Vocabulary instruction is an idea that I have struggled with on a philosophical level. I started teaching seven years ago and was handed a stack of vocabulary books to "teach" to my students. I did not take me or my students long to feel bored and frustrated with this method of teaching. Since then, I have come to realize that vocabulary needs to be taught in the context of what is being learned and discussed. Now, I have no vocabulary texts. We simply use whatever literature we're reading to guide our vocabulary lists.

The challenge of this method is that I have no nifty little book to count on for student practice and the teaching of vocabulary. I need to make it all, or at least provide ideas and links to my students so that they can create and explore ways to demonstrate their understanding of our vocabulary. One of the best ways for students to see and interact with a word or a set of words is to express it visually. There are a number of ways to use visual vocabulary in ways that promote individual student choice and whole-class learning. Sometimes, I'll ask students to all visually represent a single vocabulary word and we'll compare/ contrast the differences in how each student thought about the word. Other times, it's more important that students have the opportunity to self-select words with which they feel comfortable or uncomfortable explaining.

There are several ways for teachers to incorporate visual representations in vocabulary instruction. One site that combines humor with vocabulary is called weboword: vocabulary visually. I like this site because it offers a variety of modes of vocabulary instruction. Some areas of this site are pay-only, but there's a lot here that you can do for free.

Another quick, easy site that can help students to visually map vocabulary is visuwords. This site allows you to enter in words and it then connects that word to synonyms, antonyms, and several other subgroups. This tool can used to help students see relationships between groups of words.

The site that I find to be the most playful is actually a bit of a contest site. Every week, Jack Yu of the brainyflix site announces several winners who will receive a free itunes song for their brainyflix efforts. This site is easy to use, includes lots of hip, high-interest examples for students, and even has a brainyflix builder to allow for easy creation of a potential submission.

A site similar in flavor to brainyflix is Inside Story Flashcards. This site is not as complex as brainyflix, but it has a humorous edge to it and is pretty easy to use.
Students cannot use this site to make their own flashcards, but this could be used as a model to inspire students to make their own flash cards.



This is a sophomore student's Four Square vocabulary explanation of the First Apparition from WIlliam Shakespeare's Macbeth. Students chose one of the apparitions, defined the word apparition, drew a picture of their choice, included a quotation from the text, and explained the significance of the apparition.
This is a sophomore student's Four Square vocabulary explanation of the First Apparition from WIlliam Shakespeare's Macbeth. Students chose one of the apparitions, defined the word apparition, drew a picture of their choice, included a quotation from the text, and explained the significance of the apparition.