Words, Schmerds: 6 Tools to Enhance Your Vocabulary Lesson!


When I taught 2nd grade, vocabulary was one of those things I tried to make exciting because, to many, learning new vocabulary words can be boring. Vocabulary, as everyone knows, is vital to all communication. Pronouncing, understanding, applying and spelling words is not only tested out the wazoo, it’s infused in everything we do. It’s ok to go old school when it comes to using things like flashcards and good ol’ writing the word and it’s definition down, but adding a little flavor can really enhance your student engagement!

Here are some fun ways to learn and work with vocabulary words!

(Some of these tools may not be new to you, but see if you can think of creative ways that you haven’t tried yet!)


  • Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.01.42 PMCreate fun (really fun!!) and interactive quizzes utilizing images and videos to correspond with the vocabulary words!
  • Have the students create quizzes to review with each day!


  • Create a dynamic presentation that students can refer back to whenever they need!
  • Have the students create an emaze for key vocabulary words including images and videos, then embed them on your classroom website or share them on social media!


  • Have students share sentences with specific vocabulary words. You’ll have a transcript of all kinds of examples to share with the class.
  • (Modified idea stolen from the incredible Matt Miller!) Create a story one line at a time. Give each student a number. Student with #1 starts the story with one of the vocabulary words and the rest of the group follows by the number they received. You can decide if each student needs to use a vocabulary word or if it should be every other student. This could be the entire class or just small groups. With smaller groups, you’d get more examples of vocabulary in context!

Twitter hashtag

  • If you haven’t already, create a hashtag for your classroom! When you introduce new words or just need reminders of other words, tweet the word, short definition and the class hashtag. You, as well as your followers (hopefully parents!) will have a running list of the words the students are learning!

Vocabla (Great for ENL/ESL Students) 

  • With the Google Chrome extension, users click on any word within the browser, find the translation and definition then bank that word to work with later!
  • Great way to track what words your students are frequently looking up!

Pixteller (one of many poster-making sites)

  • Create posters with the vocabulary words using definitions or the words in a sentence.
  • Print and display!
  • Post on social media!

Low-Tech Idea (Nothin’ wrong with a little pencil/paper action!)


Vocabulary Carousel

(Small group activity-4 or 5 students)

Get a large piece of paper and put it at the center of the table (or floor). In the center, put the topic/unit/story you are working with and circle it. Stem the vocabulary words off of that center circle (one for each student in the group). There will be a round for each vocabulary word. Once the student is done with their word, either the students rotate around the paper or just rotate the paper. They will then do the next round with a different word. By the end they will have interacted with all of the words.

First round: Write the definition in your own words

Second round: Write a sentence using the word

Third round: Write another sentence

Fourth round: Draw a picture of the word (or a picture of one of the sentences)

Fifth round: (if needed) Circle the word in every sentence


What are some creative ways you are teaching vocabulary or working with new words? I’d love to hear your ideas! 

You Are More

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 9.15.48 AM

I was lucky enough to be a part of a project at the end of the school year last year that gave students a platform to anonymously share whatever was on their mind. The idea stemmed from Connect, an anti-bullying program that is offered in our school corporation, with the purpose being to encourage more students and teachers to get involved in the program. What resulted, I think, was much bigger than we first expected.

We passed out a notecard to all 600+ students in the school and their teacher explained to them that the intent of this idea is to show everyone that they are not alone and that many are going through some pretty rough things. We received some pushback because some of the cards were revealing very serious situations, but our goal was for everyone to realize (teachers, students, staff, parents, etc) that we are in this to support the whole child. We are not just teaching the academic side of the student. When we interact with people, we are not just dealing with the side of the person we see in front of us.

This is the result. I encourage you to share this with your staff, your teacher friends, your students and really everyone!

This is why I am in education.

You Are More (Student Voice Project) from Allison Holland on Vimeo.


What if we start the school year letting our students know we are there for them, all aspects of them, and that we are in this together?


What if we started the year not just telling our students they are important, but by showing them?


What if this was the school year where you change your students lives?


Make this the best school year you’ve ever had. Make this the best class you’ve ever had. Make this the year where you focus on the human aspect of education.

