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Building a Strong Foundation on Vocabulary and Making it Fun

by Jennifer Johnston
 | Oct 08, 2014

Our school district officially made the jump to the Common Core State Standards this school year. With that jump came an increased focus on vocabulary development and higher expectations for rigorous grade-level texts. In the past, students practiced vocabulary based on words pulled directly from texts that were being studied and all students were expected to learn the same words, at the same pace, in the same way. This method was clearly ineffective. Over the last eight years, the student mastery of vocabulary and reading comprehension has been declining as fewer students learn, retain, and use new vocabulary taught in the classroom.

With the increased focus on vocabulary development in Common Core, I needed a way to support student achievement and mastery of difficult and unknown words. This was not only a necessity in my regular classes but also in my Advanced Placement classes. To that end, I found vocabulary.com.

I spent the summer researching online programs that responded to student learning needs, adapted to progress, and provided a rigorous learning experience. Vocabulary.com offered everything I needed and more. I am able to track student progress, assign lists, custom build learning goals, and create class challenges.

The most effective method for my students with the program is the class challenge aspect. The students enjoy competing against me in our 100 Words a Week Challenge. Part of the success of the challenge is they are competing against me, we have to complete the same requirement. For instance, in the grade book I hold them accountable for 100 words a week. If they finish all 100 words, they get all 100 points out of 100—unless I don't complete 100 words. Then their score is 100 out of whatever number I did complete (if I complete 20 and they completed 100, they earn 100/20). This allowed them the opportunity to potentially earn bonus points and to taunt me about my progress.

My students participated in the Vocabulary.com monthly challenge and won for the month of August. The students won by mastering more words than other schools—almost 11,000 around the world—who are also working hard to build their vocabulary skills. By winning in the month of August, it made us competitors for the Vocabulary.com yearlong Vocabulary Bowl. The competition is ongoing and other schools are still welcome to register!

Competition aside, my students love the flexibility of Vocabulary.com game. They can practice words from any subject they want at any time, complete an English assignment, and prep for a biology test all at once. They like being in control. They like that they can do it anywhere. One student rides the bus to and from school and she said this keeps her busy.

I can already see an increase in their engagement with new words. They are using the words they are learning, making reference to new words, and asking questions. They like feeling successful and this program does just that for them. It makes them successful.

Jennifer Johnston is a 10-year teaching veteran at Rialto High School in Rialto, CA. She holds a bachelors degree in English Literature from Cal State San Bernardino and has a secondary teaching credential. She holds a masters degree in education from the University of LaVerne with a focus on curriculum and development.


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