Balloon time! (class features series)

DaisyL reading a Nancy Drew book in our P3/P4 class

Above: DaisyL reading her copy of The Movie Star Mystery (a children’s reader based on the Nancy Drew feature film that hit US theatres this past June) in class.

Amassing a large vocabulary is an important part of building English fluency. Perfect diction and grammar are obviously of relatively little use if one’s stuck with a small, stunted vocabulary.

vocabulary introduced before reading a selection from the Nancy Drew book

Above: vocabulary introduced before reading a selection from the Nancy Drew book visible in the previous photo (P3/P4 class).

As everyone knows, the best way to grow your vocabulary is to read voraciously and to choose books that will include some unfamiliar words. Often, the meanings of these new words can be inferred from the context in which they’re first encountered. Too many new words occurring too closely together, though, can cause young readers to have to consult their dictionaries too frequently, breaking their immersion in the story and causing them to lose interest in what they’re reading.

That’s why, during every class, we learn a subset of the new words we’re going to see in that day’s reading … before we open our books. Launching directly into the story without introducing crucial vocabulary would force us to constantly stop and explain each word, one after another, as we hit them in the story.

The problem is: how do you build motivation to learn new words in the abstract (before they’re seen in use)? We’re currently using a method that we call “balloon time”.

ChloeP holding a balloon during balloon time KevinM holding a balloon during balloon time

Above: P3/P4 class students ChloeP and KevinM holding balloons during balloon time.

The details vary a bit from class to class, taking the students’ abilities and ages into account, but the broad strokes are the same. The correct pronunciations of all of that day’s vocabulary words are taught to the class, then their meanings are discussed, and finally the students are given the opportunity to review the pronunciations of a select few words again. Next, each student is given an inflated balloon (alternatively, a single balloon may be passed around from student to student) and they take turns saying the words aloud. Students who pronounce all of their words correctly usually get to take their balloons home with them. The other balloons are popped on the spot.

SamanthaC holding a balloon during balloon time ThomasC holding a balloon during balloon time

Above: P1 class students SamanthaC and ThomasC holding balloons they’ve decorated themselves after making it through balloon time successfully.