Vo-Back-Ulary Instructions from the book Stretching Students Vocabulary” by Karen Bromley (p14)

Vo-back-ulary is a strategy that Kristen Haglund, a special education teacher, uses to reinforce science and social studies vocabulary that is particularly difficult for her students. Kristen lists new words on the chalk board and writes each one on a 5X8 index card. Then she pronounces each word and explains the meaning. Next, she tapes one of the index cards to a student’s back without revealing the word to that student. The student turns around to show the word to the whole class. She then calls on her classmates, one by one, for clues to help her guess the word. Kristen always reminds students to give clues that provide good information about the word’s meaning, but don’t give the word away; for example, for the word penguin, she might suggest:

  • “It lives where it’s cold.”
  • “It is black and white.”
  • “It has a beak.”
  • “Mothers and fathers take turns sitting on the eggs.”

Clues unrelated to the word’s meaning, such as “It has five letters,” “It starts with a B,” or “It rhymes with…” are unacceptable. Kristen always encourages clue givers to think about what they already know about the word, modeling as necessary.

With her classmates’ clues and list of words on the board, the student tries to figure out which word is taped to her back. Once she guesses correctly, she chooses the next student, and Kristen repeats the process until one word is left.

“Vo-back-ulary” is a powerful activity because it focuses on word meanings, encourages communication and cooperation, and requires students to use their background knowledge. Kristen says, “My students remember new vocabulary because they connect their own meaningful clues to the words. They have a lot of fun with Vo-back-ulary, and beg to play it every day.

I made these changes: (1) I have a student sit on a chair in the fiction section so they can’t see the board. I write one of the words from the list on the board. Students may use the printed list and dictionaries to provide students with definitions. The student in the hot seat has 3 minutes to guess the word from the list. They then choose the next person to be in the hot seat. I make them choose someone of the opposite gender. It seems to go fairly rapidly.

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