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October 3, 2012 The Vocabulary Parade: A Better Reason to Dress Up! By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Are you looking for a way to jazz up vocabulary instruction and to get everyone in your school community talking about words? A vocabulary parade is an exciting way to boost logophilia (the love of words) among your students while providing a focus for an academic dress-up event.

    Last year we held our first wildly successful vocabulary parade at my school. It was easy to plan, and the students enjoyed getting to flex their creativity while devising far-out costumes. Here’s a look behind the scenes, showing how we planned our vocabulary parade, complete with word lists and family flyers to help you plan your own.


    What Is a Vocabulary Parade? 

    Schools around the country have been holding vocabulary parades for years, thanks to the fabulous picture book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier. In the book, the main character, Sage, redeems herself after a hilarious vocabulary snafu with an award-winning costume in her school’s vocabulary parade. Teachers and students have been understandably inspired by the book, and as a Google or Pinterest search will prove, vocabulary parades have really caught on!


    Glossaries Instead of Ghouls

    We decided to hold our vocabulary parade on October 31 at my school — providing an academic alternative to Halloween. This prevents us from excluding students who cannot celebrate Halloween, and it keeps the focus where it should be at school — on learning! Halloween costumes tend to be store bought, whereas vocabulary parade costumes celebrate the DIY spirit. Some schools choose to hold their parades in the spring, as a celebration of a year-long word study, which also sounds like a great idea.


    Parade, Pageant, Party, Procession?

    Since I teach in New York City, a parade around the neighborhood would be a bit more complicated than I imagine it would be in the suburbs. So, we hold our vocabulary parade in the school auditorium and invite parents to sit in the audience. Our vocabulary parade is more like a fashion show or pageant, with each student walking across the stage while his word and definition are projected onto a screen behind them. Then the students march back to the classroom for a certificate ceremony and word party. At our word party, the students play Scrabble and Bananagrams while snacking on wordy treats.

    Vocabulary Cupcakes


    Host a Vocabulary Parade  A Five-Week Plan

    Are you ready to host a vocabulary parade at your school? You can start small, with a parade in your classroom just for your students. Or team up with other teachers at your school and plan an event for several classes, several grades, or even the entire school! Here’s a time line to help you plan your vocabulary event with minimal stress.

    Five Weeks Before the Parade . . . 

    This is the time to devise the master plan for your event. Decide when and where you’ll hold your parade. Parading through the hallways, in an auditorium or gym, outside in the schoolyard, or through the neighborhood are all good possibilities. Discuss the event with your administration. You might want to show them some photos of other schools’ vocabulary parades so that they’ll understand what it’s all about. Here’s a checklist to help you plan for your parade:

    • Where will you hold your parade?
    • Who will attend your parade? Are parents invited?
    • Will the students wear full costumes or just hats? Will they make their costumes at home or at school? Will you encourage homemade or store-bought costumes?
    • Will there be judges and prizes awarded, or will all students receive a certificate of participation? What will you use for prizes? Who will be the judges?

    Four Weeks Before the Parade . . . 

    It’s time to build anticipation among the students about the parade. Read the book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster aloud to your students. Then watch the videos on Debra Frasier’s website, in which she discusses her process for writing the book. There is also a video and a slide show of vocabulary parades at other schools, which should give your students some inspiration.

    Send home a save-the-date “teaser” flyer at the beginning of the week to let families know about the upcoming event, but don’t send out the word lists yet. Let the anticipation build while the students brainstorm possible words and costume ideas in class. I create a chart with the students where we collect vocabulary ideas for costumes.

    Download my save-the-date flyer.


    Three Weeks Before the Parade . . . 

    Finally, the word lists can go home! By now, the students should be chomping at the bit to get started designing their costumes. (Chances are that some of them have already started ahead of the word lists.) I send home several word lists to give the students and their parents ideas — but I also encourage the students to choose words that aren’t on the lists. Here are some of the word lists I use:

    Debra Frasier's "100 Vocabulary Words List" from her vocabulary parade kit

    My "150 Juicy Vocabulary Words List"

    My "160 More Fabulous Words List"

    My "70 Math and Science Words List"


    When I send home the word lists, I also send home a costume planner form for the students to fill out at home and return to school the following week. This ensures that the students don’t leave their costume design to the last minute. It also lets me check up on the progress of the costumes and make sure all of the word choices are appropriate. Finally, I send home a vocabulary parade guide for my students’ families to give the families some support in helping their children plan phenomenal costumes.


    Download my costume planner form (adapted from Debra Frasier’s form).

    Download my vocabulary parade guide for families.


    Two Weeks Before the Parade . . . 

    The students should hand in their costume planners for you to check. I like to hang their costume planners up on a bulletin board to share their costume designs and further build the excitement.

    Make a list of all of the students’ words. If you are going to have your parade in an auditorium, you may want to prepare a PowerPoint presentation or other slide show with all of the students’ words and definitions. Or you may have the students prepare posters with their words, definitions, and an illustration.

    Don't forget to plan and create your own costume. The students LOVE it when their teachers dress up!

    One Week Before the Parade . . . 

    Make sure all teachers involved in the parade know the plan for the parade day. I like to hold a “pre-game” meeting with the teachers to discuss logistics. She who fails to plan, plans to fail, and all that good stuff . . . 

    Print out enough award certificates for all of the students involved, and ask your principal to sign the certificates ahead of time. You can download my certificate templates below. I also like to prepare prizes for the winners of the costume contest. We solicit donations of Scrabble and Boggle games, dictionaries, and novelty pencils as prizes.

    Award Certificate Template 1

    Award Certificate Template 2

    Award Certificate Template 3

    Download my list of possible award titles for your students. From “Zaniest Use of Materials” to “Most Obscure Vocabulary Word,” there is an award for every student, as long as you’re creative!


    The Day of the Parade . . . 

    Make sure you have your own costume ready to go! Have extra sentence strips on hand in case students need to make last-minute additions to their costumes, like attaching their vocabulary word in a prominent location. Stock up on safety pins, and recruit a parent volunteer to help with wardrobe malfunctions.

    It's so useful to have another set of adult hands to help with last-minute costume preparations!

    You’ve worked hard, you’ve planned . . . now enjoy the parade! Marvel at your students’ creativity! Congratulate the parents who've undoubtedly also worked hard preparing the costumes. Invite your students to define, enact, and use their vocabulary words as much as possible throughout the day. And take plenty of photos. I always create a bulletin board with photos of each student, their word, and the definition, so we can continue the learning long after parade day.


    "Inflame" and "Squall"


    "Intercessor" and "Timepiece"


    More Resources for Vocabulary Parade Planning

    • Debra Frasier has made planning for a vocabulary parade much easier thanks to her vocabulary parade guide, available for download on her website.
    • I’m hardly the first blogger to write about vocabulary parades. Angela Bunyi shares wonderfully simple ideas for vocabulary costumes in her post "Dress It Up With a Vocabulary Parade!"
    • Here’s a lesson plan with creative extension ideas for teaching with the book Miss Alaineus.

    Have you had a vocabulary parade at your school? Please tell us about it! Do you have a clever idea for a vocabulary costume? Please share below . . . 

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