Building Vocabulary, Word by Word

colorful libraryDon’t you just love how things in this world all work together? We have to separate knowledge into different departments in school to make subjects manageable, but if you’re smart enough and take enough classes, you’ll realize that what you learn in a film class affects literature and what you study in an English lit class is mirrored in history. So on and so on.

With that in mind, yesterday, in my writing class I gave a different kind of spelling test. It wasn’t a “normal” spelling test–a list of words to memorize or even better, to sound out to help them increase their vocabularies and make them cognizant of tricky spellings.   The words came from an assigned reading about a day in the life of an ER nurse. At the bottom of the pages in the reading, the unusual words and their meanings were pulled from the text and defined. All the class had to do was read the lesson and pay attention to the footnotes.

Yesterday, the test was given. SURPRISE, SURPRISE! All but one student failed. I proved my point.

This demonstration showed them that reading and writing work together in many different ways, and one of the most important ways is to expand one’s vocabulary. I asked them what they did when they came across a word they didn’t understand. One student said, “Look it up,” of course this is the apple-polisher in the group. Another honest student said, “Skip it and go on.”

Now granted, in common vernacular we don’t use words like cacophony, bane, or palpable too often, but in order to get the most out of the reading a person can just stumble over such words and go on. Their first instinct should have been to head for the nearest dictionary. If they had taken the time to look up the word, their memories would file away another tool in their word arsenal to use later on. They would have accomplished a goal and increased their vocabularies by one more word. My students are adults, but somewhere along the line, they haven’t been taught such a wise idea, or they have become apathetic and don’t care. In either case, they are cheating themselves from growing.

Once again, I attempted to throw another plate of imaginative spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. In this case, I can only hope some of my class will learn from my little practical demonstration. After all, it would be nice to know one other person who knows what cacophony means.

P. S. I didn’t grade the test.

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2 thoughts on “Building Vocabulary, Word by Word

  1. I had professors like you, except the entire reading exercise was full of words that you had to look up. Yes, I had to look up Cacophony: the cacophony of your students grumbles. 🙂

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