It's That Time of Year, Again...

We've all been there. It's that time of year... again. Yes, THAT time. Holidays are over, mid-year testing is kicking into high gear, everyone's itching for a snow day (at least in our small, Connecticut town, we are!), and we're falling into some not-so-great habits. That time of year when we all become astronomers and meteorologists (Mercury must be in retrograde... full moon? uhh... blizzard coming? Oh! Venus is particularly close this week. THAT must be it!) Come on, you know this sounds like... someone!

I'm finding that every time I speak, half of the class is popping up to go to the bathroom, snag a drink from their water bottles, or grab a tissue. None of these behaviors are with ill intention. The kids are antsy. The routine, though wonderfully and necessarily predictable, is becoming stale. They still want to learn, they're still trying, but their focus just isn't what I know it could be.

But this week, I whipped out my favorite mid-year addition and I now have every single kiddo hanging on my every word. Yes, you read that right... EVERY. SINGLE. KIDDO. Interested?
One day, it was right in front of me! I was playing around with bringing some explicit Vocabulary instruction and practice back into our day. I pulled out my favorite book, and our new strategy was born.

Seriously, though... have you read Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell's books? I'm obsessed with them. This one, though... This one might just be my favorite. Big Words for Little People is wonderfully illustrated while introducing some major vocabulary to my little friends. Every time I read it, they hang on every word... trying to discern meaning. Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but this is definitely a proven favorite as the corners of the book jacket are starting to crinkle and tear.

Can I tell you a secret?
I found a few copies of THIS. VERY. BOOK. All hardcover. At a book sale. Honestly, every time I find it, I snatch it. Since the book sale, I have swapped out book jackets whenever they start to show wear... I guess it's time to make a new trade! Don't worry, though... the extra copies are in our library and shared with the students. This book is very well-loved in my classroom!

This particular copy is coveted because it is SIGNED and PERSONALLY ILLUSTRATED by Laura Cornell! Be still, my teacher heart! <3 p="">

But what is the key to making this strategy work? I've heard of Code Words before. I know that I didn't invent the strategy, but I've tried it many ways before, to no avail. In the past, I've heard of using terms associated with they very holidays and special occasions that occupy so much of these big, giant brains... Well, I tried it. The kids listened for their Code Words... transitioned... and then promptly yammered on about Trick or Treating and Christmas gifts and more. No bueno.

Next, I tried another tip I had received... using goofy words that would catch the ear... I tried it... it kind of worked. For me, it worked much better than the holiday terms. But in a school that has placed such heavy emphasis on developing and strengthening phonemic awareness, many of my students began working to find words that rhymed with the goofy words... or break them into their parts and mix them with other words to create new words -- all instead of just... getting. that. math. done.

So, here I was, working on a way to better incorporate my Vocabulary instruction. And VOILA! Why not use a new Vocabulary Word as our daily Code Word?! I introduce the word during Morning Meeting. Sometimes I include it in our Morning Message. Sometimes, I just share the Code Word with them. We define the word, add it to our personal word lists, and challenge ourselves to use it throughout the day. 
This word is hung at the base of our easel where it remains visible all day long. We compete to use the each word more than the word from the previous day. We are seeking the word in our reading and trying with all of our might to use it in our own writing. My students are hanging on my every word. They are hungry, STARVING, really... to learn more. Today, they asked me to change the Code Word after lunch!

It is such a simple thing that keeps my students more attentive throughout the day, while providing them with additional interactions with language in a new way.

CLICK HERE to print a copy of the Code Word page as well as a list of 50 Vocabulary Words to get you started!
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