5 ways to enhance your academic vocabulary instruction - #1 See the Words

Are you overwhelmed by teaching students to master academic vocabulary? I've narrowed down the thousands of strategies and methods to my favorite five and I'm going to share them with you over the next few weeks!

Today I'm starting with the most important method - students need to SEE the words they are learning.

When introducing a new vocabulary word like 'articulate, or dividend, or expository,' it's extremely helpful for students to SEE what this word looks like so they can make a visual connection in their brain.  Here's how I help my students SEE new academic vocabulary words.

Click this photo to view my ELA word wall sets (8 different styles available) on TPT.

*  If it's a verb, students need to SEE it in action - if the word is 'articulate' I model for my students how to 'articulate' my thinking, I show them on the board by writing out a clearly articulated answer to a story problem or on an anchor chart.  Then I have students practice 'articulating' their thoughts to a partner.

* Students love to SEE each other doing silly things so I have student volunteers ACT OUT 'articulating' the answer to a problem.  Play vocabulary charades!

* If it's a noun or other part of speech - I DRAW lots of pictures of what the term looks like or does. I will also have the students draw their own representations and share them.

* If the word is 'dividend or expository, I will show what the word is by writing out a division problem and circling the 'dividend' so the students can SEE it. I draw lots of arrows pointing to the dividend to help them remember.  If the word is something I can display, like real 'expository' texts from my classroom library, I will pass them around for students to SEE and touch.

* Most importantly, I keep all of these visual representations available for students to SEE for a LONG time.  Students need MULTIPLE exposures to a new vocabulary word before they reach mastery.

* I keep my visual representations posted all year long on our classroom word walls.  Every time we learn a new word I take out the word wall card, show it off, pass it around, discuss it, have students use it to make their own flash card, and then I make a BIG DEAL out of adding it to our word wall.  I also point it out on the word wall EVERY TIME we use, discuss, or see that word happening in the classroom!  Here's a few shots of word walls I've had over the past few years.

Click on the photos if you're interested in viewing my word wall sets (available in 8 different styles) on TPT.

After I've introduced new words to my students and given them lots of visual representations, I move on to the next method which is WRITE about the words.

Click HERE to read installment number two of this blog series and learn how we WRITE about new academic vocabulary words in our classroom.


  1. It looks like you don't organize your word wall by letter- how do you organize the math vocabulary words? I have the set and am curious about how you do it! Thanks :)

  2. Hi Rachel, in the past I just posted the words in the order that we learned them - so they were organized by unit basically. This year I've added strand headers (geometry, measurement, number operations, etc.) and I will post those first and then organize the words under the appropriate strand as we learn them. I've also added the CCSS code to each word card as well to make matching them to the strand heading easy. If you haven't redownloaded the product in awhile, do so, all of the updates were added a few weeks ago!


Back to Top