Vocab Triangles: Giving “Square” Vocab a New Shape

This blog post was written by Michael Gismondi, a current graduate student at Saint Vincent College enrolled in my course, Reading, Writing, and Differentiation in the Content Area. Read more about Michael at the end of the blog.

As teachers, we often tend to look at vocab from a boring and bland “square” perspective. Students take vocab from a book, copy down the definitions, and then move on to the next one until their homework is done. This is the tried and true vocab method that has stood the test of time. The “square” method. Straightforward with no unexplained twists and turns. And why would we change it if it works right? Well, it doesn’t.

Time and time again, studies have shown the importance of how students learn vocabulary. More recent studies have looked at the different tactics employed by teachers, and how these different strategies affect student performance. These studies have shown that the modality in which you learn the vocabulary contributes significantly to performance on standardized tests (Zhang & Xiaofei 2015). In short, understanding the vocab words and their meaning leads to understanding the content and other uses of those words outside of it, and the method in which you practice and memorize the vocab matters. We all know that having a comprehensive vocabulary leads to student success later in life. However, students are coming to class with less and less vocab these days than ever before. The tried and true method of copy and paste doesn’t work, and it never really did. We aren’t teaching them the vocab, we are teaching them how to rewrite words in a textbook for a grade. And be honest and ask yourself, did you really enjoy or learn much from writing vocab back when we were in school? Absolutely not! So why are we making students still do it today?

As teachers, we need to reinvent how we do vocab in our classrooms to give students a word bank for life, one that goes further than the definitions in textbooks. We need to think outside of that “square” box, and look to something fresh and new to ensure our students are leaving our classrooms with a vocabulary that far exceeds what they came to us with. However, getting students to go outside of their comfort zone isn’t always easy, and it often requires us to go outside of our comfort zones as well. A concept that terrifies even the most experienced teachers. So, to make this easier on all of us, let’s get rid of the boring “square” and look at something new yet familiar. How about a triangle?

Vocab Triangles are a strategy that teaches students the definition of words by using them in a sentence that helps them draw connections to other words. It helps students not only memorize but also apply vocabulary words in a meaningful way that establishes personal connections through the sentences and stories that they tell. Now you may be thinking, “How
can you do all of that with a triangle?” It’s actually really simple, and it’s really fun to see what kinds of stories your student can create when given three words and their imagination.

https://www.freepik.com/School vector created by pch.vector -www.freepik.com

How Do Vocab Triangles Work?

Preparation

Step one is to pick out the vocabulary your students need to know from your lesson. This could be as simple as the vocabulary words at the beginning of a section or chapter. But I challenge you to go further than that. Think of complex words that students may or may not know that they are going to encounter in the text. Think of what those words mean in relation to your content, and how familiar your students may be with them outside of your content area. Find words that expand your students’ vocabulary beyond those highlighted words we hated in our textbooks growing up.

Next, think about your classroom setup and your students’ needs. You could have them do this activity working independently, with a partner, or in a group. So, pick as many words as you need according to your class size and student needs. Feel free to double up on words for different groups. Just try to make every sheet as unique as possible without the same three words being on two different sheets. You could even give students the blank template and write the words on the board for them to choose. Just try to ensure all words are chosen so all words can be covered.

Changing the shape of vocab

Give them an example on the board using your own triangle and words. Draw the triangle and put one word in each of the three corners. Take one word connected to another by one side of the triangle and make a sentence out of the two words.

Have the students make the other two connections as a class. Finally have the students use the sentences you made together to tell a quick 1-2 sentence story that uses all three words.

Let them make their own connections

Give students short definitions of the words. They don’t have to be the exact dictionary definitions, just enough that they know the meaning and can draw connections.

Give the students or groups their triangle to work on. Give them some time, about 10 minutes, to work out their definitions and connections. Have them form the final sentence on their own before bringing everyone back as a group.

Share their stories
Have students or groups share what they wrote with the class. This can help students make further connections to words as well as give you opportunities to clear up misconceptions in the class. Be sure to expand upon definitions where needed to ensure full understanding.

What comes next?

