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Vocabulary Bursting with Energy

Lesson Question:

How can students use the Visual Thesaurus to review key vocabulary associated with the sources and properties of energy?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

This lesson and contest present a fun way to have students use the Visual Thesaurus to aid them in reviewing and categorizing key vocabulary associated with the sources and properties of energy.

Length of Lesson:

One hour

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • identify various forms of energy in their immediate environment
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to define physics terms associated with energy
  • categorize physics terms according to their common attributes


  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • "Vocabulary Bursting with Energy Contest" sheet [click here to download]


  • This lesson is an adaptation of Janet Allen's "Survival of the Fittest" activity in her book Inside Words: Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, Grades 4-12, an excellent resource for effective vocabulary instruction activities.
  • The Energy Kid's Page belongs to the Energy Information Administration (a part of the U.S. Department of Energy) and contains easy-to-read information about energy, related games and puzzles, and lesson plans.
  • The How Everything Works site gives students the opportunity to ask author Louis A. Bloomfield questions about "the physics of everyday life"


Brainstorming various forms of energy:

  • Display the Visual Thesaurus word map for "energy" and have students choose the definition that is most relevant to science (i.e., "(physics) a thermodynamic quantity equivalent to the capacity of a physical system to do work?.") and then point out how the word is used in context: "energy can take a wide variety of forms."

  • Arrange students in partners and ask them to quickly brainstorm a list of all the forms of energy that relate to this definition and that are evident in the classroom. Have them collaborate in writing this list in their notebooks.
  • Elicit partners' examples of energy in a large group discussion.
  • Emphasize that although sometimes the transfer of energy may be invisible, we all experience its effects. For example, using a tension spring to open a ball point pen is an example of mechanical energy, harnessing light's energy in a calculator battery is an example of solar energy being converted into electrical energy, and the classroom lights provide another example of electrical energy.


Introducing the vocabulary review contest:

Explain that today students will be competing in a contest to review some key physics terms associated with energy with the help of the Visual Thesaurus:
  • Teams will be presented with four sets of words — each focusing on a different aspect of energy. However, each set of four words will contain one "imposter" term that they will need to eliminate.
  • The winning team will be the first group to correctly categorize or label each set of energy terms, eliminate the imposter word in each group, and replace the imposter words with words that fit in with the remaining words in each group.

Modeling the vocabulary review contest:

  • Model solving a contest problem by writing the following words on the board and asking students to consider what three of these terms has in common:
    • coal
    • wood
    • gas
    • oil
  • Display the word map for the first word on the list coal. Hover your cursor over the red meaning bubble that defines coal as a "fossil fuel" and then follow the dashed "is a type of" line to the red meaning bubble that contains the meaning of fossil fuel "fuel consisting of the remains of organisms preserved in rocks in the earth's crust with high carbon and hydrogen content". Click on that meaning in order to reveal the different types of fossil fuels and ask students to use this display to eliminate the imposter in the word group (i.e., wood) and replace it with a term that fits in with the other fossil fuel examples (e.g., natural gas).

Competing in the vocabulary review contest:

  • Organize the class into small teams and give each group a "Vocabulary Bursting with Energy Contest" sheet [click here to download]
  • Inform groups that their first task is to figure out what three or the four words in each set has in common and to label each group of words. Groups should look each word up on the Visual Thesaurus and try to determine the common attributes it shares with other words in its set.
  • Circulate around the room as groups work to make sure that they are clicking on meaning bubbles (as well as words) to try to determine how the words on the sheet relate to one another.


Sharing word categories:

  • Ask the members of the winning team to briefly present how they categorized each group of words.
  • Establish: Group A words chemical, electrical, and mechanical are all words that describe types of energy; Group B words infrared, ultraviolet, and microwave are all words that describe types of electromagnetic radiation; Group C words generator, transformer, and inductor are all electrical devices; Group D words fission, fusion, and radioactive decay are all types of nuclear reactions.

Extending the Lesson:

  • If time permits, groups could research each physics term associated with energy and come up examples of how some of the terms or concepts are  evident in their lives or related to one another. For example, nuclear fission enables nuclear power plants to produce electricity. Or, solar energy is transferred in a range of wavelengths that includes infrared radiation, ultraviolet radiation, and visible light.


  • Assess students' understanding of energy in its variety of forms by evaluating their responses to the warm up exercise.
  • Each team's contest sheet should be assessed for accuracy of category labels and to determine if "imposter words" were eliminated and replaced with appropriate terms.

List of Benchmarks for Science

Standard 9.   Understands the sources and properties of energy

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Knows that energy is a property of many substances (e.g., heat energy is in the disorderly motion of molecules and in radiation; chemical energy is in the arrangement of atoms; mechanical energy is in moving bodies or in elastically distorted shapes; electrical energy is in the attraction or repulsion between charges)
2. Understands the law of conservation of energy (i.e., energy cannot be created or destroyed but only changed from one form to another)
3. Knows that heat energy flows from warmer materials or regions to cooler ones through conduction, convection, and radiation
4. Knows how the Sun acts as a major source of energy for changes on the Earth's surface (i.e., the Sun loses energy by emitting light; some of this light is transferred to the Earth in a range of wavelengths including visible light, infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation)
5. Knows that electrical circuits provide a means of transferring electrical energy to produce heat, light, sound, and chemical changes
6. Knows that most chemical and nuclear reactions involve a transfer of energy (e.g., heat, light, mechanical motion, electricity)
9. Knows that only a narrow range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation can be seen by the human eye; differences of wavelength within that range of visible light are perceived as differences in color
10. Knows the organization of a simple electrical circuit (e.g., battery or generator, wire, a complete loop through which the electrical current can pass)
11. Understands the origins and environmental impacts of renewable and nonrenewable resources, including energy sources like fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas)

 Level IV (Grades 9-12)

5. Knows that nuclear reactions convert a fraction of the mass of interacting particles into energy (fission involves the splitting of a large nucleus into smaller pieces; fusion is the joining of two nuclei at extremely high temperature and pressure) and release much greater amounts of energy than atomic interactions
7. Knows the range of the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g., radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, gamma rays); electromagnetic waves result when a charged object is accelerated or decelerated, and the energy of electromagnetic waves is carried in packets whose magnitude is inversely proportional to the wavelength

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Comments from our users:

Monday December 14th 2009, 7:59 PM
Comment by: Hawk (CA)
Does anyone know why so many people "ask" What did you "aksed" me? It baffles me! Hawk
Wednesday December 16th 2009, 11:12 AM
Comment by: Evelyn F.
I'm extremely perplexed also. I thought that I was the only one hearing people say "aksed." Not sure where this version of "ask" has come from.
Thursday February 25th 2010, 5:29 PM
Comment by: Gloria G. (Elma, WA)

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