Thursday, August 7, 2014

Folded Lists to Study Vocabulary - A Tutorial

Thanks for stopping by my blog!  As I wrote in the last entry, I've been a stay at home mom for the past year after my son's birth and while I treasure my time at home with my little one, it's hard to get the classroom out of me.  So, I started this blog to reflect on both parenting and teaching.

One of the ways I'd like to use this blog is by reviewing some of the strategies and activities I did while teaching so that when I return to teaching after my time as a stay at home mom, I'll have a handy review of what worked and what didn't work for me.  If you are a teacher, I hope that you will be able to get some use out of some of what I share here.  Please feel free to use anything that I post!  I just ask that if you use it, leave a comment and let me know how it went!

Today's activity is ... FOLDED LISTS!  Check out my fancy title image that I made with Microsoft Paint.  I'll have to learn how to make prettier ones later.

When teaching Spanish vocabulary, one tool that I would often encourage students to use to help them memorize new words was something I called a "folded list."  I don't remember where I first learned this - all I know is that it's something I used to use in Spanish class and it worked for me, so I knew it would help at least a few students.  Turned out most thought it was very helpful and some even used it in other classes to help them learn new vocabulary.

Be warned - this is a DRILL.  I didn't like spending a lot of time on vocabulary drills in my class, but sometimes I found them very helpful.  This particular activity was something that I believe really helped students improve their basic recall of words.  If fluency is both accuracy and speed, this drill gets at both - producing more words, more accurately and more quickly.  I do believe that drills have a place in the classroom and in individual study.

The Folded List:  Basically, a folded list involves first writing down your vocabulary list and translations, then repeatedly quizzing yourself with the goal of remembering more words each time you quiz yourself. 

I've found that doing this immediately after a first vocab lesson really helps students to clue in on what words they struggle with the most.  Here's a quick list of the steps.

How to Make a Folded List
  1. Fold your paper to make 4 columns
  2. Fill in first two columns accurately - English, then Spanish (this is your "key")
  3. Fold back so only the last column is visible
  4. Fill in as much of the column as you can by memory
  5. Check your work for accuracy and fill in empty spaces
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 as many times as you need to
Now I'll walk you through the process.  Hopefully by the end of this article (if you read that far) you'll get an idea for how useful this can be.

The first step is to fold the paper to make four columns.  Some students like to skip this step, but it really doesn't work as well, so don't let them skip it.  Once the columns are made, here's a tip for the first time they're doing this with a set of vocabulary words:  have them write the target language vocabulary list in the *second column* and the English translation in the *first*.  It's really not a big deal, but it's always easier to first quiz yourself from Spanish to English, so I found this just gave them a little bit of a confidence boost as they're starting out.  Plus, they spent more time reading the words, so they were likely to get a few more correct once they translate from English into Spanish.  If they are familiar with the vocabulary and just want to get faster, it might be helpful to do the columns int he reverse order.
Step 1 - Make columns
Step 2 - Fill in first two columns
I encouraged students to double-check spelling and accent marks, because once they made this first list they copied it over several times.  I also sometimes had them note special characteristics of certain words, like I did above with the translation for "water" - reminding students that while "agua" takes the masculine singular article "el" it actually is feminine.  This is totally optional and often unnecessary - but a helpful trick when memorizing a list of verbs, which you can also use this strategy for ... stem-changers, anyone?

Once students have filled out the first two columns, they're ready to quiz themselves for the first time.  By the end of the entire activity, if they fill up the entire sheet of paper, they'll have quizzed themselves six times:  three translating into English and three translating into Spanish.  

