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December 16, 2010 Easy Tech Tricks to Get Kids Vocabulary Crazy By Christy Crawford

    Forget silly memorization techniques or weekly vocabulary tests. The best way to teach vocabulary is to get kids to use it in funny, repetitive ways throughout the year. Read on for painless digital strategies to get your students buzzing about new words in class, during recess, at home, and online! 


    Word Wiz Movies

    My 5th grade students write, shoot, and edit their own vocabulary movies. We call these simple Flip camera videos "Word Wiz Movies." My older students jump at the chance to entertain and educate themselves and their school in this very unique way. Check out two Word Wiz favorites below starring the words "AWOL" and "catastrophic." 





    Do the popsicle sticks look familiar?  We used PBS's The Electric Company videos as our mentor movies! Take a look at their redundant episode recaps.  


    You'll Need . . .

    A) Construction paper, glue sticks, and markers for sets and props.

        Or keep the packaging from Elmo dolls, Barbies, or any small toys. The colorful background scenes make great sets.

        Or check out images under Flickr's Creative Commons. Your students will find thousands of great FREE photos for sets. Simply cite each photo in the credits of your movie. Using vocabulary words that pertain to certain historical time periods? Find and download the perfect historical photos for sets from the National Archives on Flickr or the National Archives on Footnote.

    B) Popsicle sticks for puppets and word signs.

    C) A digital camera and color printer for student images.

        Or are you interested in using Electric Company character puppets? PBS has educator's guides with colorful images of each actor. Need a puppet of President Lincoln or some other historical figure? Again, check out the National Archives on Footnote.

    D) Heavy card stock to strengthen all paper images. (Glue the heavy card stock to the paper and carefully cut out the images. Attach the popsicle sticks to the card stock.)

    E) A Flip or any kid-friendly camera, tripod and a computer for editing your movie.

    F) Storyboard templates. (Download a FREE storyboard of any size at Printable Paper. Just add lines and copy for your students.)

    The Process

    1. I have five Flip cameras; therefore, I split 25 students into teams of five.  (Three to four students per group is ideal.) Each production team is assigned a word and expected to create a script and/or storyboard for their Word Wiz movie.  

    Popsicle Puppets! 2. Ask students to be redundant!  Ask students to paraphrase the meaning of the star vocabulary word in many different ways and at different times. Ask them if their script or storyboard has a clear beginning, middle, and end?  Is the script or storyboard interesting?  Is it focused? Would they want to upload it and watch it again and again? 

    3. After the script or storyboard is completed, allow a rehearsal or run-through to see what changes are necessary.  Once script or storyboard edits are completed, students are assigned rolesactors/puppeteers, cinematographer, editor, gaffer or lighting technician, props master, and set designer. "Writer" is not a position that I assign.  All students are considered writers and expected to take part in the drafting process. 

    4. When your set designers are happy and several rehearsals have taken place, let shooting commence. Puppeteers/actors will be squished together beneath a table or makeshift stage. They will laugh and bump into each other but it will make their vocabulary movie-making experience even more memorable. 

    5. Complete vocabulary skits in one continuous shot or in as few shots as possible to limit tedious digital cuts for first-time student editors. Any movie that requires zero editing on your part and more hands-on work for students is a winner. The FREE Flip camera editing software will help young movie makers to independently and easily make basic transitions or dissolves between frames; create a title page and abbreviated credits and allow them to add music to their movie. Fancy chyrons, chroma key/green screens, and other special effects can be achieved by purchasing editing software for $45 and up.  

    6. Ready to wrap up production? Screen your movies for final critiques. Allow students to talk about what they learned, what worked well, and what they would change.  Remind each critic to offer positive comments and constructive criticism.   

    2009 Word Wiz Survey!

    7. Then start a PR campaign for vocabulary. Post your Word Wiz movies on your school Web site, SchoolTube  or any video sharing site for every school member to view.  Then tie in a survey to track the success of the Word Wiz Movies. Click on the adjacent screenshot to see how my students used eChalk's survey tool. If your school Web site does not have a survey tool, use SurveyMonkey 


    8. Present your movies at an all-school vocabulary meeting for students. Give each Word Wiz team time to complete a short introduction for their movie.  Last year's Word Wizards created comical three-sentence raps, mini-sketches about the importance of learning vocabulary and over-the-top game show introductions for their words.  All groups urged students (kindergarten to 4th grade) to vote for their vocabulary word and the movie that did the best job of educating students. Some groups even urged students to carry around their new vocabulary word in their pocket and get "caught" using it. 


    The winning production team!Last year's Word Wiz Movie champion was "Super Fly 8's AWOL." They "won" our Word Wizard survey with 643 votes — my school has only 270 students!

    Kids of all grade levels used their new vocabulary words in class discourse, their writing notebooks, and incessantly with their friends. Showing off their new word knowledge and voting for their favorite words at home became almost obsessive! 

    Do you have a great digital way to get kids nuts about vocabulary? Have you thought of another fun way to use popsicle sticks and simple editing software? Please share!




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