Friday, December 7, 2012

Points of Pride: Our Class Word Jars

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the need to re-invent word study in my classroom.  As with all Language Arts teachers, when it comes to word study, I'm balancing many different curricular and student needs, but the one commonality in my word study programming is that I need to help my students find -- or keep -- an interest in the power of words.

Fortunately, my friend and mentor Maria Caplin (you can find her @WonderLeadMaria and/or over at Teaching in the 21st Century) is one of my district's word study gurus, so I've been able to steal her ideas pick her brain this year.

One new idea to which I've been most consistently committed is the Word Jar.  Maria has had a lot of success with individual students collecting words in word jars; students find these words in their reading and all over the place.  It gives them an awesome awareness that fun words really are everywhere!

I decided to try out the Word Jar idea on a class level.  In September, each of my three blocks took a great deal of pride decorating its Word Jar during Study Center time.

3/4 loves its mascot -- on top -- "The Fuzz" (new nickname courtesy of The Outsiders).
5/7 is big on duct tape, and 8/9 could NOT get enough glitter on theirs.
We started collecting interesting words in our notebooks back when we were enjoying Wonder as our class read aloud.  Students drew mini Word Jars in their readers notebooks and collected as we read, and then we chose a few words from most chapters to add to the jar.

A peek into the 8/9 jar.  I'm told that the jars still smell vaguely
of frosted animal crackers.
Every few nights during our Outsiders unit, for homework, I survey students about their reading.  One consistency is that I ask students to identify for me a sentence with an interesting or unfamiliar word that they would like to go over as a class.  Based on survey results, we choose three to four words every other chapter and spend 15-20 minutes talking about meaning, practicing application, and talking through in detail how readers could use the text to try to figure out the meanings of those words on their own.

This had made much more meaningful -- and lasting -- our vocabulary study for the book.  There's a crazy amount of rich and tricky vocabulary in The Outsiders that I could drill (and, ahem, have in the past drilled) in to them 100+ words and drag the unit out for weeks on end ... but instead, we've been much more successful with a smaller word list and a heavier emphasis on how to use context clue strategies to figure out the other words.
"The Fuzz" says, "We heart our Word Jar, Mrs. Caplin!"

Next step: I'm now trying most Fridays to open up our Word Jars and revisit the fun new words we've been collecting over the last few months.  My goal by the end of the year will be for all students to be able to use all words flexibly -- meaning they could change the part of speech of the word -- in new contexts.


  1. WOW! Love the creative jars and fun that each jar takes on their own period. I especially love that you are going to pull words out on Friday I think I will start that during our Poetry Friday celebration. The Fuss is priceless!! Congrats to all the super wordsmiths in 6th grade!!

  2. ooops next time I better check my own spelling: fuss/fuzz :)