Vocabulary instruction has come a long way. It used to be that learning vocabulary meant temporarily memorizing definitions from the glossary, completing a couple sentence-writing activities, and then taking a test. But unless you were someone with a photographic memory, there is no way you remembered all those words and definitions.

What research has proven is that if vocabulary instruction also includes nonlinguistic activities (acting out words, drawing words, word games, and discussion opportunities), more students will retain the word’s meaning. After an enthusiastic day at DeKalb Middle School and South Adams Middle School, I have no doubt that vocabulary instruction will never be a hum-drum activity. These two staffs experimented with different teaching strategies by playing with their own core vocabulary terms, including time spent creating visual representations of the words.

With their core vocabulary per course already identified, DeKalb Middle School teachers spent an entire in-service day practicing and playing with new strategies to help students master word meanings. Sitting by department, the teachers worked to write simple explanations and create visual representations of their words. These samples include two math terms (equivalent fractions; median) and a health term (fallopian tube).

Median Content Area VocabularyEquivalent Fractions Content Area VocabularyFallopian Tube Content Area VocabularyTempo Content Area Vocabulary
Equivalent Fractions Content Area Vocabulary

Teachers at South Adams Middle School also used visual strategies to develop their vocabulary instruction. They learned to create simple explanations, identify word synonyms, and create visual representations of vocabulary terms. Here is a math (equation) and music (tempo) example.

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