Implementing an Effective “Word of the Day” Program

Have you ever considered a Word of the Day program?  I used a Word of the Day (WOD) for several years to help my students (A) focus at the beginning of class (as we completed the WOD during the first 5 minutes),  B) improve their vocabulary, and C) grow their decoding skills by learning the meaning of hundreds of affixes and root word meanings.

For my WOD program, I used this Advanced SAT Word list.  The words need not be SAT caliber, however.  Here are 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know and 100 Words Every High School Freshman Should Know and  100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I chose a word from the list each day and had a special section of my white board labeled “WOD.”  I gave them a new word each day, and students were responsible for immediately walking into class, grabbing a dictionary (dictionaries with complete Etymologies are essential…see note below) and their WOD notebooks (a simple composition book works well for this), and sitting down in the first five minutes of class to complete their work.  This gave me time to complete roll and other housekeeping, and it immediately focused the students on work.  If they were three minutes late for class, they had the remaining two minutes to finish.  If they did not finish, they were responsible for completing it at a later time. If they miss it–they miss out on the points.

Scoring
I would randomly choose names to collect and score the books every few days or so.  If their name was called and either they did not have their WOD book or it was not complete, they received zero participation points for the check–quick and easy.  Do not worry about grading the information itself after you have made sure that students actually know what they are supposed to be doing.  Simply give a check mark and your initials or some stamp so that they know you are “watching” them, then mark a check or points in your gradebook.  Keep randomly choosing students’ names…this will keep them on their toes, as they won’t know when you will be checking theirs.  I also recommend collecting some students’ books more than once, just to be sure they are continuing to do the work.

Preparation
Before you can just let students loose with a word, a dictionary, and a set of tasks, you must teach students the important skill of using a dictionary.  I have a handout on Using a Dictionary that helps students learn the parts of a dictionary entry.  You will need to take your students through, step by step, on how to find each element for their entries.  You’d be surprised how little students know about using a dictionary.

*A word about dictionaries:  You must have dictionaries with etymology (word origin).  I had to buy my own, since the only ones our school had were compact, paperback versions with only one or two definitions–and no etymology to speak of.  I went to several local thrift stores to gather the big suckers–the hard bound, real, old-fashioned dictionaries with real words and a real cover.  Many were old and dilapidated, but I never ran into a problem of a student not being able to find a word!*

The Activity
So, what do the students actually do once you have gone over how to use a dictionary?  After writing down the WOD, students look up the word in the dictionary, and are responsible for finding and writing down in their journal the following:

  1. Part of Speech
  2. First Two Definitions of the Word (if given)
  3. Base of the Word
  4. Affixes
  5. Simple Root and Meaning
  6. Origin and Meaning of further Roots, including the country of origin (if given)
  7. Other Forms of the Word
  8. Word in an Original Sentence

Sounds pretty easy, right?  Here is a sample entry:

WOD: dynamic

  1. adjective
  2. (a) characterized by effective energy or action; (b) vigorously active or forceful
  3. dynamic
  4. none
  5. dyna-, meaning “power”
  6. From the Greek dýnamis, meaning “power,” from dýnasthai, meaning “to be able”
  7. dynamite, dynamically, undynamic, nondynamic
  8. Lacy’s dynamic personality won her the position of ASB president.

Once students know where to find their information, they become little detectives, trying to search out the answers.  They begin to see similarities between words… “Ah!  Dynamic is related to dynamite!  I see (and now will remember) the connection!”  Occasionally, you may run into a problem in which there is some discrepancy between word origins or meanings.  Use this to teach the all-important lesson on how words evolve, and how certain words’ origins may not be able to be verified–or they may have started in more than one place!

You may want to further hold students responsible for their information by having a quiz on the words every week.  I do not suggest quizzing them on the intricacies of the word, i.e. the Greek spelling, or even the meaning of these very old root words, but I would quiz them on the definitions and possibly the general meaning of the root (i.e. the first definition of dynamic and that the root dyna- means “power.”)

If you are interested in further word studies, stay tuned as I will eventually share my “Root of the Day” program that I used with my honors kids…that one’s a doozie!

Teach well!  And thanks for stopping by!

-Kristen

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I am going to use your info for my English program next school year. (there are only 19 days left in this one).

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