‘This is the thing that makes me want to go to school everyday…’

We had our last SOLE class for the school year last Monday. In all 6 years of being in education, I have never had an experience quite like this. At the end of last year, our school was awarded a grant to move forward with a more personalized learning approach across our corporation. Because this is a pretty major shift in the way we ‘do’ school, we knew we had to take it slow. After researching the concept of SOLE, implementing this idea for our 6th-8th grade students seemed like a simple, but impactful start.

When I taught second grade, my philosophy was that, no matter a child’s age, they need to discover things for themselves. I believed that they needed to feel the discomfort of not ‘getting’ something to truly understand the joy of learning. Students are often told what to do and how to do it. In SOLE, students are not given anything, but their computers and unending support from their facilitator. It took this group a while to figure out how to learn on their own, but once they did, magic happened.

I have learned so much about who I am as an educator by watching these students. Their ideas and creations this year blew me away. They stretched themselves past where they thought they could go. They were given the freedom to follow their passions and really develop their ideas.

Most importantly, they learned how to fail, rework their ideas and keep going.


What is SOLE? from Allison Holland on Vimeo.

SOLE on the News!

Because this is a pilot program, the kids have gotten a lot of exposure through our local media! The students were interviewed in December, did a live spot on the local morning show and were just interviewed last week by another local news station, ABC57!

This video really sums up what SOLE is all about! Check it out!




What is Creativity? Keynote from a 6th Grader

Students, when given freedom, support and encouragement, can come into their own and figure out who they are as people. I am daily amazed by what goes on in our SOLE class.

Last week, one of my SOLE students, Grace B., gave her presentation on creativity. While I was watching her present, I felt like something amazing was happening! I felt like I was watching a TED talk! The other students felt that way, too! None of them wanted to present after her! Her ideas were fantastic and the keynote was done so professionally, I had to keep asking her if she actually made it! I wish I would have recorded it live. She luckily did a screencast of her presentation.

I encourage you to take 3 minutes and watch this. It is simple, inspired and, well, creative!

Share this with your students!

My #TeacherHero

Teacher Appreciation Week should really be every week, right? We should show our appreciation to all of the people in our lives daily, but it sure is nice to dedicate a week to people who daily sacrifice so much to better those around them. Teachers are incredible people who selflessly and willingly give up their time to support their students. I could go on and on about how amazing teachers are and how noble a cause they have, but I want to take a second to share my teacher hero; the woman who inspired me to be the teacher I am today.

Everyone wanted Mrs. Hayes when they got to fourth grade. Everyone loved her. I mean, everyone. She always had a huge smile on her face and could make anyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. I was one of the lucky ones who got to have her as my teacher! I learned so much from her during that year and I knew she would always be special to me. She made the content relevant and made everyone want to learn. She shared her life with her students. She listened to what we had to say. It was evident that this was and is her life’s calling.

When it came time to choose who to do my student teaching with, I knew immediately that I wanted to teach with Mrs. Hayes. I have had many amazing years in education, but nothing will compare to my student teaching experience. I was so honored to be teaching and learning alongside my hero. She gave me confidence and helped me to believe in myself as an educator. She opened up her classroom to me and let me really become the teacher I wanted to be.

My last day of student teaching was absolutely unforgettable. Mrs. Hayes invited my extended family to surprise me, as well as, parents of the students, to celebrate my time with them. Each student wrote incredible letters to me. We all cried together because we knew that year was going to be something to remember. I have been lucky enough to teach some pretty amazing students in my 6 years in education, but that group will always hold a special place in my heart.

So thank you, Mrs. Hayes. You have inspired me beyond what I could ever tell you. You have made such a profound impact on my life. You are a phenomenal educator and person. Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher. I can only hope to have the impact you had on me to one of my students.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Pam and I on one of the last days of my student teaching 7 years ago. :)

Pam and I on one of the last days of my student teaching 7 years ago. :)

Take a second to tell the teachers in your life how much they mean to you!

Riverside Intermediate’s Relay for Life LipDub!

Some of my SOLE kids took on a pretty big project where they organized the entire student body to be involved in a school-wide lipdub! Their intent is to raise money and awareness for Marshall County Relay for Life. Check it out and please share!

Youtube-ing the Time Away

As mentioned previously, I have facilitated SOLE (self organized learning environment) all school year and  Genius Hour this past semester. I have learned a lot about myself and my views as an educator through these experiences. I have observed many moments that solidify why I became a teacher and many that have, quite frankly, frustrated me. A lot.

