Robert Marzano’s research shows that for students to comprehend, retain, and master a vocabulary word, they have to work with the word multiple times and in multiple ways. The research also shows that one of those ways must be visual. There must be a visual connection between the word and its meaning. So, it’s not about writing the word or spelling the word. It’s not about unscrambling the word. It’s about associating the word’s meaning with a visual.
Pictures Speak Volumes
A different twist to this approach is to have kids find photos to represent the words. For example, if the word is “confined,” students have to find a photo that represents “confined.” If it’s “capitalism,” they find a photograph, possibly from a magazine, that represents “capitalism.” Elementary teachers can have these photos cut out ahead of time by classroom assistants and then have these photos available in a file. Secondary teachers may want students to scour through magazines and newspapers on their own.
In many cases, kids might be able to use the same photo for different words in different units, chapters, or content areas. For example, the same photo used to depict “exploration” might also be appropriate to represent “sequence.”
To take the idea of using visuals a step further, you might have kids look for two photos – one that represents the word and one that represents the opposite of the word.
If the word is “confined,” have students find a picture to represent “confined,” Then they find a picture that shows the opposite meaning. In this case, the student has to determine that the opposite of “confined” is “free” and then find a photo that represents “free.”
This really deepens meaning and understanding because students have to know what the word means and what it looks like in a photo, but they also have to have an understanding of its opposite. This is a harder, higher level thinking.
For those teachers trying to weave in technology standards, this could be a great way to bring in clip art and computer work. After teaching students how to access the clip art, they could look for graphics that represent each of their vocabulary words. This is a whole lot less messy than cutting photos and less time consuming than drawing pictures.
To see examples of these ideas in action, check out the vocabulary handout.