The brain stores two kinds of memories, in two different ways. One is spatial/experiential memory. This kind of memory is very easy and automatic. For example, you do not have to memorize the location of each desk in your classroom by doing flashcards. Your brain sees them and makes a mental note of the arrangement of the desks in space. Likewise you don't have to memorize how you felt the time you thought you lost a child on a field trip. You automatically remember the feeling.
The second type of memory is rote memory. This is the type of stuff you must rehearse and memorize to get it to stick. Multiplication tables and state capitals fall into this category. I try to have students experience and visualize vocabulary words to make them more memorable. Read on to see how I review vocabulary words with my students throughout the year to make sure they stick.
This post contains a video demonstration of the word wall review game. Brain image courtesy of clker.com.
When a student is learning something new, I follow the 10/24/7+ Rule. After I teach a concept, I review it ten minutes later, 24 hours later, 7 days later, and periodically after that. It can take years to process a memory, according to John Medina. To hardwire the neurons in the brain, you must review the information on a regular basis. The phrase use it or lose it could not be more true. Hence, I am a proponent of year-round school.
I apply the neuroscience research described by John Medina in the link above by playing a vocabulary game with the words on my classroom word wall each Friday. This game encourages maximum engagement, requires teamwork, and can be modified to challenge all levels of learners.
- I teach the vocabulary words with a short definition and a motion, if possible. (See the video in my "Differentiated Instruction" post.)
- The words are added to the word wall, which is color coded by subject.
- An index card for each word on the word wall is made.
- Each day we spend a few minutes reviewing the word wall words with partners or as a class. Sometimes we do all science words. Sometimes we just do the first few letters of the alphabet. Whatever we can cover in about two to four minutes. I try to cover the entire wall once a week. Variation: One of my colleagues, Deana Dombrow, has as one of her student jobs "The Word Wall Director." This saves a little bit of time for the teacher and allows the class to be more student centered.
If you have trouble viewing the above video, you may find it here.
- Materials: Object to throw (I use a plush Lions football), index cards, stopwatch, and a bell.
- Students sit in a circle so everyone can see each other.
- Students each take an index card with a word wall word on it. They place it face down in front of them.
- Nobody is allowed to talk, but hand gestures are okay. Talking incurs a ten second penalty.
- I flip over my card and show it to the class as I read it. I start the timer.
- Any students who know the definition will raise their hands. I toss the plush football to one of these students, who states the definition of the word I just read aloud. The student keeps talking about the word until they hear a bell.
- I sound the bell when the student has given me enough information to prove they know what the word is.
- Upon hearing the bell, that student flips over his card. He reads the word. Hands go up. The ball is tossed to a student who has not had a turn yet.
- Once a student gives a definition, they may not give another one (unless it is the last card). They may, however, continue to make gestures to help their peers, so all students can be involved all the time.
- Play continues until every student has his card flipped over.
- The timer is stopped when the last card is answered. The last card can be answered by any student.
- We talk about what worked and what didn't work for the team.
- We brainstorm strategies that could shave seconds off our time to set a new record.
Keep It Fresh
- Keep it novel by allowing each student to take two or three cards as the year progresses and the word wall gets full.
- Students that are higher achievers can be challenged by asking them follow up questions. For example: If the word is "legislative," I expect students to say, "the branch of government that makes the laws." To challenge some students, I will ask follow up questions in a very rapid manner: "What are the two houses in the legislative branch? How many senators are there? How did they arrive at the number 100?" Then I will ding the bell and let them off the hook.
- Some students will struggle despite the best gestures from their peers. I never let them pass the football to another teammate, though. I give them leading questions or words to help them.
- Sometimes I have the students leave their cards face up for a few minutes before the game starts, to allow them time to review the words before they flip the cards upside down and start the game.
- Too many gestures can cause confusion.
What sort of review strategies do you use to ensure those vocabulary words stick?
A special thanks to Ms. Kress for introducing a similar version of this review to me during my first year of teaching.