Long ago and far away, I taught 10th grade English. I was a busy, busy girl. I taught creative writing (one essay a week, every Wednesday, graded and returned by Friday), the 5 genres of literature (novel, short story, essay, poem, play), grammar, reading comprehension, and vocabulary (vocab test every Friday)—-they also had to do a daily journal, but this was mainly a device to keep them quiet while I took roll (did you know that the attendance record is a legal document?) and to train them to be unafraid of The Blank Page. We all know how common a fear that is, right up there with Public Speaking. And Cockroaches.
I used a book called Collegiate Word Power for vocabulary (each student had one) and I was so seriously in love with that book that I bought a copy to take with me when I quit that job. I still have it. It’s sitting right next to me as I type this; I’m petting it. Seriously.
The book’s organization is brilliant. There are four lines: A, B, C, D and six words on each line. I’d assign line B, two pages, test. Week after week. There are 160 pages in the book and by the end of the year we’d be on line B, page 160. At the end of the school year, I’d give a final exam on every word we’d studied—I’m cruel that way—and we’d review in this way: I’d write (from memory) a word on the chalkboard and point to a kid and ask for the definition and to use it in a sentence. We’d spend a day or two doing this, and I had fun, it was very interactive, not sure how the kids felt about it, but the thing that they always ended up saying was this:
And I’d say: I know ALL the words.
The thing is this—I’m not sure I know all the words anymore. There’s a way people talk about vocabulary—passive and active. Passive is the words you understand the meaning of but rarely use. Active is the words you use regularly. Our passive vocabulary is far, far larger than our active vocabulary. It’s just the way it goes, not sure why, but we understand far more words than we use. The thing is, I used to use far more words than I do now.
What happened to my word power? When was the last time I used the word adumbrate? –page 157, line D– (Uh, never.)
So, just for fun, I’m going to give you a Word Power vocabulary quiz. Without looking them up, see how you do. See how active your passive vocabulary is right now. And then tell me if you feel like your vocabulary is stronger, broader, richer than it was in the past than it is now. And how do you feel about that?
10th Grade Vocabulary Quiz for Goddesses: