“Words, words, WORDS! My English teacher’s classroom is plastered with words!” one particularly enthusiastic student wrote in a final evaluation essay. But getting this type of response from a young adult is unusual because while there is a plethora of material on transforming the elementary school classroom into a language-rich environment, I’ve found scant articles with ideas for making the high school language-arts classroom a word-rich environment that is interesting, fun, and still age and grade appropriate. Therefore, I’d like to offer some of the ideas I’ve thought up, gleaned from my colleagues, or collected through my travels for creating a word-centered environment that teenagers will find challenging and intriguing. So, if you’ve encountered any ideas along these lines, please be sure to share them with us in the “Comment” section of the “Leave a Reply” form that follows at the bottom of this post. So, here goes:
- Establish a well-stocked classroom library – first and foremost, a language-rich environment must include a wide selection of reading materials that students will find interesting – which can (and should) include everything from comics to the classics.
- Use your wall space to set good examples – put up banners, posters, and exemplary student work that feature bits of poetry, famous literary quotes and/or quotes about reading and writing, literary trivia, and stellar sentences (i.e. see “golden lines” below).
- Extract “golden lines” – take the very best sentences from students’ compositions and highlight them by posting the quoted lines, along with the student authors’ name(s) on posters or large pieces of paper that you’ve put up on the wall. Consider allowing students to nominate their peers’ best sentences for this feature during any peer review done as part of the writing process. You could go so far as to have students review all the entries at the end of a grading period or semester, and vote for the best one(s). You might even award the winner(s) a prize!
- Post previous students’ best work – as examples, including any especially artistic or witty vocabulary flashcards prior students have created.
- Stick word magnets on any surface they’ll adhere to – invest in a few Magnetic Poetry kits, or make your own, and stick them on the sides of file cabinets, magnetic white boards, the classroom door (if it’s made of metal) and voila! Watch the magic happen!
- Have students start a “word collection” of their own – part of cultivating “word awareness” is having students keep track of any “found” bits of language that fascinates them. Therefore, if students are required to keep a “language journal” and hunt for and write down any particularly interesting words, phrases, sentences, or short paragraphs they stumble upon in their reading or daily routines, they will be more aware of how language is used and the particular patterns that attract them.
- Read poetry aloud often!
- Engage in word-play whenever possible – if you’re having fun with language, then students will. Fun is catchy.
- Use word games as “sponge” activities – it’s five minutes before the bell, and the lesson you planned is all wrapped up. What now? Give “free time”? NO! Play word games like “Hangman” or “Dictionary”!! Keep ready-made materials or a list of word games always at your disposal – they’ll come in handy in times like these.
- Hang up a Giant Crossword puzzle – everyone loves to solve puzzles! Giant Crossword puzzles on the wall or door provide a fun group activity. Consider giving out prizes (small trinkets like pencils, etc.) to students who solve a word (or words) correctly.
- Institute the Word of the Day – while we’re on the subject of word games, consider borrowing Groucho Marx’ shtick from the television show, You Bet Your Life, and institute the practice of a daily “magic” word. (Read more…)
- Add word-centric board games to your classroom library collection – games like Scrabble, Boggle, Balderdash, and Apples to Apples stress having fun with words, and are appealing even to teenagers!
If there are any other ideas that you have, or that you’ve come across in your travels for creating a language-rich, word-centered environment that young adults would enjoy, please leave a reply to this post and share it with us!