Vocabulary is best learned in context, we all know this; but did you know research shows it can take seeing a word as many as ten times in context for it to be truly known? (If you’ve read my previous post on accommodating ELLs you might have.) It is hard to create that many contextual encounters for words we only have a few short weeks, or even days, to teach! I try to provide at least some context with my various vocabulary activities, our word wall cards, and of course class readings, but it’s still a fairly impossible task to provide 10 contextual encounters for every vocabulary word we study. Sometimes it becomes necessary to return to some “old school” techniques and make a formal study of vocabulary. When that point comes around there are two graphic organizers I tend to use (both are free and linked below–just click the pictures or headings). While both require students to copy definitions and write example sentences, they also go beyond that to consider other aspects of the word and its usage.
I tend to use this graphic organizer with my lower proficiency English language learners. As you can see, the organizer asks students to fill in sections for the definition, part of speech, synonyms and antonyms, an example sentence, and other forms of the word. After the students complete the graphic organizers, we cut out one organizer for each word and post them on our wall (unlike our word wall, we rotate these frequently, usually taking them down and starting over for each new unit). Sometimes, when we have a few extra minutes and aren’t playing Spin & Spell or another fun game, we’ll use our word wall spinner (something I picked up years ago and can’t find anymore, I guess I need to make one). The sections asked students to do things such as “find a noun” and “choose a word and use it in a sentence.” It was a quick and easy time filler that helped them review the vocabulary from the unit.
This vocabulary graphic organizer, which I tend to use with my higher proficiency students, helps students to track everything they could possibly need to know about a term on one page. There is space for them to write the term, dictionary definition, definition in their own words, an example sentence, create a visual representation for the word, note other forms of the word, affixes used with the term, synonyms and antonyms, the number of consonants and vowels, and even a place to break the word into syllables. Sometimes I will copy or print this graphic organizer at a larger scale (a poster printer makes this easier, if your school has one) and work with the students to better understand important vocabulary. The finished graphic organizer then becomes and anchor chart we can refer to throughout our unit of study.
I’ve used a lot of different dictionary and thesaurus websites throughout the years, but one has stood out as particularly helpful. Whenever I introduce my students to Word Hippo they are instantly impressed. It doesn’t matter if they are beginners or advanced English language learners, they love this site and always say they wish they’d known about it sooner (and not just because it’s free). Besides the normal dictionary and thesaurus features, the site also has a section for translation, pronunciation, and even word forms (which is great when you have to fill out those charts stating the adjective, noun, and verb forms of a particular word). There’s also an app version (Apple, Google) that may very likely be on every phone in my classroom at any given time.
These free graphic organizers don’t inspire the same level of excitement as many of my other activities, but they are helpful to students. I’ve also been known to assign the completion of them as work to be completed with a substitute, especially when I was teaching the National Geographic Inside series in middle school (get my free lesson plans from this post). By forcing students to consider more aspects of a vocabulary word than the definition and possibly an example sentence, they better understand the word and experience it in something a little closer to actual context. I hope you’ll find them useful as well. Happy teaching, everyone!
Here are the links for the free graphic organizers one more time: