Category Archives: Word lists

First-year reading

After a wildly successful evening with adult students to whom I’d never given Cyrillic reading, I decided to mimic the lesson on Poor Anna with my first years.

I used the Scaffolding Literacy and TPRS reading ideas for the most part: I talked through the vocabulary, interviewing kids, described Anna and set up an “Anna” at the front of the room, set up a parallel figure (Anton), let them try to tell me about Anna, finally read a paragraph to them, then let them follow the reading with me, had little races to repeat to their neighbors, and repeated. I didn’t tell them that this was also an underhanded way of getting them to do first person reporting, but that was part of it. I did use the chance to bring in cultural ideas. The kid playing Anton was funny: he inserted facts about himself into the poem that we’d learned.

Maybe I used to expect too much too fast? Or didn’t make it comprehensible to everyone?

Essentially, I’ve put off reading this book until second year lately because it’s difficult in Russian, but since I have second-year kids in with upper levels, it’s hard to use it at all unless we do it in first year. Maybe because we’re having more fun with it and making fun of some of the ideas?

In other notes, I saw that Terry Thatcher Waltz gave the “Super 7” ideas that everyone needs in basic language classes. I liked her list because it’s not specific vocabulary, but concepts:

existence
possession
identity
preference
location
motion
desire/volition

Reading Tim Ferriss

Even though I can’t seem to get my e-mail to work or do some school-related chores from this location, I have been able to reach the blog (go figure), as well as some favorite sites. A recent one has been Tim Ferriss, who seems to figure out how to achieve efficiency in all subject areas. Like Val Thornber, Ferriss’ suggestions on learning language often include what we are aiming for as CI/TPRS teachers, even as we are curtailed by our systems and students’ individual motivation.

Check out this post on learning languages. Ferriss has English-language lists of HF words, as well as a link to his system for learning fast. I’m going to share it with my kids next year.

On vocabulary lists

I was just adding one more word to my “First 200″ list. It’s still a little out of order, in that words that seem like they should be really solid (because, then, who, why) are way down the list. With time, I’ll figure out whether I should just take those off or whether it will be good to make sure that kids know them in every circumstance. And maybe…the “why/because” combination can stay down there, because kids are not really ready to use them at length until their proficiency is higher than first-year, and then I will be reminded to really focus on getting kids to ask those questions.

Commenting on the specific list is not what I want to do right now. I wanted to say that I am happy with how I used it this year, for the most part. This comment goes back to a conversation I had with Diana Noonan about three years ago now, one that I’ve probably reported a number of times, but it might explain my approach. I was asking Diana about her Denver list of 200 words for Spanish and French classes (search here for “Denver public schools word lists”). If those were for the first two years, what were her lists for the second two years? She said that it would be the same list, just with more complications.

So this is what I’ve done with my list: I am using 25 structures per quarter. First year kids get the first 100. Those are so basic that they come up all the time. In the next three years (I have mixed classes from then on), we rotate, 25 structures at a time, through the entire 200. It will mean that at some point the Russian 1 and Russian 4 will be on the same structures. But the advanced kids will be dealing with the verbs in all tenses and modes, and the nouns in all cases, or at least the ones I want to focus on. And if a “little word” is on the list, I’ll make sure that I use it with a variety of expressions to give the kids the full sense of its use. That, in combination with a slow pace of Scaffolding Literacy, embedded readings and lots of verbal and written CI, should make things flow.

I still do backward planning with specific additional vocabulary that goes with certain readings, but this year following the list gave me some necessary structure, as well as letting the kids know what they were responsible for more clearly than I had done in the past. One of my level 3 turned in a make-up story the other day using almost all the structures from this quarter, and I nearly hugged her, looking at how correctly she used most of them (grammatically) in context. I was on the point of asking her whether she’d had Russian-student assistance, and then I noticed that the structures we’d used only in one case or tense were sometimes incorrect. She couldn’t manipulate what she hadn’t heard a lot as successfully.

I’m feeling pretty good about what I learned as I taught this year, even as I see all the places I could have improved. I’m so looking forward to next year, but first…I’m looking forward to this summer and creating the time to get outside in the garden, on the lake, into the woods, and onto the hills. Hurrah!

