Friday, November 28, 2014

10-50 Vocabulary Assessments

In earlier posts about limiting vocabulary and hitting high frequency words first, I alluded to vocabulary quizzes, so let me address here how I assess vocabulary. I got this idea from someone at NTPRS this past summer, and I really wish that I remember who it was so that I can give proper credit to that person (I recall it was in my session with Blaine Ray, so it may have been Blaine Ray himself. The funny thing is that I vividly remember what I was wearing during that session, where in the room I was sitting, who was sitting around me, what they were wearing, what Blaine was wearing, what was served for lunch on that day but yet I cannot recall the person who gave this idea!).

The idea is to give unannounced vocabulary assessments which are simply "translate the vocabulary word into English." But the difference is:
  • the only words which are on the quiz are those which have been targeted in class and are on the word wall
  • the list of words on the quiz becomes cumulative, meaning that all of the words from previous quizzes are on there as well, hence the name "10-50" (signifying that the number of words on the quiz increases, starting from 10 to eventually 50
  • the quizzes are only given when you the teacher feel that students are ready, so you are on their timeline, not the other way around
  • my addition is that instead of just giving students a list of words to define, I have the words in sentences from stories which we have done, hence, the words are not in isolation but rather in a familiar context
Why not give students the English word and have them write the Latin equivalent? In my opinion, that is forced output/production of the language when the majority of students may not be ready yet. I would have to grade them on spelling, and plus, I am not interested at all if students know the dictionary entry of the word - do we as English speakers know the dictionary entry of English words (they do exist!)? I will leave it for timed writes for students to show me what they can do with the actual Latin words.

Latin 1 example (34 words):

1)  mater dicit, “ego pecuniam non habeo
2) Rob est tristis.
3) Ian pulchram puellam videt.
4) Leonard clamat, “O infans, depone lightsabrem!”
5) Bill clamat, “mensa non est amicus!”
6) hodie Tom diem natalem celebrat.
7) infans ad Walmart it.
8) pater infantem videt, et infantem capit.
9) mater dicit, “cur tu canem vis?’
10) Bill non est laetus.
11) Ian mensam et sellam dat.
12) Kim crustulum amat, sed non Yodam.
13) Jack est iratus, quod Publix popartes non vendit.
14) Ian dicit, “O pulchra puella, salve!”
15) Jack dicit, “ego poptartem volo!”
16) Kim leonem vult.
17) in familia, Rob est filius

  • Because I only give these quizzes when I feel that students are ready, there is not the stress which I saw when students had to be prepared for an announced quiz. In fact, I have never had a student gripe or complain about the unannounced nature of the assessment. These quizzes usually happen every 1 1/2 weeks.
  • Even though these quizzes are unannounced, at least 90% of students are getting 95% or higher, meaning that students have acquired these words. They have never had to study these words, to memorize them or to make flashcards - it has all been through listening, reading and meaningul repetitions/interactions with these words. Plus, because I have limited vocabulary, students have never felt overwhelmed by the number of words.
  • I use these quizzes as formative assessments, although there are many who use them as summative assessments. If I see that students are missing a particular word, then that shows me that they have not acquired it and need more meaningful repetitions/interactions with that word. 
  • Because the words are in sentences from previous stories which students have read ad nauseam (hence, a familiar context), it is easier for them to recall the meaning if they do not know it offhand. In fact, it is fun to hear students say during the quiz, "Hey, this word is from the first story which we ever read!" I do vary up the sentences each quiz though so that students are not just memorizing the sentences.
  • Although the list of words is cumulative, I only add 4-6 new words each quiz, so it is not overwhelming for students. The cumulative nature of the quiz actually lowers affective filters, because students already know the majority of the words on the assessment.
  • The only overwhelming part of the assessment for students is having to define more words each time, so it is not a matter of not knowing the words but having to write down more. 
Because students finish the quiz at different times, I always have those quick processors draw a picture on the back as a way to keep them occupied while others are still working, e.g., I will tell them "Draw me a picture of your 6th period class" or "Draw me a picture of what you were doing when the fire alarm went off yesterday." This also shows me who is still working. Quite honestly, for some reason, drawing the picture is what students look forward to the most, so much that I always have to say, "Now don't rush through the quiz so that you can draw the picture!"


  1. I can't wait to start limiting vocab next year. Really looking forward to planning that out this summer. But just to share my own positive experiences assessing vocab in context from the story: My students are much more successful with it, recall it better when it shows up later (because they have made heartier meaning-based connections to it), and recognize the word even when it's not in dictionary form (which was my struggle as a student). They also get to practice the skill of using context to help when they get stuck, rather than reaching for the dictionary immediately. Love the idea of assessing vocab on the students' time-line (I quasi-do this with grammar). Even with my more traditional than CI classroom and the vocab from Ecce, I think I could really save them homework and stress by doing these unannounced with lots of practice in class (huge area for improvement for me). Thank you as always for the terrific ideas.

    1. Glad to hear this This is the first year I've done 10-50 assessments but I'm liking the student results which I am seeing. I don't think that students realize just how much they have acquired!

  2. Hey Keith! I have a question. I am trying out contextual vocabulary quizzes like what you have in this (very helpful) post. I have to do vocabulary quizzes and I want them to matter! Anyway, I was wondering if you ask the students to simply give you the best english version of the underlined Latin word OR if you ask them to translate the sentences OR give you the word with the indicated tense/person/number? I am interested in what you think! Thanks, Mary

    1. Students only translate the underlined word into English by giving the basic meaning. The sentence is there only for a context (one with which they should already be very familiar). I am not interested in singular/plural forms, tenses, etc., but only the basic meaning of the word. I save the "grammatical" form for a translation check-in, where students would write out a very short English translation of the story. In a translation check-in, I can then see who is having problems with "grammar".

    2. That makes sense! I really appreciate your input :)