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Vocabulary Strategy


This activity helps students to understand and remember the meaning of novel words presented in a text or a unit of study. Students are guided to create images and/or mnemonics to help them to learn key words.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Metacognition
  • Visualizing
Memory Development

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Academic Vocabulary
  • Metacognition


Identify the text or unit of study that you would like students to focus on. Consider whether you want students to find words themselves, or if you want to choose words. If you want to choose words, then identify up to five key words that are central to understanding and that students either do not know or only partially know. Find some examples of mnemonics for words that students have studied previously.

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher tells students that they are going to work on learning key words from the text or unit. Teacher presents models of mnemonics and of images that represent words from prior texts or units.

    You may also want to model the process of creating an image or mnemonic. Model looking at a word, thinking aloud about its meaning and about ways that you could work to remember the meaning. Say things like, “This sounds like…,” “This makes me think of…,” or “This makes me picture…” to model your thinking.

  2. Students identify up to five key words that they will focus on during the class. They write each word on a piece of paper, along with a definition in their own words.

    As mentioned above, you can provide these words or let students identify them themselves. You should help students to consider multiple forms of words, and also multiple meanings of words, to enable them to identify and comprehend the words across contexts.

  3. Students think of an image, association, or mnemonic that they can use to remember each word. They write or draw this memory tool on each paper.

    Remind students that these memory tools often work best if they are funny or odd, and/or if they tap into personal experiences. So students should be encouraged to be creative or silly in their mnemonics, and to use personal associations whenever relevant.

  4. Students get into pairs and share their memory tools with their partner. They discuss how the memory tools help them to recall each word. Students discuss any personal associations they have with each word with their partner.

    This step helps students to use the word across contexts, and to develop multiple associations with the word, which will ultimately lead to deeper understanding and easier recall.

  5. Either individually or in groups, in writing or in conversation, students reflect on their learning process.

    Students respond to questions including: · How did this strategy affect your understanding of this word? · How did this strategy affect your ability to remember this word? · Why do you think this sort of mnemonic may help people to remember and recall words? · How might this strategy affect your understanding of the text or unit of study? · When else might this strategy be useful to you?

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