By Jill Castek
The use of digital media in vocabulary learning should not only be receptive (e.g., viewing vocabulary graphics), but also generative (actively engaging students in using language and media to express themselves and to create products that represent their new knowledge). This type of vocabulary learning empowers students as agents of their own learning. The act of creation supports ownership, introduces authentic reasons for learning, and tangibly links reading, writing, and communication in ways that mirror learning outside of school. This article suggests three ways to promote students’ active word learning using Web 2.0 tools to enhance word knowledge.
Vocabulary Videos: Today’s students have grown up with YouTube as part of daily life. Consider having students’ produce their own vocabulary videos (or ‘vocab vids’) – 60-second videos that situate word learning in a specific context. The varied student-created examples found at VocabAhead (e.g., the entry for amble and the entry for headstrong) illustrate how video creation and multimodal expression make the word learning experience more memorable for both the video producers as well as the viewing audience. For tips and tools for creating videos, see the teacher page at VocabAhead.
Vocab vids illustrate how meaning can be communicated in 60 seconds or less, with few or no props. Bridget Dalton and a teacher colleague partnered to create a model that illustrates the power of video to illustrate word meanings (see Figure 1, below). Using a flip camera, they shot a video illustrating the word overwhelmed. The video opens with a shot of a desk piled high with books. The teacher is sitting on the floor, hidden by the desk. Suddenly, his hand appears, pulling a book off. More books disappear as the teacher pops up repeatedly, looking increasingly distressed. At the end, the teacher appears with a sign displaying the word overwhelm, saying, “I’m distressed, drowning in a deluge of books. This is anoverwhelming amount of books to read! Can you tell I’m feeling totally overwhelmed?!” Note that all of the italicized words were found during a Web search the pair did to prepare for the video. They used different forms of the word (overwhelm, overwhelmed, overwhelming) and incorporated related words (distress and deluge) to aid in the development of concepts. The strategic embedding of a word into a web of multimodal meaning helps to make the word learning experience more memorable for both the video producers and the viewing audience.
Figure 1: Vocab Video illustrating overwhelmed.
Simulate Twitter to Promote Target Word Usage: Today’s widespread twitter phenomenon tells us something important about language use and engagement. In 140 characters or less, information about “what’s happening now” can be shared instantly with an online community. The defining characteristics of a ‘tweet’ are brevity, timeliness, and the ability to instantly respond to others. Without actually creating twitter accounts, educators can bring twitter-like experiences into the classroom to expand vocabulary learning.
To model a vocabulary related twitter, provide a target word or concept and challenge students to keep a related stream of tweets going as long as they can. Set the expectation that both target words and related words must to be used in each post. Provide a context such as a breaking news event, a topic you’re studying in class, or a book you are reading. To simulate twitter in a closed environment, try Wallwisher. Once the topic themed-wall is set up, this free online application does not require individuals to login and everyone can post together in a shared space. Like tweets, comment space is limited (Wallwisher allows 160 characters).
The following interchange may serve as a tangible example. Imagine reading and watching online news reports about an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Students could then create a twitter-like stream to express reactions and questions, using the target words pollution and disaster. Before beginning, discuss the words’ meanings. Then talk through a few examples, as follows.
Student 1: Bad news. An oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollution is going to be a problem.
Student 2: Oil will pollute the beaches. What a disaster!
Student 3: You can’t swim in polluted water.
Student 4: The seagulls and pelicans will be hurt by the oil. It gets on their feathers.
Twitter-like stream (examining the news event from the perspective of different stakeholders):
Shrimper: Major disaster. Oil rig blew and oil gushing in Gulf of Mexico. Pollution might wipe us out.
Oysterman: What about oyster beds? I have to fish. Polluted oyster beds mean no oysters. What a disaster for me and my customers.
Beach lover: Gulf Shores beach has black oil washing up. Seagulls coated. Can’t swim in polluted water.
Clean up crew: Dish detergent is the best thing to clean oil pollution from birds. Who knew?!!
Oil company: The faster we cap the oil rig, the faster the pollution stops.
Have Fun with New Slang: The dynamic and inventive nature of language is dramatically evident in the torrent of new words we manage to create each year. While we all may feel the need to chillax (calm down and relax) in the face of students’ often unconventional vocabulary use, seize the opportunity to build word curiosity and playfulness. Two excellent Internet resources for learning about words and language are the Visual Thesaurus and the Oxford Dictionary of English. The latter posts a list each year of new words added to the dictionary. Another excellent resource is the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary. Also, at Wordspy, Paul McFedries tracks published neologisms – new word creations, many of which are slang and/or linguistic blends.
Technology and media can play an important role in developing students’ vocabulary through generative, multimodal expression. Giving students experience with the digital technologies required in the 21st century will be motivational as well as academically beneficial.
Castek, J., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (2012). Using multimedia to support students’ generative vocabulary learning. In J. Baumann and E. Kame’enui (Eds.) Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd ed.). pp. 303-321. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Reprinted with permission of the author. First published on Vocabulogic at vocablog-plc.blogspot.com
Jill Castek, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral scholar with the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading project at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley where she develops and researches integrated science and literacy curricula. Jill is a literacy specialist with a decade of experience working with striving and struggling readers in grades K-12, especially students who are learning English. She earned a Ph.D. in 2008 from the University of Connecticut in the area of Cognition and Instruction where she studied the new literacies of online reading comprehension.