Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thursday Thirteen 108: Frontier Words

Today I'm talking about a vocabulary building method we used in my tenth grade TAG (advanced) English class, “frontier words.” This is a method those writers amongst us may find useful. Parents and anyone seeking to strengthen their vocabulary may also find this of interest.

Understanding that no two people have the same vocabulary, “frontier words” seeks to strengthen the individual vocabulary.

Each week, students were to come to class with ten new vocabulary cards (index cards), the words culled from your own reading during the week.

Frontier words are those words that either you recognize but do not know, or words with which you are partially familiar (meaning, you think you know what it means but are not sure).

Though words were supposed to be culled from our regular reading during the week — books or newspapers — friends and I often randomly flipped through the dictionary when our lists fell a bit short. Hey, the better your vocabulary, the fewer unfamiliar words you encounter!

Word are written on one side of the card, the definition and example of usage (the sentence in which you found it) on the back. Write your own sentence if it helps you more easily remember the word.

Every Friday we paired off and tested each other on our words from that week. Not just spelling, but definition. You had to know those words!

In addition to that week’s vocabulary words, you were also tested on three to five random words pulled from your entire card stack. This meant you had to regularly review all of your words. If you are using this tool on your own, regularly shuffling and studying your cards will work in much the same way.

This practice came in handy senior year in high school, at the end of the first week of French V. I’m sure you could have heard our collective groan on the other side of the world when Madame V. gave us a list of 184 verbs to learn over the weekend. I only wish I were kidding. See samples at right.

I am also not kidding when I tell you that 95% of the class (those of us who also had English together for four years) showed up the following Monday with our own handmade vocabulary cards — which both surprised and impressed Madame V. Apparently, we were the first class to do so in all the years she'd been handing out this assignment. What can I say? We were special that way. *g*

I don't know what became of the English vocab cards—probably tossed them at the end of sophomore year—but I still have all of my French vocab cards. I added to that original stack of 184 throughout the year and took them off to college with me.

There is no age limit to frontier words — it is a tool anyone can use to improve vocabulary, no matter how young or old. Parents can use it during both the summer and school year as a means to entice kids to keep learning and retain what they learn. Make looking up new words a game, and encourage them to use their new words regularly. Once you learn a new word, you own it forever.

Having had the process of writing down and looking up unfamiliar words ingrained in me over the course of a year, I still practice it today. I don't jot them down on little vocabulary cards any more, but I do write them down in my journal, and will go back and look them over from time to time. The process of writing out the definition helps commit the word to memory.

A few words I have looked up so far this year include: peroration, benignant, penumbra, diffident, picara.

(Please leave your link if this is your first visit!)

RJ Lebeau * Stephanie Adkins * Elise Logan * Adelle Laudan
Alice Audrey * Janice Seagraves * Nicholas * Hootin' Anni
Shelley Munro * Ms Menozzi * Ella Drake
I Am Harriet * Inez Kelley * Carmen Shirkey * Paige Tyler
Jamie Babette * Mary Quast * Jennifer McKenzie * Brenda ND

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things.


Janice said...

A good vocabulary is necessary to being a good writer.

Great list happy TT.


Alice Audrey said...

I can see doing this except for one thing. When I go leafing through the dictionary, which i am liable to do, I get distracted by all the fun words and forget what I'm doing.

Nicholas said...

I know 4 of those 5. Well, 3 for sure, and one maybe.

Shelley Munro said...

That's a great idea. A good vocab is always helpful.

Hootin' Anni said...

I have always liked English...learning new things and new words is always a challenge; using them in everyday life. This was very interesting.

Happy Thirteening!!

Ms Menozzi said...

Great. Now I've got something else to curse my students with over the summer. LOL!


Happy TT!

Ella Drake said...

I only knew one of those five!!
Great post.

Adelle Laudan said...

I just love finding new words. This is a great idea. One I will pass on to my two girls. One is in highschool and the other starts this Fall. Thanks!
Happy T13!

I am Harriet said...

Oh wow. How interesting!
Great post.

Stephanie Adkins said...

I agree with Janice. A good vocabulary is a necessity, especially if you're a writer. Happy Thursday!

Inez Kelley said...

I love learning new words. Unfortunately, I took Latin in HS. *shudder* I did better with Spanish in college.

Carmen Shirkey said...

subscribe to word of the day emails, that helps, too.

Paige Tyler said...

That's very cool! Great idea!


My TT is at

Heather said...

Janice - Yes, it is. But more than that, a good vocabularly is vital to succeeding in general.

Alice - LOL...Yeah, I frequently have that problem as well. It's probably the one benefit of sites such as - you don't have a page filled with other words to distract you.

Nichoals - Ah, you're own frontier words! ;)

Shelley - Thank you. I'm glad people like this!

Anni - Glad you found it interesting. Thank you!

Heather said...

Ms M - As a teacher, I thought this might interest you. It's an especially great tool for learning a foreign language.

Ella - Hehe... Adding to your vocabulary today? *grin*

Adelle - You're welcome! I hope they find it useful. It's a method that translates easily to science classes, too.

Harriet - Thank you! :)

Stephanie - Definitely! Thanks for stopping by!

Heather said...

Inez - Ooh, Latin. Not many schools offer that anymore. I knew one person who took it in HS. It was only offered two years when we were there, and not at all now. In fact, he lost an SAT wager, in which he bet he would do better on the vocab section than those of us who took Spanish or French. Ha! Showed him. *WEG*

Most of my friends and I took French and/or Spanish. Yes, some of us took both. My senior year in HS I was in French V, Spanish I, and had just returned from a crash course in Norwegian. The only other senior in my Spanish class was also in German 4 and French 3. There were those who thought the two of us nuts, LOL.

Carmen - Yes, there are plenty of offerings there, too. I get three different ones delivered direct to my inbox every day. Um, yeah... I may have an addiction. lol

Paige - Thank you!

Elise said...

vocabulary and I are passing friends. Many an esoteric word has passed my lips and my pen, to the point of being accused of making things up. People are always impressed with my 5yo's vocabulary - but what choice does she have? In our house, you'd better be ready to exercise your sesquipedilious muscles.

Brenda ND said...

I like to learn new words too. Happy TT!

Heather said...

Elise - I've been accused of making words up, too. Once while home from college, friends and I were playing Scrabble and I put down the word 'skow'. Both insisted it wasn't a real word and it escalated into quite an argument. Finally my friend's dad walked in and asked what all the noise was. "They don't believe skow is a real word," I said. "Oh. Yeah, it's a boat," and he walked out, leaving my friends speechless. I think they still insist we made it up. lol

BTW, my 4-yr old niece has a vocab far above her age level, too. She could use 'amputate' in a proper sentence at age 3! hehe...

Brenda - Yay! Another word love! *g*

Anonymous said...

OMG, I think I need to enroll in that. I don't know any of those words. Then again, when you hang out with the guys we don't tend to use big words. Or even medium-sized ones. :-)

Angela said...

Wow, Frontier Words, that takes me back!

Heather said...

RJ - comment!

Angie - Hehe...I thought it might. ;)