What’s the Function (Vocab)?

Posted by Kara Parker on October 22, 2015 in 1 Planning, Vocabulary Building, What's New

As I moved away from making and giving vocabulary lists, I had to focus on the function vocabulary instead of the seemingly endless detail vocabulary. Here’s how I looked at the unit goals to decide what vocabulary they really needed to accomplish those goals during the lesson plans.

First I’ll start with a traditional level 1 unit (novice high target) that I taught at JCPS that looks like a lot of other curricula. I went through the unit overview and underlined words that helped me to identify what the important function vocabulary should be.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.02.44 AM

Here’s a list of the function vocabulary that was crucial to completing the goals at Novice High. These are the words that I focus on during the lessons and the words I hope to see them use during assessments. I also feel like these are words that give them a lot of power because they can be used for other topics too.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.11.29 AM

This is where some generic adaptable activities come in very helpful (and a time-saver) for lesson planning.

Expressing opinions: Four Corners, Opinion CardsOpinion Starters

Asking/Answering questions: Ask, Ask, Switch, Fast Seats

Describe (5 W’s): 30 SecondsHighlight AwayGraphic Organizer

Comparing: Compare Culture

Narrating: Adobe Voice

Reaction phrases (like “Me too!”): Phrase of the Week

Reviews: Recipe Card Notes, Categorized Notes (pics below)

Recipe for a review

This was for an ESL class, so put in your TL.

Music review

Categorized notes to write a music review

The detail vocabulary is ENDLESS! Especially when the unit is focused on the students’ lives. There are so many ways they could answer “I like”… video games, parkour, football, mudding, rodeo, sewing, watching TV, eating and on and on this list could go. There are some detail words that I can predict that they will need, but again, this list is impossible to include everything.

detail vocab

To find an authentic resource that includes all the needed focus and detail vocabulary is next to impossible. This is where we found it helpful to refocus the unit. We like to lead with a related culture topic to cover the interpretive goals. So this “I like” unit can be refocused on topics like Hispanic Athletes or Cultural Games. They still get the crucial function vocabulary plus learn about the culture. It becomes so easy to find related authentic resources too.

Hispanic Board Games Unit

Then they can research their own related interests in the target language to get the detail vocabulary they need to accomplish the presentational goals. Show them how to do The Search so they can find what they need.

Please share your tips for focusing on the function vocabulary and leaving the list!

8 comments for “What’s the Function (Vocab)?”

  1. Christine says:

    I would love to do this but struggle to find a starting point. Ideas..?

    1. Kara Parker says:

      If you can give me a unit topic/overview and a proficiency target then I can pull some ideas.

  2. Florecia says:

    I love this idea, thanks for sharing! One question, what do your IPAs look like? Do they focus on the communicative tasks based on hispanic board games?

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Honestly, I don’t always do IPA style assessments, but I always do performance-based ones (and always communicative tasks) that I grade with a proficiency rubric. The assessments for this board game topic can be done several ways. For an IPA type, they could read about a game in TL (interpretive), then respond (written or spoken, presentation or interpretive) with their opinion or give a comparison to a game they play. For just an “output” assessment, it could be based on the cultural game (You saw a clothing booth in the Santa Fe District (replace with local art festival/place) with images from loteria, so you talk with the lady about what you know about it. She offers you a free item and asks you which one is your favorite and why), or based on their own experience with a game (While waiting for a table at Snooze (replace with a local restaurant with a super long wait), you start playing your favorite board game to pass the time. You hear two guys talking in TL and wondering what the game is. You explain to them how to play the game and why you like it.). Give them a few options and they can choose! By the way, these tasks are based on some recent experiences I had and they could be personalized even more for your city.

  3. Florencia says:


  4. Maria says:

    Hi! I jus attended your workshop on culture through FLENJ. Amazingly mind blowing! I couldn’t stop thinking about it all weekend, lol!
    I have several questions related to vocabulary. If kids are generating their own list of ‘detail’ vocabulary, how do they go about internalizing it? If each kid has different vocab, how do you reinforce vocab on a daily basis? Do you have ‘essential detail’ vocab that you introduce so all kids have a basis? Do you have a vocab template that students use for each unit? Thank you

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Hi Maria! I have found that they internalize it by seeing and using it. Within a unit, the daily goals build on each other and reuse what they learned from the previous days. The best way to “show” that is to read this post: http://www.creativelanguageclass.com/planning/idea-45-track-goals-with-stamp-sheets/ I’ll add that I’ve noticed that they need less drilling types of activities when they discover it on their own in context. It sticks a lot faster. Also there are specific phrases and chunks that I want them all to know. I call it “function vocab”: http://www.creativelanguageclass.com/planning/whats-the-function-vocab/ I rarely have one template that I use for the whole unit. Instead I use several different forms for them to organize their vocab on days that we are doing mostly interpretive tasks. Here is a link that has a collection of different ways we build vocab: http://www.creativelanguageclass.com/category/activities/vocabulary-building/ Overall, students all learn vocab in different ways and at different rates, so I try to mix that up as much as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Posts by Categories

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Our Spanish Curriculum ~ Units & Lessons

Need a lesson plan or activity?

%d bloggers like this: