Student-Centered Vocabulary Project for Your Word Wizards

Student-Centered Vocabulary Project for Your Word Wizards

Expand your student's vocabulary knowledge with this engaging, student-centered vocabulary project called Word Wizards. Free project directions and grading rubric can be downloaded in this post!

Bringing Words to Life is one of my all time favorite professional books that explores teaching and developing a robust vocabulary. We were asked to read this book in my master's program years ago and that was when I found the passion for enhancing and developing my students' vocabulary.

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Recently I was scrolling through the class websites I had created when I was a classroom teacher and ran across all sorts of pictures I had posted for parents to see. These pictures really captured my love for vocabulary instruction that was happening in my classroom and I want to share one of my favorite student-centered vocabulary projects with YOU. But first, a little background...

Word Wizards

On page 19 of Bringing Words to Life, Beck, McKeown and Kucan talk about the importance of students noticing words in environments beyond the classroom. They mention a motivational device they use called Word Wizards in which students can earn points toward becoming a "word wizard" by reporting circumstances in which they have seen, heard, or used learned vocabulary words outside of school. Just the term Word Wizard got me excited so I set out to turn my students into the smartest word wizards around.

Vocabulary in My Classroom

Vocabulary instruction in my classroom was worked into all content areas. Each of my reading groups had their own set of vocabulary terms while science, math and social studies constantly introduced new terms. Then there was our Word of the Week. In my first year of teaching I purchased one of these pocket charts from a teaching resources catalogue.
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I created an entire bulletin board showcasing the pocket chart and had room to hang up various vocabulary graphic organizers students would complete when we studied our Word of the Week (pictured a few paragraphs down). Every year my bulletin board had a different theme (Hang Out with Words-clothes line, Out of This World Words-space theme, etc.) and every year I made it my goal to get my students PUMPED to learn new words and make them a part of their lexicon.

The Hook

When I introduced a new word of the week I would act ridiculously excited. I mean, I truly brought out the inner actress that has been living inside of me since I was a little girl. When the teacher is excited, the students are excited. Usually. Of course I always had one or two who would roll their eyes but when hoards of other students would clap, smile or jump out of their seat, for me that was enough to dismiss the party poopers lurking in my room. They were excited on the inside but just too cool to show it on the outside...right?😉

I would use the word in a sentence, show a movie clip about the word or do some kind of demonstration. The class would then have to guess what was written on the definition card I had reversed that was sitting in our pocket chart. Revealing the actual definition was so exhilarating. Well, at least it was for me.

We would then fill out some kind of graphic organizer but never the same one. Each word was special; therefore, each word needed its own unique graphic organizer. (Now do you see how my mind works?) I wanted their graphic organizers to look beautiful, colorful and be a depiction of their absolute best work so the word would be memorable in their little minds.

Here is one of my Word of the Week bulletin boards in my 2nd grade classroom displaying an umbrella shaped graphic organizer for the word drenched.
This space themed bulletin board from my 3rd grade classroom is displaying ornament shaped graphic organizers for the word jovial that we studied in the middle of December. (It's hard not to be jovial during the holiday season).
As you can see, not all students had their graphic organizer displayed each week. I only chose ones that were neat, had correct capitalization/punctuation represented in their meaty sentences and was nice and colorful. We all know how those little minds work...you want your graphic organizer chosen to hang on the board for the week. By doing this, I found that "most everyone" always gave me their best work and it truly motivated them to use the vocabulary word in a meaningful sentence. I made sure that I didn't hang up the same students' graphic organizers each week.

The Bell

To make sure my word wizards were constantly on their toes and aware of our word of the week words when used in context, one of my classroom jobs was Word Wizard. The word wizard kept one of these bells on his/her desk for the week:
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Any time we heard one of our word of the week words used (a student uses one of our words when speaking, a guest speaker uses one when talking, during a movie, during a read aloud, in a presentation, etc.) the Word Wizard would ring the bell. Pure Excitement! If the Word Wizard isn't paying attention, you better believe someone else in the room most likely is and will let them know to ring that bell. Our words never went unnoticed. Moral: Every classroom need a Word Wizard bell ringer.
Not my best moment buuuut this gem was captured during one of our winter parties. I think the bell ringer was in the bathroom and a parent volunteer used one of our words so I ran over to ring the bell😛
 BTW: That's Mr. Smith (my hubs) standing right behind me. What a hunk.

Words Beyond the Classroom

We also had a system set up that students could bring in examples of our words they saw outside of the classroom in exchange for a Gator Gold (a reward system I had in place). They could bring in pictures of a billboard, a cereal box, any print material, etc. that displayed one of our words. Yes, it was something else I had to manage but it truly got my students excited about words and increased vocabulary awareness beyond our classroom walls. GET THIS: I truly think this inspired students to go home and READ books. I had parents tell me their child had never picked up a book on their own at home and that they couldn't believe how they were now motivated to read in case they ran across one of our words. Whatever works, right?

Word Wizard Project

When I began to see how excited my students were about our vocabulary words, I came up with my Word Wizard Project. Every student got to choose a word that they thought our class needed to make a part of their vocabulary and they came up with a creative presentation to teach us about their special word. They even got to add their word to our word wall:

I totally understand that one might think this looks like a hot mess, but it worked for us. Plus, students absolutely loved pointing out their word to visitors.
I tried to keep the Word Wizard Project guidelines open-ended as I wanted students to get creative with how they would teach the class about their word. The only criteria I provided was that they needed to mention:
  • defintion
  • part of speech
  • amount of syllables
  • synonyms
  • use it in a sentence
Let me tell ya...they didn't disappoint. Example 1:

I even learned some new words!

Many chose to create a presentation to project on our Smartboard:

This little girl wanted the class to work together to fill out a graphic organizer about her word while she facilitated:

A fizzy bath tab was used to demonstrate effervescent:

I loved the images and questions presented!

Some students chose to create a poster that we hung up in our room:

Poster lights helped demonstrate the word illuminate 

If you love teaching vocabulary as much as I do then you NEED to try out this Word Wizard Project. Here is what I sent home (you can always opt to do this as an in-class project) as well as the grading rubric.

Click HERE to download
**If you are afraid that some of your students may not choose a challenging vocabulary word, check in on them! Say, "Hey__(name)__! I'm DYING to know what word you are thinking about teaching us for your Word Wizard project." Help guide them to a new word if you feel what they chose isn't a good fit. For students to successfully choose an appropriate word depends on their awareness of their own vocabulary knowledge.

If you don't have a passion for vocabulary, then take the time to read Bringing Words to Life. I hope you can find the passion.

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