Last year, I turned to to enliven my approach to teaching the words of To Kill a Mockingbird. Even though I had already done the work of word list creation years before, I was ready to throw all of that aside because I knew that what I had created were tedious lessons in memorization.

My students were not truly comprehending the words. gave me an opportunity to revamp my tired vocabulary lessons to make them more engaging.

How I did it…

Fine-tuning My Word List

I was going to start by entering my previously created word list into (which in itself is a fantastically easy process composed of nothing more than copying and pasting), yet I knew I wanted to fine-tune that list further. Therefore, I began by clicking Lists and perusing for their selection of To Kill a Mockingbird word lists. I found quite a few, and in the end chose this series of lists, organized by chapter sections. If you are just starting a novel or want to compare your own vocabulary lists with those others have made, the word list library is a priceless resource.

Creating Assignments

I was approaching To Kill a Mockingbird in a reading workshop format where students would be given the freedom to tackle assignments at their own pace, as long as they met certain checkpoints. Therefore, I assigned all six TKAM lists at one time so my students who wanted to work ahead could have that option. All I had to do was click on the list and choose the Assignments tab. I selected different due dates for word lists that supported comprehension of different sections of the book, assigning two lists per week. then gave me the option to choose which classes to assign the lists to, and then my students were all set to independently learn the words from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Having Students LEARN the Words

I divided my vocabulary assignments into two phases: Learning and Applying. I informed my students that they needed to show 80% mastery or higher on each list by the assigned checkpoint in order to receive Learning credit. One thing that surprised me was how many of my students went for 100%. "You know you only have to get to 80% for full credit," I reminded one of my students.

The student shrugged and replied, "Yeah, but it's really not that bad doing this. Plus, I like earning the achievement badges." Whereas before I had to constantly nag my students to complete their vocabulary assignments, they were now willingly doing more practice than I required!

Having Students USE the Words

I really wanted to make sure that my students were understanding how to use their newly acquired words, which is why I created the Applying portion of the assignment. After each section of chapters, I held a discussion about TKAM through Google Classroom. Each student needed to post a response to the question, and a response to a classmate. The catch? They needed to use a total of five of our vocabulary words from that section's list. If they used the five words correctly, they earned their Applying credit.

Grading Tips

The first time I used this new approach to vocabulary instruction, I'll admit it was an arduous task to grade. I quickly found two shortcuts that made it more manageable to assess:

  1. Have students bold the vocabulary words in their responses.
  2. Assign students a "vocab partner" for that Google Classroom discussion. Each student would look over his partner's response on the discussion board to check off whether or not they had used at least five of our vocabulary words correctly. I found that this method helped to make sure my students were constantly reviewing the vocabulary, because in order to determine if their partner was using the words correctly, they had to have a basic understanding of the words themselves.

My Overall Opinion

In one discussion I asked if Mrs. Dubose showed courage. A student wrote that "...while her comments are invective, her desire to quell her morphine addiction is pretty admirable." A classmate responded with the comment, "Yeah, but she still could be more cordial." Although a bit stilted, what profound insights for 8th graders! I do not believe that they would have taken the time to get so introspective if they were not encouraged to use the words from In the end, the results were fantastic. I loved the way their exploration of vocabulary through supported their reading to provide deeper textual analysis.