Delicious vocabulary

First and foremost, if you haven’t seen this BBC Radio 2 video recording of the famous Stephen Fry expressing the love of language, I urge you to watch it now.

I have always strongly advocated that writing is a form of art. Through recording our own thoughts and feelings via letters, diary entries, text messages and so on, to painting a mental realm of scenarios and adventures that lure us away from reality, it embodies personal, professional, political and societal views.

Isn’t is just fascinating how a sequence of logograms/ letters and words have the ability to convey meaning, manipulate, influence and connect with everyone. Do we explicitly share this admiration and awe of language with the children?

We should!

Quite often, whether it is pre-teaching vocabulary for the reading lesson or just sharing excitement for language, instead of asking the children to write down their “favourite word” from the pre-teach list, I am now more specific:

“Choose two words from the list that you like the sound and feel of.”

Followed by

“Now choose two words you like the meaning of.”

This is a wonderful way to discuss how the articulation of phonemes impact how we feel about saying the word whilst also implicitly revisiting the skills of phonics.

The feel can impact the feel

During a vocabulary lesson, I was capturing and recording the class’s vocabulary suggestions about a utopia VS a dystopia. The focus was on personification. So we broke the lesson down into focusing on the nouns first, followed by the verbs. However, for this lesson, we decided it would be the change of verb that would distinguish the description between the two settings.

The heading Nouns was at the top, centre of the page. To the left, was the heading Verbs (for the utopia) and on the right of the heading Nouns, was the heading Verbs (for the dystopia).

The outcome of the lesson was for the children to have a vocabulary bank that could be applied to both stimuli.

For example,

The noun: wind.

Utopia verbs: whistle, tickled, stroked.

Dystopia verbs: roared, pounded, annihilated

Before introducing the dystopia words, I wanted to share my love for vocabulary and explain how the feel of some words can impact the feeling of the writing.

“Show of hands, who has eaten a crunchy carrot before?” To which many hands went up, accompanied by the bemusement of this question.

“Ok, who has eaten a soft, chewy sweet before?” Many hands.

“What about a crispy roast potato?” Again, many hands and the odd ‘lick-of-the-lips’ from a few.

Although these may have appeared random to the children, there was a very good reason for it.

I explained how we all have a range of textures and tastes in our foods which many of us like, but if we had the same all the time, it would be a bit boring. For me, the same principles apply to vocabulary. Using the same words affiliated to a stimulus, over and over again, can be limiting; of course we want words to be retrieved and recycled but the aim is to broaden this spiral. So using a range is far more appetising: vocabulary is delicious!

Specific example

Think about describing a feather falling elegantly, the gentle sounds of /s/, /f/ and /t/ in some examples for the words softly, swiftly, swirl and twirl feel soft against the lips with high pitch tones that feel sweet and calming to articulate. Whispering and slow physical movements can support this convention of comfort and tranquility.

However, when wanting to describe the dystopia, sounds like /d/, /g/, /c/, /ct/, /st/ in this instance require harsher emphasis for words like destruction, detonation and eradication.

Of course, this isn’t a set rule for all words but spending time to analyse the physical feel of words can help children make associations (or disassociations) with meaning and spelling.

Everyday examples

During a pre-teach vocabulary session, words like simultaneous, grotesque and capricious were highlighted. By asking the children to choose their favourite feeling of the words, many chose grotesque and capricious. Grotesque because the /que/ sound felt satisfying at the back of the throat and capricious, because the quick snap of the /c/ followed by a soothing /cious/ sound felt nice. I was then able to show the children the association of the meaning of capricious with that contrasting feeling of /c/ vs /cious/; for example, the /c/ sound indicates a harsher feeling (a more aggressive mood) yet the /cious/ feeling made us feel the opposite (showing the immediate change of mood); this helped children grasp this meaning quickly.

Embedding this love for language as part of your minute-by-minute teaching and learning experience is just another way of exposing the children to high quality vocabulary.


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