Acronyms are words or abbreviations formed by using the first letters of other words, such as USA for the United States of America or NASA for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Teaching acronyms supports your language arts program in several ways. On the most basic level, it reinforces phonetics. As students get older, acronyms are useful in the study of etymology.
ABS, or Acronym Brainstorming Session
Introduce students to acronyms by asking them if they’ve ever heard these commonly used abbreviations: FBI, IRS, USA, NASA. While these acronyms aren’t actually words, we use them so regularly that people generally know what we are talking about even though they might not know the words these letters represent. Brainstorm with the class to see if students can figure out what popular acronyms stand for. Good examples to use are AWOL, MIA, ETA, CSI, USSR, DMV and Navy SEALS.
PCA, or Pop Culture Acronyms
Children are probably familiar with acronyms that are popular in today’s text messages. Challenge your students to make a list of “text-talk” acronyms and write them on the board. You will get responses like LOL for “laughing out loud,” ROFL for “rolling on the floor laughing,” and BFF for “best friends forever.” Use other examples from pop culture, such as celebrity names. For example, Jennifer Lopez in referred to as “JLo.” The president of the United States is often referred to as “POTUS.” Ask students to guess the first lady's acronym, FLOTUS.
CRA, or Culturally Relevant Acronyms
Students will probably mention that certain text talk has fallen out of use. This segues nicely into a discussion on etymology, or the way words develop, change or disappear throughout history based on cultural relevance. While most acronyms are written with capital letters and require no punctuation, some acronyms have assimilated into our language as regular words and should be written as such. For example, laser is actually an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Radar is an acronym for radio detection and ranging, and scuba stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
PMP, or Practice Makes Perfect
Develop activities for practicing with acronyms. These can be simple exercises that require students to match an acronym with its expansion. Create acronym crossword puzzles and word searches with free software provided by sites such as Discovery Education. Students can create acronyms to describe themselves using the letters of their name. For example, “Jill” can be an acronym for “just intuitively loving life.” Have students create acronyms for situations in the school environment. For example, cafeteria lunch could be referred to as SWEON for “stuff we eat or not” or FLOP for “food looking old and pale.” Have students use their acronyms around school and see if they catch on.
Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.