When teaching any class, key words are powerful for helping students build their vocabulary and make better connections in the classroom.
Education consultant Rob Vingerhoets joined literacy expert Sharon Callen on Episode 68 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy to talk about how teachers can better implement key words in the classroom.
Dedicating a space to key words
The best way to create a routine and anchor point for key words is to provide a dedicated space where they can be displayed and added by both teachers and students.
Rob said you can use any type of space that’s best suited to your class and resources.
“Kids love their key words – it astounds me how much they actually value them and take ownership of them,” he said.
“So dedicate a space to it, whether it’s in chart paper or it’s a designated section of your whiteboard. This way, the kids know and trust that the key words are always going in that spot. And make it as easy as you can to flow from your general whiteboard area to the chart. So just simple things like if you’re a left hander, put them on the left hand side so you can just move from there to there and then move 30 centimetres to write a key word up.”
Having a shared space can also allow teachers to empower older students with writing up their own key words.
“With the older kids, get them to go out to the board and put the key word up. For example, there was a kid who came up with calibration, and I said ‘oh man that is a great effort, go write that up’. So if in the right grade levels, get the kids to take ownership of it,” Rob said.
Connecting key words to relevant symbols
These dedicated spaces can be brought into any lesson across any subject, including maths and science. In these subjects, reinforcing the relevant symbol alongside key words is essential.
“So if it’s a lesson on subtraction, I might already have subtraction up with the symbol next to it, which is crucial. Then underneath I might have the word take away with the symbol, then ‘minus’ with the symbol, and so on. So the kids just get this in-your-face message of well there’s three different words, they must all mean the same thing because they’ve all got the same symbol next to them,” Rob said.
“Most kids are not held by the mathematics. They’re held back by the terminology of maths. So we can empower them, because language has always been empowering. Language is the key to freedom.”
Using key words to help student reflections
Key words are also a powerful tool in guiding students through reflections at the end of a lesson.
“I like to finish my lesson with a reflection and by asking ‘what did you find out today?’ Not what you did, but what you found out. But the kids will often say, ‘but what do I write about?’ And I just point them straight at the key words, and it’s always the same effect where they’ll go, ‘oh yeah we actually do know what to write about’,” Rob said.
“So you get your reward for putting them up. And the kids are articulating in writing, or verbally depending on the activity and grade, what they found out using the key words.”
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