Word Of The Week Program

Before Multicultural Restructuring 

  • Major Objective: Citizenship Education

  • Content Area:  Interdisciplinary

  • Grade Levels: K-6 and 6-8 (Elementary and Middle School)

  • Time Period:  Entire School Year on a Weekly Basis


Background and Implementation Information 

            The Word of the Week program became popular in the late 1970s as schools across the nation attempted to design more powerful ways to influence positively students’ behavior and social development.  As typically implemented, it is a schoolwide program, but in nonadopting schools, individual teachers have implemented a modified program in their own classroom.

            In its simplest form, the principal or a committee of teachers picks one word for each week of the school year; this word is prominently displayed in each classroom and the school auditorium, and is announced in the school assembly and the weekly newsletter.  For example, a word such as helpful may be selected.  On Monday of each week, as part of their ongoing language arts program, teachers discuss the meaning of helpful to make certain that each child understands.  Each child also understands that every week all teachers in the school will select one or two children from their class to receive special recognition as the student(s) whose behavior best exemplified the word of the week.  The recognition is usually given at a schoolwide event, such as an assembly, on Friday mornings.  Although schools implement this program in various ways, most schools

1.      have the teachers send in the names, or filled-in recognition certificates, on Thursday afternoon;

2.      have school aides or volunteers make calls to parents or caretakers on Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings to give parents the opportunity to be at the awards ceremony;

3.      take group pictures of recognized students and display them prominently near the principal’s office;

4.      list recognized students in a weekly or bimonthly newsletter;

5.      use words that are widely accepted as positive attributes (in American culture) in the set of 25 to 30 words.  Examples include helpful, friendly, cheerful, responsible, reliable, polite, courteous, considerate, positive, generous, independent, scholarly, hardworking, disciplined, punctual, tenacious, competitive, and imaginative.



            The structure of the typical Word of the Week program has many commendable features, but it lacks parental involvement, rewards only one or two students from each class per week, and does little to promote cultural pluralism, intergroup harmony, or the ability to see and think with a multicultural perspective.  These and other limitations will be addressed in the “after” treatment delineated below.

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After Multicultural Restructuring 

  • Curriculum Area:  Citizenship Education

  • Content Area:  Interdisciplinary

  • Grade Levels:  K-6 and 6-8 (Elementary and Middle School)

  • Time Period:  Entire School Year on a Weekly Basis


Suggested Modifications 

  1. Representatives of the parent committee can work together with teacher and student government representatives to help identify the 25 to 30 words that will provide the focus for the year’s Word of the Week program.  This strategy ties in with multicultural education goal 2:  creating empowering relationships among teachers, parents, and students on a class and schoolwide basis.

  2. The teacher can explain that the two students who receive recognition at the award assembly will likely be representatives of a larger group of students in the class whose behavior in and out of class merits recognition in terms of the Word of the Week program.  For these students, the teacher can provide oral recognition in class and provide written recognition (on a weekly or bimonthly basis) by class certificates, letters sent home to parents, or identification In a bimonthly newsletter. These strategies tend to reduce competitiveness and thus increase the potential for intergroup harmony (multicultural goal 4).

  3. To promote greater equity in this program-that is, to allow a larger number of deserving students to be recognized on a weekly or bimonthly basis (multicultural goal 1-the manner in which the program is carried out can be modified.  During the first week of the month, the first two words can be announced, and during weeks one and two, each teacher can nominate up to three students for each word.  Thus, from this recognition program alone up to six children per week can receive certificates for all four words and distribute from 6 to 12 awards per week.  In the school assembly the teacher can read the names of students receiving certificates, and the students stand up as their names are called to receive recognition from fellow students and the principal.

  4. To promote cultural pluralism (multicultural goal 3), intergroup harmony (multicultural goal 4), greater knowledge of selected ethnic and cultural groups (multicultural goal 5), and the ability to think with a multicultural perspective (multicultural goal 6), the traditional list of “good” words used in the program should be expanded to include some that more explicitly promote the values and goals of multicultural education. We have in mind words such as open-minded, tolerant, bilingual, assertive, curious, pluralistic, bicultural, humorous, athletic, musical, creative, cooperative, collaborative, well-rounded, and problem solving. When teachers explain what curious means, they can highlight the many useful things students can be curious about: knowledge about history, values, and contribution of specific American (and international) ethnic and cultural groups would be appropriate.  In addition, because the teacher in weeks three and four can give recognition for all of the month’s word, having a word like bilingual in the collection allows teachers to recognize publicly students who are striving to become bilingual, without penalizing those children who are aiming to move through life as creative monolinguals. Finally, some words, like pluralistic and tolerant, should be presented as optional in week three of the month because some K-3 teachers might find them difficult to explain to their students.  Thus the school can have its set of schoolwide words for all classes as well as a few optional words that individual classes can adopt.

  5. To help teachers explain and use each word to its fullest, the school district can provide a packet of curriculum materials to accompany each Word of the Week.  These packets can include brief biographical descriptions of Americans from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  The lives of these outstanding Americans should exemplify several different words of the week and tend, therefore, to reinforce efforts to promote educational equity and cultural pluralism.  In addition, materials that illuminate where prejudice, bigotry, and racism have stained American culture would help teachers explain what it means to be tolerant.

  6. To promote positive collaborative relationships among parents, teachers, and students (multicultural goal 2), a description of the goals and procedures of the Word of the Week program should be sent home by school newsletter in as many languages as necessary, and the program should be reviewed on Back-to-School night. This activity will help parents understand the goals of the program and help to avoid situations like the following, which occurred in Mesa Elementary School, one of the “newcomer” schools in Lucia Mar Unified School District, in Arroyo Grande, California.  In 1991, two brothers who were immigrants from Cambodia were attending the same newcomer class, along with immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines, to establish a certain level of English proficiency and social skill before being reassigned to a neighborhood school.  One of the brothers received a special award at the monthly awards assembly, and when he showed the award to his parents, he received another reward from them.  Unfortunately, the parents, who were unfamiliar with the awards ceremony and objectives, also punished the son who did not get an award.  However, teachers should not assume that sending notes home in the native tongue will automatically solve the communication problem.  Some immigrant parents may not be print literate in their native tongue.  Tactful questioning of older elementary students or bilingual or migrant aides (when available) should help to identify the population for whom bilingual written communications will not suffice.  Schoolwide efforts to explain key school programs orally-perhaps by cassette tapes-will then be needed.

  7. To link this activity to the cooperative learning program in the class,

    1. Encourage already formed cooperative groups to exhibit the qualities of the word;

    2. Choose words, early in the year, that overlap with the skills and attitudes needed for effective small-group participation;


During some weeks, select individuals and groups for recognition (or do this every week).