I was in a pre-k classroom recently watching one of my favorite teachers rock her teaching craft with a group of jittery pre-k kids. Her morning routine was full of songs, finger play, movement, and humor. Even though it was evident this was a daily occurrence, the kids were eating it up. Then came time to introduce the new Lego station. The students sat enthralled while Mrs. X introduced the new station and modeled what to do there. She explained, “You can use these Legos to make something. Hmm, what will I make? I know, I can make a car. What will you make?” Mrs. X called on each student to tell her what they could make at this new station. I loved that the students were planning their projects and practicing articulating their thinking. Yet, I was struck by the use of the word make. This was March, at which point the kids were quite familiar with the word make. In fact, they had been using it for some time in other centers. As I went around the classroom I heard the word make at every turn. The child in the Art Center was “making a picture.” The kids in the Home Living Center were “making a cake.” I watched the students in the block center “make a tower.” Everywhere I turned students were busy making things. Everywhere I turned I saw an opportunity to build academic language, beyond the simple word make. It was time for a vocabulary upgrade!
Forget the word make, I told Mrs. X. I want to hear students build, construct, and deconstruct in the Lego center. I want to hear students illustrate and design artwork! I want to hear them sculpt and mold at the sand table! Make can be the bridge to this new language, but once students have had multiple exposures to the new vocabulary, the word make can be eliminated altogether. In other words, Mrs. X could introduce the Lego station by saying to students “You can use these Legos to make or build something. We build when we add blocks on top of blocks. Hmm, what will I build? I know, I will build a car. What will you build?” She could then reinforce, by using the word build when she interacts with students at the Lego center and by prompting them to incorporate its use when they talk about their work. When the word build is well-established (my measure of well-established is: being used spontaneously by students without prompting), introduce and support the word construction by saying “Another word for build is construct. What have you constructed today?” In this way each known word can be used as the scaffold for the target vocabulary. It acts as a bridge to connect the known word to the unknown and can support its use until students have internalized the word. Here’s a chart with some other vocabulary upgrades for the pre-k classroom:
Click here: Vocabulary Upgrade to access a PDF of the above chart.
Tip: Make reminder cards at each station of the language that can be used there. While the students may not be able to read the words, this acts as a reminder for the teacher and or assistant to model and to prompt students to practice its use.