Harry Wong
Oct 2017
Vol 14 No 3

12 Surefire Ways to Learn Vocabulary Words

By Susan Fitzell

    • 1. Have students make their own flashcards by looking up vocab words online and finding pictures that show the definitions. Ask students to print the picture, glue it on a card, write a silly sentence under the picture to help them remember the word, and write the definition on the back. If your students don’t have internet access, have them get creative and draw the pictures themselves!
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    • 2. Use these handmade flashcards to make a word wall, where new vocabulary words can be displayed for all to see and read daily.
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    • 3. Turn students into vocabulary word detectives!  Change a few pictures on the word wall every day and offer prizes, like extra points or grab bag tickets, to the students who find the changes. Every day, they’ll rush in to find what’s changed and they’ll be actively engaged with reviewing the words on a daily basis.
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    • 4. Anytime you find a new vocab word, write it on a slip of paper and put it in a bag. Every day, pull five words from the bag and write them on the board. Then offer an incentive, like extra points, to the first students who accurately use them in a sentence.
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    • 5. Use sign language. Hand out copies of the sign alphabet and ask students to learn to finger-spell a few vocabulary words for homework. In class, have students pair up and teach each other the words they learned. Not only will they learn to spell those words, they will gain a life skill in the process!
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    • 6. Use color. Studies show that we remember color first and content second, so highlight or use colorful markers and pens to write vocabulary words and their definitions. Use different colors to make key words of the definition stand out and to help students remember the meaning of words.

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  • 7. Use chunking. Ever wonder why telephone numbers are fairly easy to memorize?  It’s because they are broken up into three separate chunks of numbers that can be memorized individually. Vocabulary words, too, can be split into smaller chunks, making it easier for students to remember their spelling.
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  • 8. Have students use vocabulary words to write a story. By putting the words into a context they not only understand, but also created themselves, they are more likely to remember the definition at test time.
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  • 9. Put the words to music!  Ever notice how you can easily remember the words to The Itsy Bitsy Spider and other songs you may not have sung since childhood? That’s because the rhythm and rhyme of music helps you to remember the lyrics. This idea can be used to help students memorize vocab words by turning the words’ definitions into song lyrics or by writing lyrics using sentences that put the words into an easy to understand context.
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  • 10. Have students study often for short amounts of time. Just like muscles need frequent exercise to grow stronger, the brain needs frequent study sessions to recall information to its full potential. Studying for even ten minutes every day for a week before a test is much more successful in aiding recall and recognition than studying for hours the night before.
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  • 11. Sleep on it! Studies have found that studying right before bedtime aids memorization. When sleeping, a person’s brain processes the last thing they thought about or did before going to sleep. So, students will remember vocabulary words better if studying is the last thing they do before going to bed.
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  • 12. Record yourself. Tell students to use a tape recorder or computer program to record themselves reading aloud each vocabulary word and its definition. Then have students listen to their recording, pausing before the definition is read to try and recall it. Students can then play the definition to see if their guess was correct.

About the author

Susan Fitzell photoSusan Gingras Fitzell, M. Ed, CSP specializes in transforming teaching from whole class instruction that teaches to the middle to instruction that structures and enhances lessons to reach every student, whether gifted or struggling. She’s a dynamic, nationally recognized presenter, author of nine books for teachers and parents, and an educational consultant. Susan speaks from experience in the classroom! Her work focuses on building caring school communities and helping students and teachers succeed in the inclusive classroom.

Visit Susan Fitzell’s web site:



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This entry was posted on Friday, April 1st, 2011 and is filed under *ISSUES, April 2011, Susan Fitzell. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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