Learning Center


Maintain Vocabulary Notebooks

October 05, 2016

FAQ: What is a vocabulary notebook?

ANSWER: Individual vocabulary notebooks can be a useful tool to support students as they learn subject-specific and domain-specific terms. They can be useful. Vocab notebooks could also be nothing more than a worksheet that adds little value. The key to a powerful vocabulary notebook is realizing its purpose of holding a student’s growing understanding of a term.

When a word is first introduced and added into the notebook, teachers cannot expect students to have its meaning learned and memorized in a matter of days. Rather, students need multiple opportunities to interact with the word over weeks and months, and it’s during this learning time that the vocab notebook is powerful. Once a new word is added to the notebook, a student then updates his understanding–polishing, revising, and fine-tuning his learning.

Consequently, a vocabulary notebook must be set up to allow for multiple entries in different spaces and places. Here are two common templates that many teachers use.

Notebook Template 1

Within the Frayer model the vocab word is written in the middle and coinciding information is added around it (Fraction example).

Marzano Template

The Marzano template includes similar information and a place for a student to draw the word’s meaning (Income tax example).

A universal template may need some tweaking to better meet your students’ needs. Here are a couple examples created by classroom teachers.

Picture Frame Template

Fourth grade teacher Cris Petro (Bailly Elementary School in Chesterton, IN) centered the vocabulary page around a word’s illustration. The gray space frames the drawing and provides a place for four additional pieces of information (Setting example).

WIDE Vocabulary Template

Middle school teacher Sherri Armstrong (from Honey Creek MS in Terre Haute, IN) uses the acronym W.I.D.E. as the basis for her vocabulary notebook template. This format allows for three terms per page.


Realizing that students need to interact with a word for weeks and months, consider where all that growing understanding will go. Each of the previous four template samples included 4-5 spaces for students to log their updated thinking. For many classrooms, that may be enough. But, if you’re seeking a more thorough vocabulary template page, this last one may be just what you need.

Douglas MacArthur Template
Vocab Notebook for Core Courses

In addition to the typical information (e.g., definition, explanation, example, synonym, and a visual representation), this template includes much more (Simile example).

Marian Buchko, principal at Douglas MacArthur Elementary (Cedar Lake, IN) recognized that students may need to note:

  • The different word forms (e.g., noun form, verb form, adjective form, etc.)
  • The various root words that comprise its meaning
  • The kid-friendly tips and tricks that help students discern common confusions
  • The possible multiple meanings a word may have in different contexts

This single page template honored the numerous spaces students needed to chronicle their deepening understanding a term’s meaning. (NOTE: Students may not use every line, every box, or every facet on the template, but it’s there if they need it.)

Buchko and her staff created a single vocabulary resource where students housed their academic vocabulary for all subjects. Using the same template, teachers photocopied it on different colors, with each color representing a different subject area (e.g., blue=math, pink=social studies, green=science, yellow=language arts).

The most important thing to remember regarding vocabulary notebooks is that the focus is NOT the template itself. It’s not about having students fill out a worksheet so you can grade it. The greater purpose is that students have a place to log their growing understanding.

Digital Notebook Options

For those intrigued with a digital notebook, check out these examples and templates.

Great Teacher Comments:

Submitted on Feb 20, 2017 at 4:33 pm
I love the idea behind the vocabulary notebooks, and I like how there’s a section allocated for example sentences. It’s one thing to know the meaning of a word but another to know how to use it in writing and conversation. If I can’t come up with a sample sentence, then I often resort to using this site, which offers a wealth of example sentences.

Thanks, Danny, for the great resource link!

Bjorn Candel
Submitted on Feb 28, 2017 at 4:54 am
I had been searching all over the Internet for many hours for a PowerPoint-based vocabulary record idea when I came across your Digital Vocabulary Notebook above. I love it! I’m working with Arabic-speaking college students learning English, and I needed a way to steer their vocabulary learning skills towards key categories like definitions, examples, collocations, idioms, parts of speech etc. I have created my own version, inspired by your idea (link below) and I was planning on using it at a PD session I’m running at TESOL Arabia in Dubai in March. I hope that would be OK with you!

Bjorn–That is totally okay with us! And what a great resource you’ve created! Teachers, to make accessing this resource more convenient, please use the links below.

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Megan Page
Megan Page
1 year ago

I’m trying to implement vocab notebooks in my classroom as a year long project for my 7th and 8th grade students. How do I find the resources for the prefixes, root words, base words, and suffixes for my chosen words so I can provide these resources for the students to use? I keep finding mixed info online when searching and can’t get a definite answer. For example, I cannot find if the word “cite” is a latin root word or is a base word. Help?

Liz Shockey
Liz Shockey(@lshockey)
Reply to  Megan Page
1 year ago

9 months ago

These are great, but because I teach special education, I am going to add syllabication to the page for my kids and numbers to track interactions.

Liz Shockey
Liz Shockey(@lshockey)
Reply to  Susan
9 months ago

Susan–that’s a great idea to add syllabication to support students in their vocabulary acquisition!

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