Sight Word Lists

Just a quick check in from semi-snowy Wisconsin.  As documented earlier in this space, I’ve worked a lot the past couple of years on vocab lists and by this point have come up with five lists each of vocab words that I really believe in.  Each list has between 25-33 high-frequency words and that basically forms the core of my curricular sequence during any given quarter.

Well starting the second semester last week I decided that rather than start up another list to plug through, I would try and see how well everybody know the around 140 words we have had up to this point.  My line of thought was jarred by MJ’s comment a few weeks about about working with”Sight Words”, and I had my students rate themselves on how quickly they could recognize each word on this list.  Here’s an example:

I asked my students to rate each word on a scale of 1 to 5. Five means that they know the word immediately without thinking about it.  Four means that they can get it within three seconds without looking at the sentence.  Three means they need the sentence to jog their memory, but then they know it.  Two means they are still guessing a bit after reading the sentence, and One means that they don’t know the word.

After they do each set of words, though, they need to summarize their results by counting up how many words fell under the 5, 4 and 3 categories and writing down how many 2 and 1 words they had.  The summary looks like this:

Basically, these surveys give me a snapshot of where my students are right now and help me see which words I need to spend this semester reviewing.  So this semester I’m using this review list to target which sight needs require more work for my intermediate and advanced classes, and I think I’ll have my beginning students take the sight word survey at the beginning of next quarter to see where we are at finishing off the school year.

For those interested, here is a copy of the full file I created: Sight Word Survey.

Updated Word Lists Part II

OK, the usefulness of word lists is pretty well established in my mind: they ensure that I strategically focus my word choices in areas that will pay off down the road.  At the same time, however, there can be  some downsides.  For me, sometimes my PQA suffers because I’m so focused on getting “useful” words out there that I don’t get words out there that help me get to know my students better.

A good case in point was on the word “carries” that I did last week because it is on my list number II: in one class I learned that they carried book bags, back packs and cell phones to school. Blah blah blah. I had a script that went along with it that might have created some spark, but the PQA with that particular class just left me cold.  (The other class chose to carry baby buffaloes, unicorns and polar bears to school so we were fine–one of my student’s lockers opens up to Narnia, dontchaknow).

So one of the things I’m focusing on this quarter is really doing a better Job of PQA. The thing I’m just now realizing is that maybe the target phrase from my list may be so-so in the PQA department, but I can have it ride shotgun along with a livelier “fun” word that I can get some mileage out of. To help me with this, I’m trying to better use the scripts I have from Anne Matava; Anne has a great feel for creating situations that are interesting to students, and so I’m pressing her accumulated wisdom into service.  I took her scripts, translated the target phrases into German (where they speak to me better) and then cross-referenced them with my charts.  The following index is the result;

(Note: Matava I refers to Anne’s first volume of scripts and Matava II refers to her second volume of scripts.  I’ve provided the target phrases for the first few of these, but out of respect for how much time it took Anne to write all of these, I don’t want to just re-publish much of her table of contents on the internet free of charge.  So, I’m taking this halfway approach to show how many resources there are available on these lists while still being a semi-responsible internet citizen. If anybody happens to already own both books and would be interested in my full list, let me know and I’ll email you a copy).

Wichtige Wörter (Important Words) I

needs; wants; has; loves; travels to; plays; sleeps; takes; girl; boy; there is; says; lives; was; fast/slow; is afraid of; big/small; beautiful; looks for; finds; eats; likes; can; must; sees

Matava I: The Thirsty Boy, pg. 8
hears something; travels to; I’m sorry

Matava I: The Tent Story, pg. 12
hears something; takes, runs to

Matava I: The Dirty Room, pg. 18
want; travels to; dirty

Matava II: Can’t Find Her Brain, pg. 6
can’t find; looks for; helps him/her

Wichtige Wörter II

stays; buys; cries; receives (gets); reads; writes; feels; thinks (about); would like; invites; calls (on phone); does; hurts; wears; believes; should; shows; doesn’t know; happens; now/later; simple; maybe; looks (watches); may; heavy/light (easy/hard); only

Matava I: An Important Test, pg. 6
thinks; an important test; stays

Matava I: Report Card Day, pg. 7
finds;shows; report card

Matava I: Afraid of the Package, pg. 11
receives a package; doesn’t want to open it ; is afraid of

Matava I: Cutting Down a Christmas Tree, pg. 14
wants to cut down a Christmas tree; nothing happens

Matava I: Going to the Mall to see Santa, pg. 16

Matava I: A Day in Court, pg. 19

Matava I: I Would Prefer Something Else, pg. 22

Matava I: Fun with Squirt Guns, pg. 30

Matava I: What Will Happen?, pg. 35

Matava I: Nothing to Wear, pg. 40

Matava II: The Love Letter, pg. 10

Matava II: Cheap Jewlery, pg. 18

Matava II: Come Outside!

