I’m Ken Wagner, retired English teacher from Redding, California. I taught grades nine through twelve there for 29 years. While English was my main discipline, I also taught speech, advanced reading, ESL reading and writing, drama, journalism, and a couple of physical education classes. So, a variety of subjects throughout the years, challenging my creativity. I’ve published two books, a non-fiction English classroom workbook, English Made Easy, and a fictionalized novel, Crooger Creek, about my wife’s and my time living in a small logging town in Oregon. Living Vocabulary was inscribed on my retirement award, a wooden trophy-like apparatus capped by a bell. The inscription is in honor of one of my most successful programs. I used Living Vocabulary with freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The concept is simple: If a student actually “lives” the 10 weekly vocabulary words, he/she will better remember them. My introductory comment to the program was, “Let’s take the word conflagration. I could assign it as one of the 10 weekly words and quiz you on Friday. Maybe, even with daily exercises, you’d remember the word and its meaning, maybe not. Suppose I assigned the word and the task of lighting your hair on fire and running down the street. You’d absolutely know the word conflagration for the rest of your life.” That’s living the word – Living Vocabulary. So, in a nutshell, here’s my program. As mentioned previously, I assigned 10 words each week for the year (generally a 36-week year, but a 34-week curriculum, allowing for finals and other interruptions). The total number of words introduced, then, is 300. At first glance, that seems an insurmountable number. Students, in fact, thanks to Living Vocabulary, are able to handle this. Of course, any teacher using the program can alter it to fit his/her own needs. Each lesson is independent of the others. The only ties are the three quarterly quizzes, dealing with each previous eight lessons, and the 100-question final test at the end of the year with a random selection of the 300 words. That, too, can be altered to fit individual needs. The second step in the program is the daily exercises. I gave them while doing the obligatory task of roll taking. Each exercise is independent and meant to be both challenging and unique. Thirdly, and the most popular activity, held generally on Friday, is the presentation of living the words. This is an activity that precedes the final step, which is the quiz. By living the words, I mean the physical presenting of all 10 words. To give students an idea of what can be done, I have a handout accompanying the program. On the handout are suggestions such as (1) using the chalkboard (or whatever medium is used in your school), make a drawing representing all 10 words and explain the drawing and the reason each word was used, (2) give a short skit, using all 10 words, (3) write and read a poem, short story, or song using all 10 words, (4) by yourself or with a group, while playing your musical instrument, sing something using all 10 words, (5) make a video, during the week, using all 10 words, and show it in class, (6) on paper, draw a picture that depicts all 10 words (for those more inhibited). The board drawings were the most popular, but allows for limited space. Consequently, students rushed to class on Fridays to assure they’d get a portion of that space. Next, skits were especially popular with the cheerleader crowd who was apparently not inhibited about performing in front of an audience. Those who were musically inclined embraced the opportunity to play in their English class. Everyone is required to participate in some capacity. Simply assigning words weekly and, perhaps encouraging the use of flash cards or whatever, tends to promote short-term memory of the words. Certainly, those with bear-trap memories will benefit. On the other hand, if a student lives the words, he/she is more assured of understanding them, of using them, and remembering them long-term. “I really liked Mr. Wagner's Living Vocabulary program. The Friday activities helped me learn all the words, and I got my best grade ever in English that year.” DeShondra Jackson, class of 1995. “I didn’t actually light my hair on fire, but I’ll forever remember my board drawing of the azure sky over the incessant pounding of the aesthetically pleasing ocean waves. Great teacher! Great program.” Glen Nagle, class of 1993. “Twenty-two years later, when I sit down with my guitar, I play for my teenaged boys some of those vocabulary gigs I did back in the day. Hopefully they can improve by living the words as I did. Coolest teacher and program ever.” Ricky Nevers, class of 1996.
Make learning fun with activity based lessons.
Teacher-of-the-Year Most Memorable Teacher
AA El Camino Junior College BA California State University at Long Beach Graduate Degree in Education - CSULB
Retired from high school district in Redding, California. Currently working part-time at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon