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1001 Descriptors - For Vocabulary Development - Primary Grades Through College (And Beyond!)

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Expert Author Meggin McIntosh

I love words - and I am assuming that if you are reading this article, then you do, too. Over the years I've done several different projects where I "messed around" and played with language. For example, I generally use the dictionary, use a thesaurus, just sit and think about words, and so forth. Seeking words and playing with language in this ways has allowed me to generate humongous lists of words (and phrases) to use for different purposes. This list of 1001 Descriptors is the result of one of these projects. In this article I want to share some ways that you could use this list with your students (or even for yourself) to learn new words.

The 1001 Descriptors list comprises words that you and your students will enjoy knowing and using. (Note: Some of the words are more appropriate for older students and adults, so of course, use discretion when choosing the words you'll be teaching). And, of course, no one can really learn new words if they don't have the opportunity to use them - and use them frequently and in a multitude of settings. You could teach words from the list of 1001 Descriptors using a variety of methods, depending on your subject and on your students. Some of these ideas will involve quite a bit of preparation on your part and other ideas will be easier to implement with less prior or preparation. Here are just a few ideas you can use and/or modify for your setting.

1. Group words with similar meanings together. Words are best learned in meaning groups in part because this is how our brain stores them; it makes sense, therefore, to offer connections between and among words of similar meanings whenever we are teaching those words.

For example, you could go through the entire list of 1001 Descriptors and pull out all the words that mean 'sad' or all the words that mean 'happy' or all the words related to describing people who are 'young at heart;' the possibilities are endless. Once you've pulled words into a particular meaning group you can begin to share them with students. One week you might have a 'sad' week and during that entire week you would be teaching words that had to do with sadness. The words on the list that you compiled might be synonyms for the word 'sad' or they could be words that someone who is feeling sad might use in his or her language. An example of the former would be the word 'unhappy.' An example of the latter would be 'quiet.'

You could put a large list of the focus words on the board or on a piece of chart paper so that they are on constant display and so that everyone has a visual reminder and cue about the words. As the teacher, you could make sure to use as many of the focus words in your language during the week as possible and to encourage the students to use as many of these words during the week as they can, too, both in their oral and/or written language.

2. Choose words that are interesting and/or intriguing to students. You might make this choice based on the way the words look, sound, or the meaning that they represent. Then, each day you could introduce one new word into your vocabulary and see if students 'notice' the new word of the day. This just helps students listen for interesting words and notice words that are new and different to them. As a teacher, what you have to be careful about is not over-emphasizing whatever the day's new word is, thereby giving it away just by saying it louder or with a particular look on your face. You don't want students listening for tone or watching your body or facial expressions; you want them listening to language.

One of the experiences I've had in doing this type of activity with students is that soon after getting this started, then they begin bringing in words to you that they want to be the new and special word of the day. That's when you know you've really intrigued them with language. It's fabulous!

My guess is that when you look through this list of 1001 words you're going to find ones that are intriguing to you because you don't know what they mean. This is why I said at the beginning of the article that I used a dictionary (along with ) when completing this project. Doing so allowed me to find (and learn) all kinds of words that I had never known before. One such example is #29 from this list: "anchoritic." I had never seen that word before, but now I know that the word "anchoritic" means characterized by ascetic solitude. My guess is this: as a teacher there may be some days you would look forward to an anchoritic life.

3. Assign particular words to the students to learn and introduce into their vocabulary. You want to make sure to implement this strategy after you have established a love of language in your classroom. I also suggest making this assignment as much of a game as you possibly can. For example, you could designate a 'secret student' of the day who is responsible for learning and using the new word. You are the only person who knows ahead of time who the special, secret student is. When you do this in a positive and dramatic way, this kind of teaching and learning opportunity can be played up in such a way that students are begging to be the next secret student with a special word. "Please, teacher, pick me to learn the new word!" Ah, music to my ears!!

Related to this option is showing students the entire list and having them make choices about the words that they think look interesting. As mentioned earlier, depending on the age of your students, you may or may not want to display the entire list, because certainly there are some words on the list that are intended for older students, whereas other words would be acceptable and appropriate for all ages. This is an area where you need to use your own best judgment.

4. Get parents into the act by letting them know about this magnificent list of 1001 Descriptors. You could send the list (or a portion of the list) along to the parents who could then start to use various words within their home to help their children learn and see the use of these words in context. This is a great way to connect home and school, help parents feel that they have an integral part in their child's learning (which of course, they do!), as well as give students the clear sense that their parents also care about words.

Depending on the age of students you teach and on the level of parent involvement that you already have in your school community, you will make strategic choices about whether to send home a list of as few as five or 10 words or whether to send home an entire page from the list or even the entire list. You may have a few special parents that you know will really 'go to town' if you give them a plethora of words to use with their own children and teens. Likewise, you may have a few parents who would feel extremely uncomfortable being asked to do this on any scale because of their own limited education and/or language skills. Again be judicious in your choices.

Educators have the most influential positions in our society - and need every bit of support that can be mustered. Another resource that will help increase educators' sense of peaceful, predictable productivity are these free weekly emails:

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(c) 2008 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D., "The Ph.D. of Productivity"(tm)

Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc., Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do via seminars, workshops, writing, coaching, and consulting.

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