Themes and "Vocabulary Lists"
Eight years ago I went through a pretty significant break-up. I dumped my textbook. Sorry, Valette and Valette, it's not me, it's you.
When thinking about my teaching, I have found myself in situations recently where I take a step back and say to myself, "Wait a second....am I organizing my lessons by groups of vocabulary?! NOOOO!!!" I mean, I "do" modes of transportation and body parts with kindergarten. My first graders learn rooms of the house. My fourth graders do some significant work with fruits and vegetables. But I have come to the conclusion that while I do work with themes, I do not really have units based on certain categories of vocabulary. Seem contradictory? I know, I get it. But let me explain.
You may want to start thinking about this by reading my post about the unit with which I start the year with my fourth graders. We start by talking about their culinary food preferences and things go from there. We then look at photos from the book Hungry Planet, which shows what families around the world eat. Finally, we finish with a Movie Talk with the animated Disney short Feast.
So now let me elaborate a little more. Sure, when I think about it, I am working with sets of words that could be considered categories. But I really believe the difference between teaching focusing on themes and teaching focusing on vocabulary is how the teacher introduces the words and how the students interact with them. Let's take my kindergarten unit that highlights transportation. The culminating activity is a Pocoyo video, "La Course" ("The Race"). It has a tortoise-and-the-hare flavor to it, and we do a lot of activities leading up to that.
Here's a PDF file of the Notebook file I use when introducing the structures featured in the video. I use one of the stories in the Stories by Gus on the Go app, which is actually the tortoise and the hare. Through that story I can teach the words fast and slowly. We talk about which modes of transportation move quickly and which go more slowly. We have races with actual toy planes and trains and automobiles. We play "What's in the Bag?" with different toys, and I ask students to make predictions. I happen to have a taxi that is smiling, so let's bring in emotions. I have a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, and his friend Percy. Enter colors. Everything we do circles back around to things we've already discussed, recycling vocabulary and making our discussions totally comprehensible for my students.
NB-The video on the left is in the gym and there's a PE class going on the other side of the curtain, so it's noisy! Plus, this was the day before vacation, so...!!
We talk about what animals move quickly and slowly, and how they move (jump, swim, walk, fly). We play some games on the Linguascope website that focus on different vehicles but also require students to think and process vocabulary differently. Students do some categorizing, drawing different things (animals, vehicles) that travel at various speeds.
So what's my point with all of this? That it's OK to work with different groups/categories of vocabulary and words, as long as the students are given a context in which they can use the words. We teach language, not words. We cannot teach things in isolation, especially when dealing with young children. So sure, I can tell someone that my kindergarteners learn modes of transportation, but the way they process the vocabulary goes so much deeper than simply looking at a list.
Sometime soon I hope to write a similar post about my "body parts unit" with kindergarten, or my "farm animals unit" that starts my year with second grade. But I needed to get this post out
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public PreK-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twenty-third year teaching, and twentieth at Marion Cross.