Matava II: Take Two Gummy Bears and Call Me in the Morning, pg. 29

Matava II: Can I Carry Your Book Bag?, pg. 32

Matava II: Bored, pg. 67

Wichtige Wörter III

pays attention to; pleases; tries; with/without; starts/stops; again; together; always/never; because; so that; sometimes; same/different; visits; looks like; belongs to; somebody/nobody; back; uses; before/after; understands; ready; becomes; forgets; his/her; still

Matava I: Try It On!, pg. 13

MatavaI: He Talks Too Much, pg.15

Matava I: Let’s Start!

Matava I: I Lost Something on the Way, pg. 23

Matava I: Let’s Celebrate Together, pg. 41

Matava II: King of Pain, pg. 21

Matava II: Proud of Our Son, pg. 22

Matava II: Don’t You Recognize Me?, pg. 52

Matava II: The Fortune Teller, pg. 26

Matava II: Don’t Drink the V-8!, pg. 31

Matava II: What a Good-looking Young Man!, pg. 34

Matava II: A Life-changing Experience, pg. 38

Matava II: Totally Different, pg. 46

Matava II: Don’t You Recognize Me?, pg. 52

Matava II: That Belongs to Me!, pg. 65

Wichtige Wörter IV

It depends; enough; like/prefer/most prefer; part; not yet; one more time; already; our; something; exactly; works; at; is missing; otherwise; lifts; fits; allows (lets); against; through; wanted; was able to; had to; would; would be; would have; every day; as soon as

Matava II: Lazy, pg. 7

Matava II: Not Full Yet, pg. 14t

Matava II: Let Me Out of Here!

Matava II: Not Enough Room, pg. 28

Matava II: The Inventor, pg. 40

Matava II: Dorm Life, pg. 45

Matava II: Totally Different

Wichtige Wörter V

except for; during/while; almost; lays/lies/puts; explains; tells (a story); really; leads; anyways; there; somewhere; since; meets; sends; although; especially; back; is happy about; looks forward to; feels; decides; Excuse me!; safe/dangerous; because of; remembers

Matava I: Table Manners, Part I, pg. 25

Matava I: A Room of His Own, pg. 28

Matava I: Let’s Go, pg. 42

Matava I: The Class Trip, pg. 43

Matava II: I Can’t Go Out With You,  pg. 8

Matava II: The Greeter, pg. 24

Matava II: The Exchange Student, pg. 47

Matava II: The Speech, pg. 50

Word List Ramblings

I’m so glad Nathan posted his word list. The one thing I don’t see on it that is also not on my first list is “is.” We both have “there is.” When I was doing the QAR technique in my classes this week, kids were asking how to say “is” and “does,” and while there’s a little language bite one can use to emphasize the idea of “does” in a question or a subjunctive-type sentence, it doesn’t really exist. It’s just “Sleeps Ivan?” instead of “Does Ivan sleep/Is Ivan sleeping?” So now I’m wondering whether putting a crossed-out “is” on my word board might be a fun way to get kids to realize that.

Nathan has a lot of verb structures that I don’t get to for quite a while. My list has a bunch of the question words, prepositions, pronouns and adverbs on it right now, even though we’ve discussed that we are finding it more important to focus on structures that involve verbs. Maybe those single words shouldn’t be on there. On the other hand, one of my inherited level 2 kids came to me and mentioned that she really doesn’t understand or use correctly the word “v.” It can mean in, into, to, on or at. I told her to just read with us, and pay attention to what it means when it comes up, and ask me whenever it doesn’t make sense to her. I found that my beginning parents translated it flawlessly in four different meanings after only three sessions this year. Maybe she is just too focused?

I also am wondering whether the fact that things like “says” and “said” are so completely different in Russian means that they should be considered different structures.

