Vocab activities for your classroom

Visualization and Vocabulary Retention

If you ask a roomful of students to close their eyes and to picture a person who is suffering from acrophobia ("a morbid fear of great heights"), what will they visualize? Some students might picture a person timorously peering off a cliff while other students might envision a person refusing to clean the gutters of their house's rooftop.

Regardless of the specific images they conjure in their minds' eyes, the result should be the same: the process of visualizing a concrete image that captures the meaning of a word should help them remember that meaning the next time they encounter the word. The act of visualization — or the act of creating mental pictures — can help students learn new words and can also aid in overall reading comprehension and retention.

Put the concept of visualization to work in your own classroom to get important vocabulary words to "stick" in your students' minds. In addition to having students create mental pictures of vocabulary words, have them document those mental images as cartoon-like drawings they can display on a bulletin board, add to vocabulary flash cards, or use to illustrate vocabulary logs.

To inspire students, show them an example entry from the WeboWord, a vocab site that displays a drawing for each word in its database. For example, if you look up the word venturesome on WeboWord, you will see a cartoon depicting a daring woman navigating a helicopter through the Alps. If your students are motivated to share their own vocabulary drawings, they can scan and upload the images to the WeboWord site.

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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.