it is "rap" there are some lyrics that you may not feel comfortable showing in your classroom depending on where you are teaching.  I haven't run into any problems myself, but it's always good to be prepared.

I like throwing in a bonus video for some of our other class units as well, since Flocabulary is more than just vocabulary raps, so when we did out unit on the solar system, we watched this video about the moon phases.  Most videos have activity pages that go with them as well.

If you want to check it out a bit more, here's some information (that isn't from the Flocabulary website!):

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