So, I've taught social studies for going on 7 years. But before that, I taught English. As an English-turned-social-studies-teacher, when I first embarked on the ever daunting world history course, I put an inordinate amount of time and thought into vocabulary.

We all remember it from high school--the social studies vocabulary lists. Remember? It could be 100 words for one unit. The teacher would pass out the list and say, "Okay, define these," sit back at the desk, and grade papers while sweat dripped down our faces, and we stared at the textbook blankly.

Finally, in unison, we would all dive in. A note would pass slyly around the room. "You do 1-10, I'll do 11-20," and so on. We would all flip to the glossary first, the index if that failed, look up our words, and copy them verbatim. That afternoon at lunch or in the quad, we would pass papers around and copy definitions.

The next day, the teacher would collect our papers, place a check at the top, and then spend the rest of the period lecturing while we drew hearts and stars in the margins of our notebook paper, pausing to copy down the random points that might go on the board.

Then there was a quiz on Friday.

Ah, the Friday quiz. We would all say a silent prayer that it was matching, because if it was matching, we could remember that Qin had to do with a dynasty and so did Mauryan, but which was China and which was India?

As a new history teacher, I knew there had to be a better way, but what was it? It took me a couple of years to finally settle on this method:

  • A SHORT vocabulary list for each unit that is standards-based.
  • Pretest!
  • Flashcards
  • Quizlet (if you've never been, check out this link to my European Middle Ages Quizlet Page: My Quizlet)
  • Summarize the unit, leaving blanks for the students to fill in with the vocabulary words.
  • Puzzles! Fun ones--rebus (picture puzzles), anagrams, Limericks, etc....
  • Quiz
The shorter list is more manageable. It's important not to make history overwhelming so the students don't shut down. I don't know about your students, but mine wouldn't even bother to split up a monster list. They would simply shut down, and that's exactly what we don't want!

The pretest is so that they only make flashcards of the ones they missed. I give them a set time on the pretest, they use red pens to grade their own (I find they're pretty honest here, especially if I circulate the room and check off their progress). I have students cut up sentence strips for flashcards because I have a ton.

The summary announces: "This is what you need to know. We're focused!" Here's one of mine:
Teaching vocabulary in social studies looks quite different from teaching vocabulary in English language arts. Learn how I teach vocabulary in my social studies classroom, including all of my tried and true instructional methods!

The puzzles are fun. Here's an example of one of mine: 
Teaching vocabulary in social studies looks quite different from teaching vocabulary in English language arts. Learn how I teach vocabulary in my social studies classroom, including all of my tried and true instructional methods!

Just as an example, #6. is Manor, #9 is the Reconquista, and #11 is Carolingian. 

I have one of these for each of my world history vocabulary units. You can get one for free here:
The European Middle Ages Complete Vocabulary Unit

I hope this helps!

Whatever subject you teach, what do you do to make vocabulary meaningful to students? Leave a comment below!

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Summer is wonderful, but starting a new school year can be wonderful and exciting, too. I'm talking about ringing in the teacher new year in this blog post, so read along to find out how I go about ringing in the teacher new year.
It's almost here. You teachers know what I mean. It's that bittersweet time of year. Bitter, because we have to pack away our swim suits and all of those half-finished projects we were so gung-ho about at the beginning of summer (yes, I'm talking to you :)). Sweet, because it's time for a fresh start--a new beginning. It's time to celebrate the biggest annual holiday for us--The Teacher New Year.

When I first started teaching, a colleague told me, "You will be depressed about everything you didn't do over the summer the night before pre-planning. You will want to make that last day of summer something to look forward to."

"Whatever," I thought. "How can anything about two months off be depressing?"

But you know what? He was right. The night before the first day of pre-planning for my second year teaching, I was miserable. I hadn't read that stack of books on my night stand. I hadn't planted my herb garden or organized the garage. How had I let the time get away from me?

My husband is not one to let me wallow, and believe me, I was wallowing. So he turned the whole day into a celebration. At my colleague's advice, we began celebrating "Pre-Planning Eve." We have a cookout, give gifts, etc. Now it's a day to look forward to.
Classroom Rules Match Up
Here's Your Free Gift From Me
But in the much anticipated time between now and Pre-planning Eve, I find myself thinking more and more about that most sacred of holidays, The Teacher New Year--known in wider circles as, The First Day of School.

It's time for a brand new adventure yet again, and I've found that what I do on the first day sets the tone for the entire year. I will officially be embarking on my 13th "Teacher New Year" in one week, and I've messed up enough to figure out what makes for a great start! At least, I hope that's what I've gotten out of it :). Here's some advice I've picked up over the years to make that first day meaningful:

  1. Lay out all classroom guidelines clearly and briefly.
  2. Get to know each student as an individual.
  3. Encourage all students to get to know each other.
I want to elaborate briefly on points 2 and 3. It is always my goal to learn each student's name by the end of each block on the first day. I have students fill out information cards, I shuffle the cards, and draw one at a time. For each card I draw, I make eye contact with that student, think of a memory trick to remember their name, and have a short conversation with them about an interest they put on the card. Periodically, I go around the room and call each student by name.

The first time I tried this, I thought the students would get bored, but they're actually entertained, and they love it when I mess up and miss a name! And they are so impressed when I see them on campus and greet them by name. It really makes them feel like they matter to me. Here is a great article about how to make this work: Easy Ways to Remember Names

A couple of years into teaching, I realized halfway through the year, that the students in my classes barely knew each other. That is not good if you're trying to build a collaborative culture. I knew that I needed to foster relationships within the classroom starting on the first day. But how do you lay out guidelines, have a conversation with each student, and begin to build a collaborative culture all in one period?

After much thought, I came up with a game that only takes 5 minutes to play, and in that time, students are able to speak to every person in the class. It's based on the Kagan Structure "Quiz-Quiz-Trade." I call it "Greet and Swap."
  • I place questions on cards.
  • Each student gets a card.
  • They move about the room.
  • I play music.
  • When the music stops, they turn to the student next to them, ask their question and get the answer.
  • Their partner does the same.
  • They swap cards, and continue moving about the room.
  • We repeat this for 5 minutes (or longer).
I have all of my first day resources in a packet you can get here: First Day of School Materials and Procedures

The First Day of School Resources
Find It Here
I hope this was helpful! I wish you luck and fun on your teaching adventure!

How do you ring in the "Teacher" New Year? What do you do to "set the tone" for the school year? Leave a comment below to let me know!

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