Some words feel wonderful in your mouth: benevolent, pashmina, Constantinople. They roll right off one’s tongue and into one’s imagination. Words hold meaning and are the building blocks of all human thought. When I began teaching thirty-eight years ago, I marveled at my preschool students’ curiosity about words and how they could understand and use words far above their age and grade level. One boy was so enamored with geology and dinosaurs that his vocabulary in these areas far surpassed mine, affording him the opportunity to be my teacher, and I, his attentive student! I believe that spark of curiosity and imagination in learning vocabulary ignites the power to explore a universe of ideas and concepts. Teachers consistently embed vocabulary learning throughout the day. Word learning is not compartmentalized into the teaching spelling or phonics or reading. It is integrated into all content areas. For example, the word “boundary” may be introduced as a geographic word in social studies, but then used in physical education to describe the limits of a game, used in art to mean a shift in color, texture, or shape, or again in mathematics as boundary lines on a graph. This deep learning allows students to remember and recognize the new words they are learning and apply them across subjects. Students at all grade levels are encouraged to use new vocabulary as they speak and write, constantly building their knowledge.
At the school, where I am the ELA Curriculum Coordinator, we celebrate the love of words as a whole community by learning a new word each week. Every Monday, I post the word of the week, its meaning, and a sentence containing the word. Teachers reinforce the Wonder Word throughout the week, and it often is added to class word walls or vocabulary charts, gradually becoming part of a student’s personal vocabulary bank. Many of the words I choose coincide with a current theme such as “wisdom” in September to begin the year, “gratitude” in November to acknowledge Thanksgiving, or “absurd” in March to celebrate the work of Dr. Seuss. Those connections allow students to associate and visualize, helping them put new words into their long-term memory. At the end of the year, older students work together to create a vocabulary quiz show that incorporates some of their favorite words, and the whole school participates during our final school assembly. In this way all students celebrate the wonder of the words they’ve learned throughout the year. At the core of vocabulary learning is the love of words, the pure joy of expressing yourself with wondrous words that roll off your tongue!