Vocabulary Cards

I was not really happy with how vocabulary instruction went in my classes last year. Our school purchases really good consumable vocabulary textbooks, but I had the feeling that my students’ grades were impacted too much by vocabulary. In some cases, students who did really well on vocabulary quizzes and always did the workbook exercises had inflated grades, and students who were otherwise good students, but struggled with some aspect of the vocabulary assignment, had grades that I didn’t feel accurately reflected their progress in English.

I knew I wanted to do something different this year. I was going to go with Jim Burke’s idea of vocabulary squares, but I ultimately decided the squares were too small and the students would balk at using them. Even if I told them to create their own large squares, it just seemed too cumbersome. Of course, perhaps some would argue that what I did instead was cumbersome, but I’m pleased with the results. I adapted Jim’s idea into vocabulary cards. Now, I know there is nothing new under the sun, and someone else probably does the exact same thing, but I figured I’d share anyway, and maybe you’ll get a cute handout out of it if you like the idea.

First of all, I ask students to buy 3×5 ruled cards. On the blank side, they write the word and a drawing, symbol, or icon that helps them remember it. I have twins in my class that drew pictures of each other for “petulant,” which made me smile when I graded their vocabulary. On the ruled side, students give the etymology, part(s) of speech, definition, synonyms, and use the word in a sentence.

I gave them a handout modeling the process, which you can download here: Vocabulary Instructions. It has a permanent home on my Handouts page, also.

3 thoughts on “Vocabulary Cards”

  1. Hi there! Oh, the dreaded vocab study. My daughter, JumperGirl, has taken several grade hits from rigid teachers of English. As in, her scores on the quizzes were excellent (90%+ accuracy) but because she didn't complete the precursors (filling out the vocab books — probably similar if not identical to the texts your school uses, or handing in vocab cards, etc) her grade was lowered by a point or more. (I'm not kidding–one year the vocab grade was a D. Quizzes = A; busywork = F, because she just refused to do it. Lowered the class grade from B+ to C. Prevented her from being eligible for Honors English. Grrrrr. For this I pay tuition?)

    What works best for her to master vocabulary is oral recitation while moving. If she consistently does this, her quiz scores are outstanding, and her subsequent use of a larger vocabulary is outstanding.

    Handwriting is a chore for her — not so bad as to have a diagnosis of dysgraphia, but still a chore. It's as if the effort of forming the letters takes up so much brain space that the content doesn't get into long-term memory.

    Here's another approach: asking students who excel in vocabulary acquisition make presentations on what works for them.

  2. I am looking for a list of vocabulary for the OLD english from the renaissance times. I would like to go to a renaissance fair in May and talk the old english.

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