Reinforcing Vocabulary in All Content Areas

Learning new words and developing an extended vocabulary, with accompanying compatible definitions, is a common task throughout all disciplines and at all levels of school. Teachers are always looking for new ways to motivate their students, but when the work is usually dependent on memorization, it often converts into a boring task.

In many instances, college students use index cards fashioned into flash cards to implement and exercise the memory process.  Taking the index card idea, we can utilize this concept and turn the cards into more than a flash item. The following steps and procedures are an intelligent and challenging way to reinforce the educational process, while motivating the students in a fun manner.

The following strategies can be utilized as a “Do Now” activity when the students enter the classroom. They can be offered as paired work, as a competition among small groups, or even for homework. Implementing the ideas using different structures is intellectually challenging and creates a stimulating vitality in the classroom that becomes focused on discussing the content and subject material.

Here is a list of excellent games for classroom use, which will move vocabulary words from short-term to long-term memory:

  • Acrostics: Create an acrostic from 5-7 vocabulary words.
  • Groupings: Select five vocabulary words. Identify how you grouped them together in an off-beat way.
  • Body Mnemonics: Have students design body language cues for the memorization of selected vocabulary words.
  • Carousel Brainstorming: Place four of the student’s vocabulary words on separate charts around the classroom. Have cooperative groups of students walk from one chart to another brainstorming the use of the vocabulary words.
  • Categories: Place each card into specific categories determined by the classroom.
  • Chronological Order: Place vocabulary words in some type of order that is unusual.
  • Concept Attainment: Create groupings on the spot from students’ vocabulary words. Have students generate the titles for each category. (Hilda Taba)
  • Concept Maps: Create connections from vocabulary words using a bubble format with string or line drawing.
  • Crossword Puzzle: Design your own crossword puzzle from ___ number of vocabulary words.
  • Emotion: Group the vocabulary words according to an emotion.
  • Emotional Flashes (on cards):  Students draw a picture or diagram on the index card, trying to evoke an emotional response that they get while reflecting on the vocabulary word. The pair is given 3-5 choices of emotions and the viewer tries to guess what the artist tried to convey. (Life Science Secondary School)
  • File Cabinet: Design a file cabinet for the vocabulary words. How would you label each drawer and each manila folder?
  • Gallery Walk: All vocabulary words are placed in an order for someone to view as if they were in a gallery or museum.
  • Grab Bag: Each student places a few vocabulary words in a paper bag. Pair the kids. Their partner picks out a card from their bag and reads the definition. The original author tries to guess the vocabulary word. If they get it right on the first try, they receive 3 points. If they get it on the second try, they get 2 points. If they get it on the third try, they receive one point.
  • Hidden Word Puzzle: Design a multi-pop or hidden vocabulary word puzzle.
  • Hierarchy: Design a hierarchy from your vocabulary words.
  • Identity Crisis: Each student has an index card placed on their back. Then they have to ask questions of other students to determine the vocabulary word.
  • Imagery Map: Create an imagery map from the vocabulary words with pictures.
  • Just Like Me: Have students find five vocabulary words that reflect their personality.
  • Linking: Students find a vocabulary word and link it to their personal history.
  • Location: Group words according to place.
  • Longest Sentence Ever!: Write a sentence using as many vocabulary words as possible.
  • Mad Libs: Fill in the blanks with vocabulary words.
  • Mixed-Up Files: Place vocabulary words in a mixed up order. Have a partner explain why this would or wouldn’t work. (i.e. Math solutions, sequential order of a story, timeline in history, etc.)
  • Most Important Point: Students find the most important vocabulary word and state their reasoning.
  • One-Minute Speech: Make a one minute motivational speech from the vocabulary words.
  • Paired Verbal Fluency: Students take out five words and study them. They find a pair and have to rattle off as much information about those vocabulary words that they can muster in 45 seconds. Repeat the same procedure with the same batch of words to the next partner, but only having 30 seconds. Lastly, repeat the procedure with a new partner, this time in 15 seconds.
  • Pluses and Wishes: Make a list of those vocabulary words that you wish to have in your life.
  • Poster: Select and decide the most important vocabulary word or words that you would want to put on a poster for advertising purposes.
  • Question Box: Place a vocabulary word in the box and attach a question to it. Have the class answer them. (Life Science Secondary School)
  • Scrambled Sentences: Place 5 vocabulary word cards in a sequence to create a sentence. Scramble them. Have a partner try to place them in order. Compare your results.
  • Slogan: Make a slogan from the vocabulary word cards.
  • Spinning Game (purchase re-writable spinners): Place each vocabulary word on a section on the spinner and a person in the pair spins it. They have to respond to the word on the spinner based on a set of questions that are written on the board. (Life Science Secondary School)
  • Time Travel: If you were to travel through time, select vocabulary word that can be used as a souvenir that you would take with you. For what reasons did you make that selection?
  • Timeline: Place vocabulary word cards in a timeline.
  • Trash Can: Determine the vocabulary words card that can be trashed (create a reality situation, such as: due to space restrictions from the publisher)
  • True/False: Categorize by “true” and “false” under certain conditions.
  • Viewpoint: Locate the most important vocabulary word card from a specific person’s viewpoint.
  • Write Your Own: Formulate your own question and have the partner answer it from the set of vocabulary words. (Life Science Secondary School)

This list is a modification of the index cards and guided questions blog post.

Do you have a strategy that you would like us to add to the list?  (To reply, please click on the comment link next to the title or scroll down.)

Andi Stix is an educational consultant & coach who specializes in differentiation, interactive learning, writing across the curriculum, classroom coaching and gifted education. For further information on her specialties or social media, please email her on the Contact page

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4 Responses to Reinforcing Vocabulary in All Content Areas

  1. lisa e. says:

    superb! i’ve gotten through the 5 newest posts, and i’m lovin’ it! i’ve really enjoyed your blog. having a list of ways to use vocabulary with kids that excites them is terrific. thanks for putting together this list! -lisa

  2. Irina Vasilieva says:

    UG! Teaching vocabulary words can be daunting. This post and your other articles are impressive. Keep up the sunny handiwork.

  3. Kyong Sanson says:

    I blog often and I truly appreciate your content. This great article has really peaked my interest. I will book mark your website and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed too. Thanks a million.

  4. Bass says:

    Assume site. Your blog provides many great resources. Thanks for the time it took for you to put this together. Now, I can save the list for my own reference with ease.

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