you WILL participate

Students often have a true lack of background knowledge.  Vocabulary that I used to assume students had mental access to is in fact nonexistent.  Examples at the 8th grade level include words like increase, decrease, and submerge.  Not only do students need to gain exposure to the often tricky content specific science vocabulary1, but other lower level everyday terminology needs to be practiced as well.  To work on that vocabulary piece I’ve finally worked my own version of the “Word Wall” into class.

Wall space in my room is at a premium, particularly at the front off class where most teachers would venture to place their Word Wall.  I merely use a slide with the words on PowerPoint.  This way everyone can see them and working with the wall is part of a routine at the start of class.  We begin with the Daily Thinker (warm-up), review the Key Questions, and then read through the Word Wall.  After the Words I do what I just call “Questioning” for lack of a better term.  To get all of this to work I use a stack of index cards with every students name on it.  For the Word Wall, I pick the top name and have the student read each word with the class repeating after each word.  I lead it the first time the words are introduced (yes, I also have them write definitions, hate me if you must, I have my reasons).  No one is exempt from this.  I could just as likely have an ELL or special education student read them as a regular student.  They should all know how!

I have found this forces students to be accountable for being able to say and read the words.  Students know the expectation is that they can read the words.  The vocabulary students practice isn’t just unit specific content vocabulary, it often includes words frequently used within the topic that is not content specific (like “submerge” for buoyancy).  The cards are used into the “Questioning” session which is a variation of several techniques including Doug Lemov’s Cold Call, No Opt Out, and Stretch2.  I have a set of predetermined questions that I ask students as I go through every card in my class deck.  I make sure I get to EVERY student EVERY day.  What seems to work is to start the questions for a unit at the basic recall level and then work up to (Stretch) higher levels of thinking and complex ideas.  From asking about what volume is to asking how to determine volume of an irregularly shaped object.

The hardest part is keeping the questions flowing quickly as is needed for a good Cold Call session.  In my class of 28 students Questioning goes from a quick romp through predetermined questions to a slog through knee high mud.  I’ve already received positive feedback from students about the Word Wall and Questioning.  Also of import is that I use the cards throughout class.  I infrequently ask for a show of hands for answers to questions or volunteers to read.  Hand raising now is reserved as an assessment technique.

1 Atomic number, mass number, and atomic mass are just one example.  Imagine learning this terminology as an ELL.  Boggles the mind.

2 from Teach Like a Champion