Vocab activities for your classroom

Keeping a Meaningful Vocabulary Log

While many teachers may have their students keep vocabulary logs of the unfamiliar words they encounter in books they are reading or from the world at large, few require students to take the extra steps to ensure a deeper or more meaningful understanding of these words.

For example, if a student is merely told to keep a running log of unfamiliar words and their dictionary definitions, he might just engage in mindless busy work that requires little critical thinking. On the other hand, if the student is asked to paraphrase the relevant dictionary definition of a word into everyday language, to explore that word in the Visual Thesaurus, and then to relate that word to his own life, then he might come to "own" that word and incorporate it into his personal vocabulary.

Here is a vocabulary log model that you could adapt for any list of words you want your students to "own." This log page was created for students reading Sue Monk Kidd's popular novel The Secret Life of Bees. The first row provides a sample entry for the word "unifying."

Vocabulary Log Model

Target Word (in the context of Secret Life of Bees), p #


One Visual Thesaurus discovery associated with the word (click on a related word, click on a meaning bubble, make a discovery through the pop-up research menu, etc.)

Relating a meaning of this word to your own life

"The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence."

bringing together for a common cause

I didn't know that centripetal was a synonym for unifying.

Who do you think is a unifying force in this country?

Barack Obama

"I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest."



What do you long for right now?

"...I imagined them in there turning the walls into honeycombs, with honey seeping out for me to taste."



Have you ever seen a honeycomb pattern outside of nature?

"I know it is presumptuous to compare my small life to hers?"



Explain a time that a person treated you in a presumptuous manner.


"...despite everything that happened that summer, I remain tender toward the bees."



Toward whom do you remain tender?

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Georgia Scurletis is Director of Curriculum for the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Before coming to Thinkmap, she spent 18 years as a curriculum writer and classroom teacher. Georgia has written curriculum materials for a variety of Web sites (WGBH, The New York Times Learning Network, Edsitement) and various school districts. While teaching high school English in Brooklyn, she was a recipient of the New York State English Council's Educators of Excellence Award, the Brooklyn High Schools' Recognition Award, and The New York Times' Teachers Who Make a Difference Award. Click here to read more articles by Georgia Scurletis.

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Shannon Reed looks at how teaching "The Secret Life of Bees" can enliven the language arts classroom.