Not trying to get absolution for going even slower than seems possible, but thinking about this whole “word list” thing. I’m trying to get a new Russian “novel” that my class is writing down under 200 words, but can’t seem to do it, and I think this is why: there are too many markedly different forms of any word. (Two examples: “Minya” and “ya” can both mean “I.” “Nam” and “mwi” both mean “we.”)

Updated Word Lists, part I

Over the past year and a half I have become a huge fan of giving my students a list of 25 or so structures per quarter and using those to organize what we focus on.  The lists are primarily organized around what are going to be the most common and useful words I need in my classes.  I love that in my Level II and up classes that anytime I roll out a song or story, we are by this point almost guaranteed to know at least 70% of the words before we even start.  It opens up the playbook of what I can use in class because my students are very solid on the most frequent words in the language.

The structure of these lists–to be perfectly honest–is most necessary for me because it allows me to track what multiple groups at multiple levels should be able to know.  I don’t want to go out of bounds, and this allows me to always have in mind where the bounds for a particular group is at a particular time. I still am pretty freewheeling in that if I find a great song or an interesting story (or joke) then I’ll drop everything and play around with that.  But I think some of my students appreciate a rough blueprint of where we are going in a particular quarter, and these wordlists give them that reassurance that there is a plan.

My big project for the last couple weeks, then, is updating my word lists to be relevant and useful.  Here is what they currently look like:

I

needs; wants; has; loves; travels to; plays; sleeps; takes; girl; boy; there is; says; lives; was; fast/slow; is afraid of; big/small; beautiful; looks for; finds; eats; likes; can; must; sees

II

stays; buys; cries; receives (gets); reads; writes; feels; thinks (about); would like; invites; calls (on phone); does; hurts; wears; believes; should; shows; doesn’t know; happens; now/later; simple; maybe; looks (watches); may; heavy/light (easy/hard); only

III

pays attention to; pleases; tries; with/without; starts/stops; again; together; always/never; because; so that; sometimes; same/different; visits; looks like; belongs to; somebody/nobody; back; uses; before/after; understands; ready; becomes; forgets; his/her; still

IV

It depends; enough; like/prefer/most prefer; part; not yet; one more time; already; our; something; exactly; works; at; is missing; otherwise; lifts; fits; allows (lets); against; through; wanted; was able to; had to; would; would be; would have; every day; as soon as

V

except for; during/while; almost; lays/lies/puts; explains; tells (a story); really; leads; anyways; there; somewhere; since; meets; sends; although; especially; back; is happy about; looks forward to; feels; decides; Excuse me!; safe/dangerous; because of; remembers

One thing that was fun about list V is that before I finalized it, I went through all of the words on it with a German II class and asked them what they thought about each one.  To a bit of my surprise, they thought that all but six of them were solid choices that they wanted to be able to learn how to say them.  I took the six choices they rejected (stuff like “should have done” and “when/if”)and moved them to my next quarter’s list. I liked the negotiation and buy-in this created and will probably continue to work this way moving forward.

Carol Gaab’s elementary word list

I attended Carol’s elementary session and was struck by how that much young learners are like our older ones. Carol pointed out that the usual elementary lessons have limited time, so they absolutely must concentrate on these key words:

goes/went

likes/liked

eats/ate

wants/wanted

needs/needed

has/had

is able/could

sees/saw

there is/there was

says/said

looks for/looked for

It occurs to me that these are the words I need to be teaching every group first, whether they’re elementary or not.

Next Year’s Word Lists

This year I really enjoyed having a 25 word/phrase list for each quarter that my students were responsible from.  Because the words weren’t from the back of a chapter but rather high-frequency words, they allowed us to be talking about a wide range of topics and understand a wide range of readings by the end of the year.

The study stack flashcards I created each of my three word lists (I didn’t do word lists first quarter) are as follows:

List 1: http://www.studystack.com/flashcard-499290

List 2: http://www.studystack.com/flashcard-551711

List 3: http://www.studystack.com/flashcard-598137

For my upper level students, who also had to learn the past tense forms of the verbs in these lists, I have additional online flashcards.

So now going into next year, I have my lists fairly well down for my upcoming German I classes because we worked them out this year.  I think there are some words I’ll weed out (never really got that much burn from visits, spends time, actually, etc.), while other words surprised me by cropping up constantly (stays, collects, only, tries, happens, looks like, nobody, belongs to, etc.).

