Word Lists

This upcoming Monday with our video study group we are going to be talking about setting up TPRS curricula and how different people have ordered them.  At the same time, MJ noted in the last round of comments on vocab that she’d be interested in seeing what words I’m churning out for my word lists. The truth is, in my opinion, these are two very closely linked activities, because if you are serious about sheltering vocabulary instead of grammar, the order you introduce various words to a big degree helps sequence your curriculum of what you teach and when.

Because I didn’t start creating a list of 25 words per quarter to really center on until second quarter, this year I’m only going to go through three lists.  Each quarter we only focus on these 25 words outside of the scope our normal round of stories.  Sometimes the words come up because I want to do a certain story, but sometimes I create a certain story because I need more reps on that word. My three lists are as follows:

needs, wants, can, must, has , loves, travels to, plays, sleeps, looks, takes, boy/girl, fast/slow, big/small, there is, says, friend, lives (resides ), was, beautiful, looks for, searches for, finds, eats, family, gives

stays, becomes, believes , should, buys, cries, calls (on phone), cooks, spends time, forgets, thinks, asks, answers, invites, costs, laughs, smiles, hurts, dies, waits, doesn’t know, only, possible, simple, maybe, actually

pays attention (watches out), lets (allows), tries, happens, uses, shows (points), starts, stops, receives (gets), again, together, always/never, same/different, because, so that, sometimes, nobody, somebody, every (each), holds (keeps), likes, looks like, belongs to, wears (carries), important

If you look very closely, you’ll notice that my first two lists are pretty closely based off of the word lists MJ has previously shared on this site with various minor tweaks.  You’ll also note that I occasionally cheat by getting more than 25 words in by pairing up opposites; personally I think that is the best way to learn adjectives anyway.

So how do I come up with my words?  On the one hand, I’ve gotten into the habit of   writing words down that I notice showing up from authentic sources: song lyrics, films, readings, etc.  If they are fairly high-frequency and I think I can spin something out of it, in the list it goes.  On the other hand, I have a German frequency dictionary that ranks not only the most frequent 4000+ words that are in general use, but also provides top 100 frequency lists for all parts of speech (verbs, nouns, adjectives, phrases, etc.)  I tend to favor verbs over other parts of speech for purposes of generating lists because they seem to give me more bang for the buck as far as story generation goes.

Overall, I’ve liked this approach because I keep seeing a situation where we are talking about something or reading something, and then a word off of our current list comes up.  I stop things, point at our list posted at the front of the room, and then move on.  After enough of this, the students in the room start pointing those out to each other as well (Hey, that’s on our list).  In my experience, the students don’t really care about the list much until right after the first test they take on it and realize what their holes are.  After that, it becomes general knowledge and more accessible.


2 responses to “Word Lists

  1. How did I miss this? On a shared blog?? Thank you Nathan, thank you!! Keep it up! I still have this dream that I could just rotate for two years and then come around to the beginning again. On the other hand, that first list is pretty necessary at the start for the beginners.

    We’ve talked about verbs seeming to carry the most weight. I noticed on the Denver lists that verbs are the heaviest group. If you can use those correctly, you can always point to or look up the nouns.

    And…I think I mentioned that Susie reminded me to try always to use a multi-word structure for the daily list. That helps push the quota up.


    • Even though I forgot AGAIN that I’d seen this, I thought you’d like to see that I’ve pretty much come up with a total 200 list. It’s not exactly accurate, because I suddenly started to put the “little words” on it at the end, as well as question words, because they’re within the first 200 on our reading frequency list, but it’s getting pretty close to my entire list. As I said on the introduction, many of the words are actually hiding lots of others. And I don’t have a lot of the ones that Laurie has on her Top Ten list–but those seem to change for each year. After I get together with Laurie this summer and understand that list a little better, I may be rethinking this.

      But what I really like is this: once I get it just a little bit rearranged, I can use it to rotate vocabulary each quarter after the first year! It’s even possible that I’ll go for just 50 words for all of first year. That would give me a nice rotation over the next year and a half to use with the second-and-up classes. I could really focus on different forms of the vocabulary!


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