In these environments, students are able to use self direction and decide what they want to learn/research/do. They get to choose what they do with their time. For those who are self-motivated and know what they are passionate about, this time can be invigorating and life-affirming. For those who are the opposite or haven’t tapped into their strengths or passions yet, it can be a rather boring waste of time.

Enter youtube.

I’m struggling with watching students ‘youtube’ their free time away. In this kind of environment, as the facilitator, I’m not to overly push the students one way or the other. I don’t want to dictate anything to them. I have done my very best to see what the students are working on and try to bring their passions out, but I have noticed as soon as I am not pushing, many go back to watching random youtube videos. I give them their space while encouraging dialogue about what they like to do, things they are interested in, etc., but I find myself getting very frustrated when I can’t help light that fire. I feel like I am not doing my job as the facilitator when I’m watching students look up dunk contests or play game after game.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling particularly useless during one of these times so I decided to just start chatting with one of the students. We talked about all kinds of different things. While we were chatting, he was looking up basketball videos on youtube. I made my rounds to the other kids and jokingly talked about what they were doing on youtube and the one student I was talking to said, “I really like this class”. I jokingly replied that it was probably because you get to watch youtube videos. He said that it wasn’t that. It was because he was able to do what he wanted no matter what that was. He had control of this tiny part of his day.

I was perplexed by this because on the one hand, I was really happy that I could give him that freedom at school, but on the other hand, he was using that freedom to mindlessly look up youtube videos. I do believe that everyone needs a brain break, but I think it really goes back to not teaching the students how to ‘do’ free time. In Kindergarten, their free time was self-directed play where they would use their imagination to create worlds around them. Free time is completely taken out of the equation as they grow older so when they get opportunities like this, they just want to take a break from everything around them.

Who can blame them, right?

It’s hard for many to be intrinsically motivated when their isn’t a grade involved. They are so used to doing everything for a grade, they don’t see the point in doing something simply because they are passionate about it; especially at school.

We have to make a calculated effort to encourage students to think beyond their grades and encourage them to find out what they are passionate about. Many don’t have a clue what they are passionate about because they haven’t been asked before so they haven’t thought about. It’s time to get them to start thinking!

What are some things you are doing in your classroom to bring your students’ passions to the forefront?




Let ‘Em Loose!


After watching the PBS documentary ‘Is School Enough?‘ (a must watch!), I was so inspired by what I saw and excited about the direction education is slowly going. I have always been passionate about giving students a choice in how they show their learning and even more passionate about giving them a voice in their world. As I said in my previous post, our corporation is moving towards personalized learning. When I was in the classroom, this is what I strived for for my students. It is very different from the traditional way of viewing the classroom so adjustments are going to be made as we continue on, but I think if our focus is solely on the students, the adjustments should be welcomed.

At the beginning of the year I asked teachers when they preferred to meet and the general consensus was during their preps so I implemented Teach It Tuesdays for the Intermediate School and Work It Wednesdays for the Junior High. We meet twice a month (when there aren’t a million snow days) and each time is themed around different topics. We also do learning walks throughout the school with the sole purpose being to observe what students are doing and what they will be able to do after that particular lesson.

After being so inspired by the documentary, the Let ‘Em Loose Challenge was born! With the support of the principals in both buildings, I challenged the teachers to take one lesson or unit, give the students the outcome or goal and  let them get to that end point any way they choose. Here is what I gave them:


Let ‘Em Loose Challenge!

Due date:  Friday, May 16th, 2014

Challenge: Pick one skill, tell the students they need to master that skill, but they have to do it in their own way. Class time would be dedicated to the students working however they need to. At the end of a designated time period, students would have to prove they understood the concept in whatever way they wanted to; a video, a presentation, whatever they come up with! You would have check-in meetings with each student (daily, every other day, weekly, etc.), but they would be driving their own learning. You may have them show you in three different ways that they mastered it.

***Note: It may take the students some time to get used to being in charge of their own learning. Some may not even get it the first time. An involved discussion would need to take place prior to this challenge, as well as, a follow-up reflection. 

