I like to collect new words….. in fact, I have a large, glass jar on the top of my desk where I keep slips of paper with new words that cross my path. If a word catches my interest, I find and write its definition, use it in a sentence, and add this to a slip of paper that goes in the jar.
I just added this new word: “jonesing”, which means “craving, wanting really badly” (InternetSlang.com) and “to have a strong need or desire for something” (urbandictionary.com). I met the word via a friend who has used it several times in writing and conversation, as in an email message that noted “I am jonesing to go skiing in the mountains.”
I got the idea of a word jar when I read and started sharing an elementary book “Donovan’s Word Jar” by Mona Lisa DeGross. It’s a story about a boy with friends who have collections – coins, comics, baseball cards. Donovan decides to collect words, in a jar. Part of the story is how Donovan uses and shares his words. If you are an elementary teacher, this is a great book to use as a read-aloud with students.
How do we learn a new word? As we note in The Key Vocabulary Routine, we don’t learn words by looking them up in a dictionary. We learn them by taking an interest in them and encountering them multiple times in context. Slowly, over time, we gradually get to know a word and make it our own. Here are two examples from this past weekend for me:
- My friend used the term “jonesing” again, this time in conversation. This second encounter was enough to peak my interest enough to add it to my jar.
- This same weekend I went on an architectural tour, and the guide used the term “tessellate” (to arrange in a checkered or repeated mosaic pattern). I know and own this word because last year I took an interest in it, added it to my jar, and started using it.
If you really want to own a word, you have to use it yourself in the right context. For example, by writing I am jonesing to hear from my friend so I can learn more cool words and by writing about “jonesing” in this blog, there’s good chance I will not forget the word.
Teachers should find every opportunity they can to develop a sense of word consciousness in their students. Start a word jar in your classroom, share books like Donovan’s Word Jar, let students know that you get excited to learn a new word. I’ll end this post with a great quote from the National Center on Education and the Economy:
“Teachers should encourage children to become WORD COLLECTORS, people who notice new words and scoop them up for their personal collections when they hear, see or read them.”