I’m not going to lie, I was never a big fan of “language learning cards”. I knew that they were super popular and I had seen the awesome ones that OPEN had created, but I always had this “ok, but why?” attitude towards making them a part of my teaching. I think part of it was that I remembered the days of hearing teachers claim their students were developing their physical literacy because they all knew how to spell “soccer”. Another contributing factor was that I had some learning to do: I didn’t know enough about the power of academic language and the role in plays in closing the achievement gap.
A few #pechat seasons ago, then-moderator and now-SHAPE America presidential candidate Terri Drain suggested that we dedicate one of our chats to exploring academic language in physical education. I’d follow Terri into the gates of teaching hell (which may be the definition of these weirdo times we’re living in right now), so we went with her idea and the experience was eye-opening.
How about we start off with a good ol’ fashioned definition to make sure we’re on the same page here? Academic language refers to the language used in schools to acquire new or deeper understanding of the content and to communicate that understanding with others (Gottlieb & Ernst-Slavitt, 2013). It allows students to access content, meaningfully engage with content, and – through this process – master content (learn more here).
The importance of acquiring language goes even deeper when we take a step back and look at the bigger picture as early language acquisition actively plays a role in long-term educational success.
When I was preparing for that #pechat, one of the things I learned was that teaching academic language has to go beyond just presenting a word on a “Word Wall” display and calling it a day. Students need to be able to reflect on the language, grapple with it, revisit it, and have ample opportunities to apply it. Marzano actually provides a six-step process to vocabulary instruction.
I kept thinking about how I could create some kind of structured process for purposefully introducing academic language in my lessons. This exploration led to a lot of different iterations all based around a core structure, but let me show where I’m at:
If you follow my content pretty closely, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve included my Language TREK cards in a few of my more recent videos. TREK is the acronym I settled on and have been using in my teaching. It stands for:
To go with this, I’ve been slowly building a collection of Language TREK cards that I use in my lessons. These get displayed on the whiteboard and – after being introduced – stay up for the duration of the unit.
Although I had really been enjoying using the Language Learning TREK cards in my teaching, this whole distance learning COVID-19 business has really put a damper on my endeavour. No point whining about the rain, though! I decided to make the most of the situation and try to make something fun out of the work I had started.
I’ve started to put together a series of Language Learning TREK Adventure packs for my students to help them be active as they are introduced to new vocabulary.
I put together an exercise-based alphabet BINGO card for the “Name It BINGO!” activity I have in my Wacky Ways To Move. I was having fun getting some exercise in as I spelled out different words and thought “why don’t I use this with my TREK cards”? Here’s how it works:
First off, we’re gonna go ahead and substitute “Think” for “Trap” and “Explore” for “Exercise” in the TREK acronym. You’ll get why in a second.
Next, I made a new template for my TREK cards so that it could include additional information and the “Name It BINGO!” exercise key. This is where the “Exercise” part comes into play: students get to spell out the different vocabulary words by completing the appropriate exercise and repetitions for each letter in the presented word. They’re invited to do this by following the order of the word’s spelling and repeat an exercise and its repetitions for any duplicate letters.
I made a TREK info card for every word I wanted to include in a pack and then used all of the completed cards to create a “randomizer” video: a video that rotates through all of the cards on a 30s loop at lightning speed. This is where the “Trap” part comes into play: as the loop plays, students can hit “pause” at any time to land on a random info card. When they do, they spell out the word by completing the exercises in the sequence I presented earlier. When they’re done, they hit “play” and repeat the sequence.
The idea of the “Trap” aspect is to bring in a little fun, a little chance, and a whole-lotta reaction time practice!
As for the “Know” part, I’m creating an assessment tool to go along with each Language Learning TREK Adventure pack that will provide students with an opportunity to gather the vocabulary words they are discovering through the activity, showcase their understanding of the words, and celebrate their learning. These tools can be shared back with teachers, parents, or anybody the student wants to invite to their personal learning party.
On the sheets is a QR code that links to the randomizer video as well as a tappable button (if viewing as a PDF) and a URL (if students need to type it into their browser). I’ve also included instructions on how to complete the activity on each assessment sheet.
I’ve been building these Language Learning TREK Adventure packs for the past week now and have started to roll them out to my students. I’m really excited about this resource and have already started working with classroom teachers (it helps when you’re married to one) to build some cross-curricular packs that they can use to help their students create active classroom environments at home. Here are the packs I’m hoping to roll out by the end of May:
The Human Body Set
Physical Education Set
As of right now, you can access the Bones pack and Fruits & Vegetables pack in the Shop. The Bones pack randomizer has 14 different bone information cards, each with their own graphic that highlights the bone’s location in the body. Students get to explore the different bones and then use their assessment sheet to identify each bone in the body. The Fruits & Vegetables randomizer has 24 different food cards, each with their own graphic, nutritional information, and both French & Spanish translations of the food’s name. Students get to sort the foods into a fruit or vegetable category as they trap new foods and complete their exercises.
I’ll keep updating this post as I publish new packs. You can also find them all in the Shop.
I hope these serve you well during these wild times! As always, thanks for reading and happy teaching!