Fluency Fix – An Approach to Vocabulary Teaching

Last year, we introduced a Word of the Week programme during tutor time. As you’d expect, systematically introducing only one word a week across the whole academy during tutor time had a very limited impact on the quality of students’ writing and reading. Having said this, it did raise the profile of this aspect of literacy with all staff and students and it enabled us to try out some of the strategies from Isabel Beck’s work in her books, Bringing Words to Life and Creating Robust Vocabulary. These have helped us to think through and begin to implement a new programme which we’re calling Fluency Fix. 

Beck’s principles are outlined in this post on the Word of the Week programme. These blogs from Josie Mingay, David Didau and Doug Lemov are great reads about methodologies for explicitly teaching vocabulary.

Particularly important in influencing our planning for the new programme was Josie’s reminder of Graham Nutall’s three conditions leading to effective processing;

  • Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
  • Depth – ensuring students think ‘hard’ about new information so as not to allow it to just hover on the surface, instead challenging learners to wrestle with new ideas and concepts to ensure they are deeply rooted
  • Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something

I don’t want to spend long on theory here though as the intention of this post is to introduce the Fabulous Five Programme, seek peer critique and invite other teachers or English departments to become involved in its development if they wish.

Fluency Fix introduces students to five, tier two words at the start of each week.

We’ve been piloting it in Year 11 at the moment and are initially focusing on abstract nouns, verbs or adjectives relating to emotions. We’ve begun with these as, in addition to believing in the importance of broadening the students’ vocabulary generally, pragmatically these words will help the students in responding as a character in Question 1 of the iGCSE English paper and communicating their emotional response to language in both Question 2 and the unseen poetry question in their Literature exam.

When we introduce the programme into other year groups, we will combine these kinds of words with tier two words identified in the texts the students are covering as part of the curriculum.

The process occurs in six steps at present. Each stage has a common framework so that students become familiar with the process and only need to focus on developing their knowledge of the new vocabulary rather than what to do. Below is a description of each stage, the framework and an example.

Stage one is an introduction of the week’s words, focusing on familiarity with the definitions, pronunciation, graphemes, morphemes and other methods of memorising the spellings.

Fabulous Five – Session 1 Framework

Session 1 Aggravation-Optimism

Stage two focuses on developing memories of the meaning of the word. It is a cloze exercise incorporating a short passage which uses all five of the words and a comprehension question about the impression given of a character or event as a result of the use of the words.

Fabulous Five – Session 2 Framework

Session 2 Aggravation-Optimism

Stage three requires students to apply their developing knowledge of the meanings of the words. They answer a range of questions, incorporating the words (in different forms) into full sentence answers.

Fabulous Five Session 3 Framework

Session 3 Aggravation-Optimism

Stage four involves students writing an extended, directed piece, using all five of the words.

Fabulous Five Session 4 Framework

Session 4 Aggravation-Optimism

A further exposure occurs through a weekly spelling test of the words.

Fabulous Five Homework Frame

Homework Aggravation-Optimism

As we’ve moved through the weeks, we’ve been weaving words from previous weeks in to these exposures so as to increase the likelihood of students retaining the words in their long term memories. We’ve also been looking into how we can best utilise online tools like Memrise and Quizlet, as Andy Tharby discusses here. Finally we’ve set the expection that  students use these words in their speech and writing to embed the vocabulary through more frequent usage.

I’d be really interested, first of all, in what you think of this approach to vocabulary teaching and the frameworks we’ve developed. Do you have amendments you’d suggest or tweaks you think we should make? Should we introduce further steps or do you have other frameworks you think would enhance our work. Lastly, if you like the way this is heading and would be introducing it or something very similar in your faculty, would you be interested in sharing the workload of setting it all up across five year groups on a Dropbox or Google shared drive? Let me know on Twitter (@NSMWells) or via e-mail (Nick.Wells@Swindon-Academy.Org)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s