I’ve had many students over the years express their desire to “know more words”, and I’ve known many adults that share the same sentiment. Having a broad, expansive vocabulary and an arsenal of language from which to draw, can truly empower us all to express ourselves fully. 

Some of my student’s motivation for a larger vocabulary was driven by “wanting to sound smarter”--an attachment to a false notion that the use of larger words signifies a greater depth of knowledge. As an educator that believes knowledge is expansive, individualized and able to be expressed in a wide range of ways, I personally did not subscribe to this idea and encouraged students not to either. I reassured students that their knowledge and intellect is not defined by how many “big” words they know or can use. I encouraged them instead to shift their perspective about vocabulary and language, seeking to build it in order to use it in the ways that felt most authentic and relevant to how they both wanted, and needed to express themselves. 

Below are two strategies to implement that can support students in building vocabulary that they don’t simply memorize, but remember:



In addition to providing the dictionary definition, a definition in their own words, a synonym of the word, and the word in “action” (in a sentence or phrase) I also invited students to draw, or find, an image that represents each vocabulary word.

I originally implemented this for my doodlers, and drawers-- students that tended to be visually-inclined, but found that it could be helpful for all students, no matter their creative inclinations, to create a visual representation of the words. Students are able to decide what they doodle or draw, or what images they use, and therefore how they remember the vocabulary is directly informed by their own prior knowledge and sense-making. Students are able to say, “This is an image that reminds me personally of this word.” Not to mention-- it’s a bit fun to see what students come up with, as it’s almost always unique to each of them as individuals. It is a reminder also, that learning is personal, individualized and we arrive to it in different ways.. 

I implemented this visualization practice as a means to not only support any assessments attached to their vocabulary, but also help them create visual associations with the words with the hope that the memory and use of it expands beyond any related assessments.


Vocabulary Bucket

Have students create individual, small group, or class wide Google Document with a running list of content, subject, or unit specific vocabulary. Teachers and students can regulate or decide how students contribute to the bucket(s) based on content and learning needs, but the general idea is that students identify words within content or class material they personally do not know and add them. For one, this can help teachers see the range of vocabulary their students  have, and where there is room for growth. The learning here is both individualized and shared. It can be the responsibility of the students and/or their peers to contribute the definitions, and teachers can decide if and how they attach accountability to their contributions. 

Students can also contribute words they come across in other subjects or be asked to specifically identify words they don’t know that they encounter in everyday life, as a means to build vocabulary,support cross-content knowledge and real-world application. They can also use this document as a resource when completing assignments as they can find new vocabulary words to implement but also be reminded of any relevant language that needs to be accounted for within an assignment or assessment.  


The hope is always that curriculum and learning within the classroom extends beyond the classroom, and that students are able to access and apply that knowledge continually. Implementing one or both of the above strategies, and creating modifications based on grade, subject, content, and the specific needs of your students, can support them in meeting expectations of vocabulary related assessments and help them actualize vocabulary in a way that, in other words, sticks.