The next step is modifying it to cater more towards your classroom or content area. For example, in my content area of history, you could modify this by extending it beyond vocab. First have students make sentences and a story using the provided vocabulary words. Then go over those connections with the students before teaching a lesson that incorporates the vocab. Once the lesson is finished, have students revisit their old sentences, reflect on them, and write new ones that connect those words within the content you just taught. This will help reinforce the vocab definitions, connect them to the content, and ensure all misconceptions from the earlier activity, if any, were cleared up. If the sentences are short enough, you could even have students make a mnemonic device to help them remember the sentences when trying to memorize or recall the definitions of the words.

Although vocab triangles are primarily for vocab, they also have applications far beyond simple application of key words. Another thing you could do is have students connect main ideas of a text, themes in a story, or big ideas within a unit using the triangle format. Simply choose three themes and see how your students make connections between them. This could be a great way to review old information or prepare students for an upcoming exam.

The vocab triangle could also be used as a brainstorming activity or outline for an essay. Have students place their core arguments or body paragraph topics in the boxes and use the lines between them to draw connections between their ideas. This could help students explain their thinking, expand upon their ideas, and stay organized when writing an essay.

You could even use something called the Triangle Model. Instead of having students write sentences that connect to other words, break down the triangle into three tiers. Tier 1 would be the bottom of the triangle in which students write words and its definition. Tier 2 would be the middle of the triangle where students can write words that fall within a words word family. And tier 3 would be the top where students could draw a picture that describes the word. This method helps students associate the word with other words, and the picture they draw can help them recall the definition later on.

So please, for the sake of your current and future students, ditch the copy and paste homework and step outside of the “square” vocab box that so many teachers find themselves in.

References

Zhang, Xian, and Xiaofei, Lu. “The Relationship Between Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Breadth and Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge.” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2015, pp. 740–753., http://www.jstor.org/stable/44135292. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

About the Author

Michael Gismondi is a Graduate Student enrolled at Saint Vincent College. He obtained his Bachelor’s in History with a minor in Medieval Studies from Saint Vincent, and he is continuing his education in pursuit of his Masters in Curriculum and Instruction as well as his secondary certification in social studies. His goal is to help emerging students study and understand history as it pertains to them and their lives, and help them understand how to apply social studies to the topics around them. He believes that by studying history, students can better explain the world around them through the lives and experiences of the people who came before.

 

 

Vocab Anchors: Helping Students Grasp Vocabulary

This blog post was written by Karen Dopico, a current undergraduate student at Saint Vincent College enrolled in my course, Reading, Writing, and Differentiation in the Content Area. Read more about Karen at the end of the blog.

Most students dislike learning vocabulary because it has been taught ineffectively. Few students remember vocabulary that was taught through workbooks or worksheets because these methods are impersonal and unengaging. Students best retain information when they can recode the information by drawing a personal connection to the material. Thankfully, numerous vocabulary strategies have been developed in recent years in order to help students expand their repertoire of terminology.

One way vocabulary strategies have improved is by using visuals. According to a study done by Maria Phillips from Marshall University, students who were exposed to images related to their vocabulary had their scores improve by 15% for their posttest. Research has shown that using visuals when introducing new vocabulary is beneficial for students, as they are more likely to retain the new vocabulary. Students who also make a personal connection to their new vocabulary are more likely to remember it. When students use new vocabulary in their own context, they are recoding the information. Through this recoding, new vocabulary can be stored into their long-term memory, which is the overall goal for teaching new vocabulary.

Preparation
For this strategy, you will either need your students to draw a sailboat with an anchor on a blank piece of paper. You can also print out an image for them that looks like the following:

You will also need to know need new vocabulary along with some terminology that you know your students would be familiar with. Students should also be able to come up with familiar synonyms that relate to the new vocabulary. The goal is for students to be able to make a connection with a familiar word to the new vocabulary. This is an example of the recoding method mentioned earlier.

Implementing the Strategy

First, you will have students either draw a sailboat and anchor or provide an image for them. The next step is to introduce the definition of the new vocabulary. Ask your students if they can think of any words that are similar to the one you have provided. If they are unable to, provide some words you know they are familiar with.

Next, write out the new word on or near the ship and have the familiar word be written on or near the anchor. Explain to the students that the new word is now being “anchored” by the familiar word. Afterwards, ask students to illustrate the new word onto the sailboat. This will engage students in having a visual with their new vocabulary, which can only help in retaining that new information.

