what are words worth?
Rainy days were bittersweet when I was in elementary school. While the playground was sorely missed, watching the rain run like a waterfall down the side of our classroom that was mostly made of glass was great. And then there were rainy day games to brighten the atmosphere. I remember one teacher in particular who introduced us to the best game of all, Dictionary. She would choose a word that none of us had ever heard and then have us write our made-up definition for the word on a slip of paper. We dropped the definitions into a basket, then she randomly read them out loud and we voted for our favorite. When she read the real definition she plant, seed by seed, an appreciation for words into her students.
A few years ago, while teaching poetry on a rainy day I remembered that teacher, that classroom with the glass wall, and with a dictionary in hand, began my lesson. We were reading a poem by William Wordsworth, I began by having my students think of the poet’s last name as a really great compound word, wordsworth. I went on to share my rainy day memory and began exploring vocabulary to be used in our poems in a modified game of Dictionary. When I gave them the first word to tackle, their definitions were great, close to the real thing, but not precise. Then I read them the first definition of the word they had tried to define, “infuse” from the dictionary, “to fill; pervade.” Next I read the second definition, “to release flavor or healing properties while being soaked,” and infused tea in a glass mug. The students liked this so much that we experimented with infusing darkness with light, closing blinds and watching light stream in, lighting candles. That day, every poem contained the word infuse.
Blackbird and Company literature guides incorporate a weekly section devoted to connecting readers to words by developing the skill of looking up vocabulary from reading in the dictionary and using it in an original sentence to reinforce meaning. Teaching your students to develop their vocabulary by using a dictionary or thesaurus and actually using words in a new context will help them:
Learning new vocabulary words is an undervalued skill, often a considered tedious process. What if we begin to teach our students that exploring words is an adventure? Taking the “boring” out of something ultimately involves changing the attitude about the task. While reading is the best way to develop a broad vocabulary, learning to use a dictionary, the kind that you hold in your hands, is the skill that over time will allow students to discover just what words are worth.