Words of the Week: what we do…

Reading time: 5 mins

All the resources for the year 2018-19 are below. The resources for 2019-20 are at this website: https://mysparkwords.com/work 

We’ve all seen ‘Word of the Week’ used in schools. On the surface, they can seem a little superficial; how can one word per week really make a dent in the vocabulary deficit of our students? I would argue, though, that any change in attitude and practice must have a tangible, visible hook. Word of the Week may not improve literacy on its own, but it creates a simple focal point which raises awareness across the school. Development in pedagogy around vocabulary and literacy is my ultimate aim, but Word of the Week is great marketing for this T&L drive.

I have been inspired by Alex Quigley’s brilliant book: ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’. Our Words of the Week for this year come from the lists of common academic vocabulary in his book. Here is a very simple explanation of what we are doing this year:

1. Select Words

Words of the week (39 in total over the academic year) have been chosen and are themed each half term. The words for HT1 all begin with the prefix -con. HT2 all either share the root -equal- or -med-. This means that students begin to predict what words mean; they all know what con- means on the front of a word, so now they are increasingly able to decode new words which use that prefix.

Here are my words for this year:

You can see that they all share common morphological traits. The final half term will allow students to explore some groups of words, rather than words in isolation.

2. Train Staff (not just teachers!)

All staff in the school have a laminated keyring each half term with the words of the week. At the start of the year, they were given training on how to talk about words, their history, etymology and morphology. Staff explore the WOTW on Mondays in Tutor Time. Below is the training summary they all have as a CPD keyring.

3. Teach the WHOLE word

Etymology is the history of a word, its meaning and how it has changed over time. Morphology is how a word is formed, and how it might be linked to other words with similar elements. Using this information as a foundation for new vocabulary is very powerful – it enables students to unlock and access vocabulary, and gives them the skills they need to do this independently in the future.

My WOTW resources also explore the word by looking at the different conjugations of words (e.g. consist, consists, consisted, consisting), examples of the word used in context, synonyms or related words, and links to how words might be used by people in various professions. I have created one of these for every week:

These have all been turned into posters. Our brilliant Admin team have put them into displays all over the school, and they change them every Friday afternoon so that the new word is ready for the week to come.

4. Celebrate great practice – reward and promote vocabulary success

We are raising the profile of vocabulary teaching across the school. Students are rewarded with house points for using the words of the week. Other things we do to thread these words into our everyday practice are:

– Setting homework tasks with a challenge to include the WOTW, accurately, in writing

– Using the word in conversations with students (not just in lessons, but also during breaks, at extra-curricular activities and on the corridor)

– Using the word as often as possible in staff emails (I’m running a challenge at the moment for middle and senior leaders to see who can do it the most!)

Getting Word of the Week right is about establishing vocabulary was something which is more than just a bunch of letters. Words have rich history, power, connotation, and a complex web of linguistic connections which link them all together. One of our support staff said to me today, “I always learn something new from the Word of the Week displays!” It might seem a bit ‘fluffy’, but done well, it can plant words at the forefront of people’s minds, and begin to create a culture of word-awareness.

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