How to use the One Word Project to better your classroom
I have firmly believed that the first week of school is one of the most important of the year. Not only to establish rules and expectations, but also to build connections with your students. Without relationships we have such little ability as teachers to truly reach our students, and have them engage in the learning process. That is why I do the one word project during the first week of school.
This activity is nothing revolutionary, and I am sure you have seen many teachers post something similar. It obviously looks a little bit different in my classroom, because I am a Spanish teacher. I think using this project is not only a great way to build bonds with your students, but is also a fantastic way to get their feet wet at the beginning of the year with getting back into the target language.
For this activity you will need:
- Notecards or card stock
- Coloring materials
- English to Spanish dictionary (if you are doing this in Spanish, of course)
- Tape to hang the final product (I use painters tape or packing tape)
As a language teacher this lesson is particularly beneficial, because I do it the class after we do our Word Reference vs. Google Translate webquest. At this point they know to use Word Reference, and for many of them it’s a perfect opportunity to try it out for the first time on their own, and learn how to use it appropriately!
Setting up the lesson
I like to do this as a warmup, and when students enter the classroom they see the following question on the board, “How do words affect how we feel?”. I like to do this as a peardeck activity, so that students can use their phones to log in and answer the question, and then I can review their responses anonymously with the group. (If you don’t know what peardeck is or how to use it I have a great tutorial on my youtube channel) Students often will share positive and negative experiences they have had with the words of others, regularly citing things like twitter and how students talk about one another.
After discussing these points, I point out to them that words can have a huge effect on how we feel about ourselves, and it is important that we take that power and use it to our advantage. We also discuss how words can only have power over us if we let them, and the negative opinions shouldn’t overpower the positive ones.
Once we have discussed how to use words to encourage us, I tell the students to pick one word they want to live up to this year. I often say, “Pretend you are in a room with a group of people, and you have to leave. Once you are gone, what is the one word you would hope others would use to describe you. ‘They are so __________.’ What is the word that fills that blank?”. I like to show them my example card at this point, and explain why I choose “sincera”. It’s important to me to let my students know that my intention for the year is to always be genuine and sincere with them. That in my classroom, the expectations for how to be successful will always be clear, and I will always be open an honest with them. This is such a great moment for you to share yourself with your students and make that bond a two-way street.
When they have chosen their word they will use Word Reference to look up how to say it in Spanish, and approve it with me before I give them their notecard. This is particularly helpful if you are doing this in Spanish because it’s a great learning opportunity to show them common translation errors, and how to find the correct translation. I often remind them before starting their search that they are often looking for an adjective. That means on WR there should be adj next to the word of their choice. Every year, no matter what, many students will try to choose “divertirse” to go on their card instead of “divertido” lol
Once their word is approved it is up to them to design it however they like. I typically will give them no more than 10 minutes to color, and if they are not done, they can take it home to color it more, and bring it back the next class. (By the way, I teach high school. High schoolers think they’re too cool for crafts like this, but they love it every year). On the back of the card they need to write an explanation as to why they chose that word. This is my favorite part, because I love reading through them, and learning why each student chose their word, and what it means to them. One year a student chose the word “lechuga” which means “lettuce” in Spanish. I thought that he was making a joke of the activity, but on the back he wrote that he was trying to be more healthy and was aiming to eat more salads and vegetables that year!
A helpful hack is to have them write their name in the front corner of the notecard. I do this because I hang their cards on my wall and this is a GREAT talking point during open house. Not only is it a fun decoration for the classroom made by your students, but I always leave at least 2-3 minutes at the end of open house for parents to find their student’s name and see which word they chose. Parents love it!
By doing this activity you have your students set their own expectations for themselves on how to behave positively in the classroom. You have built a bond with them by sharing your word, and learning theirs. You have an adorable, colorful decoration for your classroom. You have had an open discussion with social-emotional learning. Lastly, you have a reference point for any part of the year to redirect your students and remind them to live up to their word. Honestly, I think we all should do this, not just our students.