When Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, GA equipped its ninth grade English classrooms with Netbooks, teacher Marc Ginsberg decided to make Vocabulary.com the backbone of his vocabulary curriculum. Here, he talks with Vocabulary.com about the experience. (As of publication, Cedar Shoals is well represented on the Vocabulary.com school leaderboards, even topping the points earned chart for Thursday of last week.)
Vocabulary.com: How are the students responding to working on the Netbooks in your newly-wired classroom?
Marc Ginsberg: Right now it seems that they're way more engaged with their work than same class [with different students] last semester. They've become more independent as problem solvers and have more motivation for homework and revising papers. I'll even take stories that are in their textbook and find e-text versions of them online and put it in the class folder. Some kids just like looking at things on the screen better.
VC: And how did you decide to use Vocabulary.com with the students in this class?
MG: I was at a professional development meeting as part of a literacy initiative we're engaged in, and vocabulary instruction came up. Now, vocabulary instruction is something we've always done, but as we were going over some of the ideas from the training, I began playing with the Challenge, and I was thinking, "Okay this looks...pretty awesome!"
VC: What makes it effective in your mind?
MG: It keeps you engaged. When you guess wrong, you have to click through to the right answer. It rewards you for being curious and continuing. And even if you skip the context you're still getting good practice. I also like [questions] where students have to spell the answer — I thought that was really cool.
VC: Is it easy to use as a teacher?
MG: I made a fake list and saw that it made a practice test and an assignment for you. It took me five or ten minutes for what used to take me thirty.
VC: Is that important to you? Do you feel as a teacher you are often working against a clock?
MG: Yes. I have a zillion ideas, and it's just what I can reasonably manage. Being able to speed up vocabulary is great because they [the students] can do this on their own, and it self-differentiates.
VC: So how much time are you spending on vocabulary now that you're using Vocabulary.com?
MG: I give them time, say 15 or 20 minutes on a Monday, to log on and access the link [to an interactive Vocabulary List], and in class they bookmark it in their account. I also email the link and print it. All they have to do as their assignment is progress through the automated quiz. They spend more time doing that then [they would have spent] studying for a vocabulary quiz, and it tells them why they're getting it wrong and connects them to the answer.
VC: How are your students responding?
MG: It depends on the kid. I have seen kids very carefully reading the blurbs and I have seen kids mow through them really quickly. Last week at the end of the week, this kid Frankie had his phone out and was tapping around on his phone, and I told him to put it away and he said, "No no!" and it turned out he was doing the quiz on his phone. He showed his classmates.
VC: How did you set up your first lesson?
MG: Since what we try to get across is that learning new vocabulary isn't just memorization, but acquiring the habits of mind to get curious about words, I gave them eight root words and a range of words that come out of those root words. My students understand that those words may or may not be on the quiz.
VC: You should check out our "Power Prefix" Vocabulary Lists, that teach morphology-specific word parts in this same way. We also have lots of literature-specific Vocabulary Lists on the site. Would you ever find those useful?
MG: Absolutely. We're about to start in on To Kill A Mockingbird. I'd love to have have them spend 30 minutes going through a To Kill A Mockingbird lists before reading the book. I am a specialist in reading and I know pre-reading can be torturous sometimes, and this would make it easier.
VC: Then, as a thank you for taking the time to speak to us, we offer you five To Kill a Mockingbird Vocabulary Lists. We hope you and your students continue to enjoy using Vocabulary.com!