Tips and thoughts for implementing this idea:

  • As a class, come up with rubric of sorts so they feel ownership in how the results will be evaluate

  • Let students figure out what works for them

  • Let the chaos happen (and watch it, it’s really cool when it works itself out!)

  • It will seem like a disaster for the first few days, but everyone’s figuring out how to do this

  • The students assume you are going to give them every step and when you don’t it will be very hard for some

  • Let students decide how they will show you they’ve mastered this, but brainstorm different ways prior to letting them loose

  • Ask questions to get the students to clarify why they are doing what they are doing

I then created a GoogleDoc that I shared with both schools where they had a chance to reflect on how the experience went for them. I encouraged them to have their students reflect as well! I’ve had conversations with some of the teachers who have already implemented this idea and it was so cool to hear what they had to say. One teacher said she asked her students what they thought of it once it was completed. She said many liked it, but there were some that hated it. Those students told her they would rather just be told what to do. That makes sense because that is how they have ‘done school’ thus far. 

Another teacher said they didn’t know what to do while their kids were working; they felt useless. I completely understand that sentiment and explained that this is your opportunity to really get to know each of your students. Check in with them to see how they are doing. Have them explain what they are learning.

It can be frustrating because it’s a shift from the ‘normal’ way of teaching. The teacher should no longer be the center of the learning.

I encourage you to give this challenge a shot! Let me know how it goes!

We’ve Got SOLE!

Joey leads the group in the end of the day discussion.

Joey leads the group in the end of the day discussion.

I used to think it was ridiculous for a 6th grader to be thinking about creating or even publishing their own anime! Ever since I joined SOLE, my mind has completely changed. I’ve actually taken action to achieving my dream now and I think other students who join SOLE will too.


Our school district started a personalized learning initiative after receiving a grant last spring. There are many elements involved and it is definitely a work in progress. One part that I have been able to be a part of is facilitating a SOLE class for 6th grade students. I jumped at the chance  to lead in this way!

What is SOLE?

SOLE stands for Self-Organized Learning Environment. The idea was created by Sugata Mitra with the mindset that students anywhere can learn and research as long as they have the tools to do so. I would highly suggest watching his TED talk if you haven’t already.

When we started this class at the beginning of the school year, the kids had a tough time understanding what it meant to ask real questions; questions that can’t be googled. The first few weeks we just worked on what a solid question looks like and what kinds of questions they want answered. Since those first few weeks, our group has morphed into answering questions while following their passions. Because of the grant we received, we’ve been able to purchase various equipment and software that the students have requested.

The projects that have come out of this group have been absolutely amazing. There are, of course, projects that don’t pan out or that flop, but that’s the best part about this kind of environment; failure is ok! It’s a place where the students know they can fail with ease and not worry about any repercussions. They are so much more willing to try something new when they know they can scratch it at any time and move on to something else.

I’m going to brag on my students now. Hope you don’t mind! :)

  • Hannah who is extremely passionate about Anime is creating her very own Anime series! When she first joined SOLE, she really wanted a software program where she could create real animation. She researched different programs and because of the grant we were able to purchase one for her! She’s currently auditioning voices for her various characters!
  • Griffin and Harold saw an example of a school-wide lipdub and immediately wanted to do something like that for our school! It went from wanting to show school spirit to, because our school is doing Relay for Life, wanting it to be a gift for those fighting cancer. They just filmed it last week and are editing it this week. It. is. awesome. I will definitely share the final product!
  • Ian knew from the very beginning that he wanted to create an app. We purchased an App Developers license and different software and he’s been plugging away ever since! He’s currently working on learning more about coding to help him with his app.
  • Grace and Hailey’s current project is making people happy. They’ve created a website where they share the good things people are doing. They are also making notebooks and wallets out of cardboard and duct tape and will sell them to raise money for a kindergarten student at one of the elementary schools who is fighting cancer.
  • Harold and Brady are creating their very own lego movie using our GoPro! They’ve created the town and are now working on the script!

Not all projects are that time-consuming and involved. There is a flexibility that is generally not found the normal classroom. If a student starts a project then realizes they don’t really want to do it anymore, they have the freedom to choose something else. There are definite challenges to this that I will discuss that in a later post, but generally, when students are able to choose what they want and can follow their passions, they become extremely self-motivated and accomplish just what they set out to do!

Is your school/class doing anything like this? Please share!