What we’re trying to do: Explicit Vocabulary Teaching

In the previous academic year, we’ve trialled the use of Knowledge Organisers as a way of enriching the content-focus of our teaching. Having these documents and sharing them with students has worked to an extent – and I’ve discussed some of that in a previous post – but the key challenge has really been that they haven’t been utilized to their maximum.

This year, we’d like to try and do something about that, and hit a few objectives.

  • We want to ensure that knowledge is taught explicitly, and referred to explicitly in lessons. This is something we have to do as teachers, but one of our key areas is in the explicit and focused teaching of vocabulary. Without having lessons where we just “teach the words”, it’s critical that we do actually get students thinking and speaking like Geographers.
  • We want to be able to set and work within meaningful and powerful homework exercises. Sometimes, what we do in class is worth discussion and extension – but often, there are ‘gaps’ where a more useful exercise would be to explicitly consolidate knowledge of key terms and vocab.
  • We want to encourage interleaving and regular study habits in students – not leaving everything until the revision time. This helps with their learning, as well as getting them to reflect and utilize the Knowledge Organisers more effectively.

What we’re thinking of doing:

The KO’s allow us to define the vocab that we want to teach over the course of a topic/unit. We have only created KO for the KS3 classes – believing that the specifications/learner guides provided by the exam boards should be able to define the content of the course at KS4 and KS5.

For our KS5, this has undoubtedly been true. Our exam board specification is clear and well written, but they also provide a “Learner Guide”, which has explicit signposts to key terms, vocabulary and approach, as well as key skills and specific details about what you should know about case studies. For our KS4, this is not the case. Although the specification is good enough for experienced teachers, our understanding of it is evolving, and the granularity of the detail does not match our A Level board’s Learner Guide. The first job, therefore, is to write a Learner Guide for KS4, specifying the detail.

The second strand of work is to ensure that all of the knowledge and work is translated in to an easily revisable format. For us, after consultation with EAL, SEN and MFL colleagues, this has been to focus on Quizlet. This is free and accessible to all students who can find our account, and we have the option of letting them join classrooms where we can track their progress and processes.

Our vocabulary or key content is translated in to Quizlet sets. It is possible for students to make their own, but this offers a bit of quality control for us. The creation process is quite simple, and if you’ve got the knowledge defined elsewhere – as we do – then conversion from e.g. a Word document is a matter of moments.

At the moment, our Quizlet sets exist as a whole unit. For some, this isn’t a problem, but for others, this means a very extensive list of vocab which can be significantly off putting for students. Our intention is to break them up in to teachable segments, and this will reduce the “fear factor” of a 150 word vocab list!

Our plan is to set learning and revision as a homework exercise – tracking log in and progress using the Quizlet classroom, to make sure students have done something at home – before producing interleaving quizzes (low stakes, no tracking) to test and use that knowledge in lessons.

I’m excited to see what we can develop with this approach, but would love to get thoughts and feedback – what do you think?

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