Vocabulary: Day One


Mark Twain was a genius.  His ability to convey truth through wit is unmatched.  As a lover of Twain and someone who grew up in Cincinnati, one of my favorite quotations that is commonly attributed to him is that when the world ends he wants to be in Cincinnati because “everything comes there ten years later” and, as a former resident of Cincinnati, I can attest to its truth! 

However, when not making fun of how passé Cincinnati was/is, Mark Twain was also penning famous maxims about writing.  Another favorite quotation, one not nearly as snarky and much more important in an English classroom, one that I present to my students every year is:  The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.  

This quotation speaks exactly to what I hope my students understand before they graduate high school: it isn’t just about slapping random words down to create a piece of writing; it is about choosing words that are the best and most appropriate for their given context.  To do this, students have to have a wide vocabulary that allows them to really pour over words to select the right word.  Students must enhance their vocabulary.

Vocabulary is as iconic to English education as grammar instruction.  Students have been receiving some form of vocabulary tutelage since formal schooling began.   As a result, there are so many suggestions and ideas on how to teach students how to expand their vocabulary.  We have seen memorization, practice, and application all take center stage and all are effective in various ways.  Therefore, our post this week is not meant to preach only way one to incorporate vocabulary into your classroom.  Similarly, we aren’t going to provide sample vocabulary words for you to incorporate into your class because we believe vocabulary should be age-, ability-, and content-specific.  Instead, we are hoping to provide some creative ways to learn, teach, and assess this timeless skill in a 21st century classroom.

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