The next step is to fold the first column back so that all you can see is the second column (with the Spanish words).
Step 3 - Fold back first column
Once they've set up their "quiz," it's time to see how much they can recall!  Students write as many of the English translations as they can remember in the next column.  In this example let's say the student wrote down 12 words (which is quite a few) then couldn't remember any more.  
Step 4 - Fill in as much of the column as you can by memory
Sometimes I timed the students as they worked on this part, because many would if given the option spend way too much time trying to think of words that didn't come to them right away.  The key is to only write down words that you can recall pretty much immediately.  That is what speaking entails, right?  If you think of the world five minutes after you needed to use it, it doesn't really help your fluency, does it?  It's totally okay if they can only remember a few words.  This is meant to be a quick study tool, and not a whole lesson in and of itself.  By the end of the activity, more words will be easily recalled.  The next day if students do this activity again, they'll be that much better at it.

The next step is to unfold the list and review the work - first check for mistakes on what you wrote, and second fill in any spaces that you missed.  In the above work, I purposefully left out one of the meanings of the word "la comida", and wrote "french fry" for "la papa" instead of potato.  It's really easy to skip this "check" part but it's important to make a habit out of checking - or, well, at least trying to, because as you'll see in my example I forgot to add the second meaning of "la comida."  Oh well, I fixed the mistake eventually.

Step 5 - Correct mistakes and fill in the rest of the column
I also wrote a number at the top, +11, because I had gotten 11 of the 20 words correct (technically 10.5, but I'll just say 11 to boost my confidence).  This is important because as students continue practicing, hopefully the numbers will go up - even though the next number will likely go down, because the next number is when they test their recall of the Spanish words.

Fold again and get ready to quiz again - the only column visible each time students practice should be the very last one they completed.  

This next "quiz", the first time during the activity writing the words in the target language, can be a little intimidating.  Students will remember less words than the first time since this time the translations are into Spanish.  In my example, I filled in seven words.  Even if students are only able to remember two or three, or even one, it's still a worthy activity - I bet by the end of the activity they'll remember quite a few more, and they'll be able to see concrete progress made through their focused efforts.
Folded again - Ready to quiz
Filled in as many as able - 7 words this time
Mistakes corrected, spaces filled in
At this point, it'd be really easy to see that you've reached the right hand side of the paper and call yourself done.  But wait!  You only wrote each word twice!  Surely you can do better than that if you really want to memorize the words!  With some sleight of hand you can fold quite well to repeat steps 3-5 four more times.  Just fold the last column back on itself so that you'll be writing on the opposite side of the paper.

Looks like a full sheet of paper? ... Not quite ...

... Hey!  Look at all that white space!
 In this example, I'm writing on the third column of the back side of the paper.  If the student was able to get 11 words correct the first time they wrote the English translation, I bet they'll be able to get more this time.  Let's say they were really paying attention and they got 19.  In fact they were paying so much attention that they realized they made another mistake in their "key" that they corrected without even having to look back at their "original key."  What a clever student. ;)

Repeat Step 4 - Fill in as much of the column as you can by memory
Repeat Step 5 - Correct mistakes and look back to fill in any spaces
Let's just finish the rest of this folded list, repeating steps 3-5 three more times.  

The next column is filled in by memory and checked for accuracy
Clever folding allows me to write in the first column of this side of the paper
Filled in and checked
Folded over again to complete last column
And we're done!!!
Summary:  In this "simulation" of the folded list the student quizzed themselves six times, and the improvement made is typical of many of the students in my classroom.

First Spanish into English Drill: 11 correct
First English into Spanish Drill: 7 correct
Second Spanish into English Drill: 19 correct
Second English into Spanish Drill:  10 correct
Third Spanish into English Drill:  20 correct
Third English into Spanish Drill:  14 correct

I'd expect to see improvement in recognizing the English meanings of words similar to what I showed you in this activity (11, then 19, then 20 correct), and also improvement in being able to write the Spanish words (7, then 10, then 14 correct).  I love that students can get tangible proof that they will remember more vocabulary if they actually focus on them.  I know that it's not a very creative drill, so not all of the students will want to do it regularly, but for some it is a very handy and low-stress way of studying vocabulary.  It's flexible, too.  Students can use scrap pieces of paper to write as many or as few words as they need to review.

Thanks for reading!  It's an honor to have you visiting my blog.  If you use this activity, I'd love to hear from you in a comment about how it went!