Today in Middle School I learned about “stuff” and “naughty words.”

Across the United States, successful teachers will tell you: “Vocabulary is essential to quality instruction.” This comment is undeniable. In Science Methods we have been discussing the importance of using authentic scientific vocabulary with our students from day one to acclimate them the terminology. The same could be said across the disciplines: math, social studies, health and language arts. Bottom Line: Vocabulary is paramount in education today. Today at Harding Middle School, I experienced one way to teach vocabulary to middle schoolers. And it all had to do with “stuff.”

What do you think of when you hear the word “stuff?” Think about it for a minute. What do you picture? When I hear the word “stuff,” I envision a pile of papers on my desk. You probably don’t picture this right away but now that I’ve painted the picture in your mind, you may start to. When my classroom teacher asked her 8th Graders to articulate what they imagine when they hear the word “stuff,” no two people had the same answer. Some students even imagined multiple things. This is the point. Specific vocabulary allows for the writer to paint an extremely detailed picture for the reader. Vague vocabulary adds nothing to students’ writing and doesn’t help motivate reading either.

According to my classroom teacher, vague words are “naughty words.” As a successful writer, you want to avoid “naughty words” whenever possible. If you don’t, you may lose the interest of your reader! Other words on the naughty list include: said, went, eat, look, good, slow, fast, happy and sad. My classroom teacher made it very clear to her class that this is not an all-inclusive list, and that they would be adding to it throughout the semester.

After the class spent a few minutes sharing their thoughts, my classroom teacher passed out a collection strong and descriptive vocabulary word for students to use as resources. She then spent the next 15 minutes walking students through the words, highlighting the importance of specific and detailed word choice.

The brilliance of this packet is that the collection of descriptive words are presented in a variety of formats. There are pages that address feelings and emotions, other pages have alphabetized character traits and the last few pages are dedicated to sensory words (i.e. sound, smell, touch, etc). In other words, by presenting these descriptive words in a variety of ways, students have multiple opportunities to discover their perfect descriptive word.

In elementary education, we talk all the time about providing multiple contact points for students to hook themselves into the learning. This section of descriptive words provides these opportunities. Students who are more visual learners can refer to the charts of descriptive words. Students who are linear thinkers can rely on the alphabetized list. Within this single section of documents, there are multiple opportunities for students to hook themselves into strong vocabulary.

Vocabulary instruction is paramount in successful education. As such, there are multiple approaches to teaching the subject. In elementary classrooms I’ve been in, students are taught “expansive vocabulary” strategies. In others, students are conditioned to rely on dictionaries and thesauruses. At Harding Middle School, in 8th Grade language arts, students are taught to use specific vocabulary and avoid using “naughty words.” You will never read another of my posts with the word “stuff” in it. Pinky promise.

Thanks for reading! Come back and visit again soon. “Tell me, what you think of when you hear the word ‘stuff?’” – 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher


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