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Learning Vocabulary with Graphic Organizers

By Keren Perles

Think that graphic organizers are only for reading and writing? Think again. Help your students improve their vocabulary with these simple tips about learning vocabulary with graphic organizers.

What are Vocabulary Graphic Organizers?

Although more and more teachers are using graphic organizers to teach reading and writing, many do not realize how powerful they can be in teaching vocabulary. There are two main types of graphic organizers. One can help students memorize vocabulary words out of context, and the other is helpful in guiding students to use vocabulary strategies to guess at the definitions of unfamiliar words.

Vocabulary Words out of Context

The most basic vocabulary word organizers can be used to memorize the meanings of words out of context. They are helpful when your students are studying a list of vocabulary words for a test in one of the subject areas (e.g., math, science, social studies, or English) or for a standardized test.

To study a word out of context, you would include several boxes for students to fill in – one for the word itself, one for the definition, one for an example of the word, one for synonyms, one for antonyms, and one for a sentence using the word. For visual learners, you might want to include a box asking them to draw something connected to the word. In addition, you may wish to include an additional box in which the student will explain a strategy they will use to remember the definition of the word. After they have filled in all of these boxes, they will truly “own” the vocabulary.

Vocabulary Words in Context

While students are reading, they will often come across words that they do not understand. Even if you’ve taught them vocabulary strategies to help them guess the definition of the word, the strategies may not be second nature to them. That’s where graphic organizers can help.

In these graphic organizers, include a box for the word itself, a box or two for “context clues,” a box for breaking the word into word parts (e.g., prefix, root, and suffix), a box for possible definition, and a box for dictionary definition. They will fill in the last box after checking the definition of the word in the dictionary. In this way, the graphic organizer will help them understand how the vocabulary strategies you’ve taught them can really help them guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

For examples of these vocabulary organizers, take a look at this site: