My colleague, Pamela Vittorio, and I enjoyed the roles of co-presenters for Maximizing Dictionary Use for Vocabulary Acquisition, a Pearson-sponsored session. We led the small but attentive crowd through a few different activities to help students learn denotations, connotations, and collocations. I had fun demonstrating Storyline and talking about a Word of the Day project connected to a page on my website, but I also loved learning from the creative woman I was lucky enough to present with.
Pamela has used engaging classroom games, like Collocation Jeopardy, with her students at Parsons, The New School for Design. It’s easy enough to follow her model for that game. Learner’s dictionaries, such as the Longman Dictionary of American English provide examples from the corpus. We can categorize those collocations and set up a Jeopary board (much like the one we see on the TV show) with answers which students must form questions for. For example: Category 1 – Arts & Crafts, 1st answer = 100 points > paint brush. Student A must form a statement to elicit “paint brush” from Student B. Student B must respond in question form: An artist uses this with different colors on it. – What is a paint brush? Other examples: Category 2 – At the Salon, 1st answer = 100 points > hair brush. Category 3 – Formal and Informal Behavior, 1st answer = 100 points > brush off. You see that collocations for the same word (“brush”) appear as the 1st answer in all categories. The pattern can hold for the progressively more difficult second, third, fourth, and fifth answers. This way the students receive an additional hint for each collocation. Through the game they learn common collocations for five key words (5 key words used in 5 collocations across the 5 different categories).
Trying to get as much out of our TESOL experience as possible, Pamela and I took in three more presentations after our own. One of them was Jenny Bixby and Joe McVeigh’s highly interactive session, Using a Question-Centered Approach to Reading and Writing. They challenged participants to consider the types of questions used in the classroom as well as the purpose and effectiveness of those questions.
What kinds of questions are there? After hearing ideas from the audience, Jenny and Joe gave examples of display questions (to check someone’s knowledge of content), experiential questions (to draw from one’s experience), fact-based questions, and leading questions (to confirm an assumption). They then moved on to distinguish yes-no questions, topical questions, and essential questions. What are essential questions? Good question!
Citing a list developed by Wiggins & McTighe, the presenters explained that essential questions are key in curriculum and materials design because they are thought-provoking, allow transfer from one content area to another, tap into prior knowledge, and pull in core content from the planned lesson and/ or course. Once we grasp the concept of an essential question, we can implement backward design, in which the outcome is identified first and then essential questions and activities are created to guide learning to that outcome. Jenny and Joe emphasized how essential questions lead students to and through the content.
The fun and tricky part of the session was trying to come up with essential questions of our own, keeping in mind a particular theme, language topic, language level, and learning outcome. Good efforts were awarded prizes by the presenters.
If you’d like to learn more about essential questions and bacward design, visit Joe McVeigh’s website. He and Jenny have generously posted a copy of their presentation slides.