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Friday, November 21, 2014

Plausibly Preposterous: Mixing Vocabulary and Grammar (Part I)

Before I left for my trip to San Marcos last week, my students were reading an article about the Loch Ness monster in Scope magazine. In our reading, we ran across the words preposterous and plausible, and I decided to do some more work with them because the kids seemed to enjoy speaking with them. 

Monday, we started with a modified vocabulary routine. I put both words together since we discussed them a bit last week. I gave them pictures to identify as preposterous or plausible, including pictures of a much younger me (sometimes you just have to go there to keep them engaged). 

Now that my classes are comfortable with the Texas Literacy Initiative vocabulary routine, and because I am an ESL teacher, it was time to add another component: writing. Our school theory is that all students are English language learners, and as such, they need to listen, speak, read, and write every day. The kids have been doing a great job using the words in social conversations both in and out of my classroom, but I wanted to make sure they could use preposterous and plausible academically

Last weekend, I was in San Marcos for the TexTESOL conference. I learned some incredible things in my day and a half (I was also presenting, so I did not get to attend as many sessions as I wanted). One of the presenters, Colin Ward, introduced me to the website Just the Word. The site allows you to type in a word, and it returns common uses of the word. This is a benefit for students who are encountering new words that they may not be familiar enough with to use correctly in their writing. Providing students will phrases instead of single vocabulary words helps them use the words more effectively. 

Preposterous did not return any common phrases, so I gave my students two of my own: "That's preposterous", and "That idea is preposterous." Plausible returned six phrases, four of which I gave to my students for their use. Even though I provided my classes with these options, only a few students used them in their assignments. Most were able to effectively use the words on their own. 

I also had the honor of seeing Gretchen Bernabei at the conference last weekend. Bernabei presented information from her upcoming book due out in January. I took one many of her ideas and added to the writing lesson I was putting together for this week.  

The first idea I incorporated into my writing lesson was a simple trick (at least I think they are) to use with their, there, and they're. I chose to start with there:

Bernabei talked about having the kids prove that they are using the correct form of there/their/they're. I am constantly on my students about providing text evidence (proof) with our reading assignments, so adding this component to their writing was a natural fit. 

For there, the students use (here) as the proof piece. I initially gave this instruction but after a day, I realized that my kids were not actually checking anything. I added a piece to make sure that they were actually thinking through the method. In addition to (here), my students had to define the here (Bernabei asked us to play with her methods and see what works for us, so I do not feel guilty for the modification). For example:
  • There they are. 
  • Where are they?
  • Here. 
  • Here where?
  • Here in the school/cafeteria/classroom/etc. 

Bernabei also said that if her students used the word correctly one time, they earn one grade. If they use it five times, they earn two grades. I decided to follow her lead, and I have to say it was a fantastic idea. I do not give extra credit, so most kids took advantage of this "easy" option for earning an extra 100. 

Here is what the some of the first drafts ended up looking like:

We followed all of this up with an editing/revising activity. Stay tuned for Plausibly Preposterous: Mixing Vocabulary and Grammar (Part II). 

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