As English language learners my students typically have a smaller vocabulary than their peers. This is normal and I generally don’t have a problem with it. However, this does not mean that they shouldn’t be learning new words, and we spend a lot of time on synonyms in my class. One October I decided to involve the students in creating a bulletin board for our Halloween / Dia De Los Muertes celebrations. Since we were also in the process of reading Cam Jansen The Mystery Haunted House, I decided to tie the two activities together, but the book is incidental to the activity and you can use either of these activities without reading the book.
I started by creating a graphic organizer for the students to complete. I wanted them to get practice using a thesaurus, but I didn’t want to totally remove the context of the vocabulary words (see previous posts on ELL accommodations and vocabulary activities for more on why). Thus the graphic organizer had the overused word in the center, a place for synonyms at the top, and the bottom included sections for three different sentences: a sentence from the book using the word, an improved book sentence (students replaced the overused word in the book sentence with one of the synonyms), and an original sentence using a different synonym for the overused word.
Each student received a different graphic organizer (a total of eight words were represented). After completing the graphic organizer they were able to use it as payment for a tombstone and ghosts. In groups (based on the word from their organizer) the students designed the tombstone listing the overused word as the name and the part of speech as the relationship. They then listed one synonym on each ghost (a minimum of three was required) and decorated those as well. Everything was eventually combined into one bulletin board under the title of “Word Cemetery Where Dead Words Rise As Synonyms.” The students loved it and actually started using some of the synonyms on occasion! Administration thought it was great too and specifically commented on how clever it was after a walk through.
This year our October celebrations are online so I wanted to develop a digital version of the activity. I decided to use one of my favorite programs: Google Slides. The basic concept is still the same and slide four (pictured above) has the eight tombstones, along with an example and a supply of ghosts already provided. The example and tombstones themselves are in the background, and thus protected for accidental (or not-so-accidental) editing. The graphic organizers appear on the following slides, one for each word, and are also in the background, with textboxes supplied for student notes.
One of the things that most excited me about this project was it gave me a chance to create my first “infinity” draw piles. I’d seen other digital activity descriptions refer to them, but hadn’t really thought about their creation. It turned out to be remarkably simple, one of those “Duh!” moments that I seem to be having so often these days. I simply chose my ghost (once again I was able to find the royalty free clipart I needed on Pixaby), added a text box, grouped the two together, and copied/pasted it about 20 times. I then selected all of the ghosts (easier for the first set since I could simply click ctrl+A), right clicked on them, chose align vertically-middle, align horizontally-center, and they had all moved into a single pile. I repeated the process with the second ghost (because I just had to have two different ghosts), and I had two “infinity” piles of ghosts students could drag and drop. Of course the piles aren’t truly never ending, but since students were only required to do three synonyms per dead word (meaning a total of 24 synonyms), and there are about 40 ghosts in total, the chances of them running out are slim. If your students are over achievers, and you fear them running out, simply paste a few more ghosts onto the slide before aligning them into a single pile.
You can get both of these activities for yourself by clicking on the pictures above. As I said, my students found the process to be a lot of fun and it was a great addition to our October festivities. Happy teaching everyone!