For me a good word to include in a list is one that is high-frequency and opens up new things to talk about.  Some words like collects, ready, and finished  I put in there because I can force myself to use those in class as part of the daily routines, and so they learn them as a matter of course.  Free shipping!  Other words I hear in a song or something I’m reading and am reminded that “Oh yeah, that does get used a lot in German”; this includes words such as belongs to, pleases, always, etc.

The biggest thing for me, however, comes in really listening to my students.  What are they trying to say but can’t?  What words do they always ask you how to say?  What English words keep getting said with a German accent that they try and sneak in there?  What words do they keep asking me to redefine, even though I thought we covered them already?

As a result, listening for words like this becomes a form on ongoing curriculum planning.  What do they need to know so I can do what I want to do?  The problem is I that so much of my German vocabulary is so deeply learned that I don’t recognized it as useful; it’s parked in my hard drive’s ROM rather than my RAM.  But then I will see the word somewhere and say “Hey, that word comes up a lot; I could do something with that.”

Just last week I was reading a text with hätte  (would have) in it and realized with a shock that I hadn’t covered it recently with my upper levels, as well as wäre (would be) and würde (would).  Not only do these go on the list, but that’s at least month worth of hypothetical goodness that I’ve been leaving on the table.  I love these words not because they are major grammar points, but because how much more they let us express and talk about.

So even though our school year is all but done now, I’ve been writing words I like in a corner of my board for the last two weeks now.  My list (in no particular order) is:

It depends; enough; themselves (reflexive); there; part; somewhere; not yet; one more time; already; our; something; may; exactly; works; is missing; since; back/forth; otherwise; lifts; builds; fits; lets; against; through;__ years ago; wanted; was able to; would have; would be; would; otherwise; everyday; as soon as; quiet; now/later

I’ll need to sort those and figure out how many to get after next year and how to roll them out, but I wanted to record this while my brain is still in listening gear this year.

Vocabulary Picture book

It all started a couple months ago when I told people they could doodle on the backs of their vocab tests for extra credit.  Some people always finish up before the other people, so I told them for one extra credit point they could use a word from the vocab test in a sentence and illustrate it.  They LOVED it!  After everybody was done with the test, I showed their creations on the document camera and we had a great time playing with the language.

Then I decided that this made actually a pretty fun idea to review for my tests, so about a week before the test, we did the same thing in the class using mini whiteboards.  Again, this was a big hit and several people said that it helped them.  This not only got up a bunch of reps on words, but it introduced a visual element that helped people process it.

So finally, it finally occurred to me that this would be a good way to not only study for the test, but could make an excellent FVR resource as well.  I started out by writing down each vocab word (this last list had 30) on my board and underlined it.  As each class came in, I asked them to sign their name under two of the words so as to make sure that everything was covered.  When I had smaller classes or started getting saturation on a few words, I would put a big X under that word so the others got more coverage.

I took the papers, scanned them and then created a book out of the following collection of pictures.  The picture on the right is for “nobody.”  The captions read “Nobody likes the test”; “There is nobody in this picture” and “Nobody likes me.”

The beauty of this is that the creativity and ownership of these is off the charts.  The “test” picture is nowhere near as technically good as the “likes me” picture, but they both do the trick just fine.

If a grammar point comes up like the difference between “neimand” and “niemanden” I will answer anybody who asks, but mostly they just need to see and process language in context.  If I have a verb as the target vocab structure, I often will try to create sentences that conjugate the verb according to different subject positions “I try, he tries, we try, etc.”  It’s so easy to leave everything in the third person that they need to see the different forms, especially for irregular verbs.

Another area where these vocab lists are useful is in modelling the past tense forms as well.  In this set of pictures for the verb “belongs to” the captions are “The cow belongs to me” “Hey, that belongs to me” and “Flowers belong to girls!”  Notice underneath the flowers caption I rewrote the sentence in the past tense, and put it into italics in order to make it stand out. In this way my students get to see the past tense forms.

In short, I like this approach because it allows me to create compelling texts that target the structures on our vocab list while making something worth reading.

Overall it took me about 45 minutes to scan and crop everything and another hour and a half to plug everything into the template I created.  That’s a pretty good time outlay, but because I would only be doing once per quarter (which is how often I rotate my verb lists) it’s worth the investment to me.