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The Word Bag Strategy

Sometimes I don’t know where a classroom strategy fits – it is ‘differentiation’ or ‘improving climate for learning’ or just ‘good practice’? This one may even be all three. The idea is simple and stems from my dislike of sentence stems dressed up as a ‘writing frame’. All you do is draw the large outline of a bag on a whiteboard and place within it single words that belong to the type of language that you would expect in a really good student response. Be ambitious and select a few words that challenge their vocabulary or introduce precision or new technical terms. The drawing has to be no more than an outline that suggests ‘a bag’. I usually draw a cartoon sketch, you know, the type of thing that in my youth would have featured in the Beano and had ‘swag’ written on the side.

Then, when students are engaged in a task – spoken or written – ask them to use some of the words from this ‘word bag’. Make a game of it if you like. The result is that students’ responses shift to include the new words and progress is made. Easy.

There are perhaps a dozen variations on this idea but what I like about it is that the words are visible throughout the lesson and relevant to a task. I also think that, unlike sentence stems, this is not a heavy-handed approach and does not result in those same-y responses that bludgeon the individuality of the learner. If reaching for a richer way of expressing the world is part of your teaching, why not give ‘the word bag’ strategy a try.

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