Have students then write on one side of the paper the similarities between the two words. On the opposite side, have students write about how the new word is different from the familiar word. Now students have a clear distinction between the two, an “anchor,” and a visual. This strategy can be done individually, in groups, or with the class as a whole. This is a great strategy to use for students who struggle with vocabulary because it allows students to learn through visuals and through recoding the information with a familiar word.

Going Forward
This strategy is a unique way for students to be able to recode new vocabulary into their long-term memory. For more on the Vocab Anchor strategy, you can visit the following:
Vocabulary Anchors

Finished Product

 

Citations
Boat rope Cliparts #2681388 (LICENSE: Personal use). (n.d.). http://clipart-library.com/clipart/928789.htm.
Phillips, M. (2016). The Effects of Visual Vocabulary Strategies on Vocabulary Knowledge. Marshall Digital Scholar.
Sailboat Cartoon. GraphicRiver. (2020, January 23). https://graphicriver.net/item/sailboat-cartoon/25577282.

About the Author

Karen Dopico is a junior at Saint Vincent College pursuing a B.A. in History with a minor in Secondary Education and a minor in Theology. Her goal is to create an inclusive environment in her future classroom along with giving students the opportunities to hone the skills of a historian. She believes that studying the human story allows us to understand one another in our present state and hopes to bring this message to her future classroom.  

Carousel Brainstorm: Is it Just Horsing Around?

This blog post was written by Madelyn Cornman, a current undergraduate student at Saint Vincent College enrolled in my course, Reading, Writing, and Differentiation in the Content Area. Read more about Madelyn at the end of the blog.

Free Image pixabay.com

Carousel Brainstorming is a strategy that can be used within a classroom to activate a student’s prior knowledge, act as a knowledge check for teachers, or provide background on a future study topic. This strategy is also used to facilitate the development of group skills through discussion and communication at each of the stations. Carousel Brainstorming promotes active student-centered learning during the activity.

How to Use This Strategy in the Classroom 
To use this strategy within the classroom, students should be divided into at least 5 different groups and are placed at different stations within the classroom. Each station has certain questions or statements about a topic that is being studied. At these stations, the students reflect and brainstorm for a specific duration of time set by the teacher. Each station helps students activate prior knowledge about a topic and process new information to share with others within their group. Once the students have returned to their original question or statement students will return to their seats. Teachers then can use the information provided by students to create a class discussion about each question or statement.

The video below by Mark Drollinger (October 29, 2014 YouTube) provides a quick overview of the strategy.

Why This Strategy Works

This strategy is an active learning technique where students actively discuss and reflect on ideas instead of just listening and passively absorbing them. This boosts student engagement and learning. Students who are more engaged at school tend to do better in academics. This strategy promotes critical thinking and communication skills that they can apply across multiple disciplines. Brainstorming can enhance student motivation and confidence. This strategy could be used across multiple disciplines within schools whether it be science to discuss controversial topics, English to discuss an upcoming book, or history to review different events. It could be used as a warm-up activity to introduce a new topic, a follow-up for students to review what they have already learned, or for teachers to understand where the class is in their learning, and to determine what they are bringing to the classroom.

How Would I Use This in My Biology Classroom?

As a biology teacher, I would use this tool when introducing new biology topics to my students. This activity could be used to engage the students in the topic before discussing it. I may change this strategy in the classroom and have each group come up with a question or comment for the other groups to answer or discuss about a specific topic or paper. This would allow the students to direct the discussion within the classroom and explore what they are interested in about different topics.

References

Carousel Brainstorming. (2019, February 10). Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://ealdaylight.com/carousel-brainstorming/
Carousel Brainstorming. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://ggie.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/GGIE_Carousel_Brainstorming.pdf
What is carousel brainstorming technique? (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://k12teacherstaffdevelopment.com/tlb/what-is-carousel-brainstorming-technique/

About the Author

Hello! My name is Madelyn Cornman. I am a senior biology major and education minor at Saint Vincent College. I will graduate this spring. I love being outside whether it be hiking, kayaking, bird watching, just going for walks. Any time I can manage to spend outside makes the day better. I also absolutely love animals, and I am involved in multiple rescue organizations to promote conservation of animal species and care of pets!

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