A classroom teaching post about building student vocabulary using theme words: students learn a word, define and illustrate it, and teach it to the class.
Today I am sharing an effective way of building student vocabulary.
Building Student Vocabulary with Theme Words
I have been using theme words to build student vocabulary for a few years now. I have seen growth with the system I have begun. Students can learn new words and use them throughout our lessons. They listen to those words read in books. Also, they illustrate them, and they write about them. Then, they share and talk about them. Finally, they understand them.
Building Student Vocabulary with Any Theme
At the beginning of any new theme (topic, unit, holiday, or celebration), we make a class set of theme word cards. For each new theme, I type the important words out, print them and enlarge the standard paper to 11″x 17″ paper, and slice them in half to make two long strips of paper with a word at the top.
Students are each given a word card to illustrate. I prefer to pass these words out randomly for students to have a word they may not understand. In their small groups, they take turns sharing their word and discussing its meaning with their group members. This exercise helps them think about what they might include in their illustration.
For holiday and celebration theme words, children often have an easier time illustrating the word because they are words that they understand. After each student has drawn (with a pencil) their picture and colored it, they share it with the class.
Building Student Vocabulary Through a Shared Classroom Display
After all the words are completed and shared, we put them in our theme word pocket chart. This pocket chart becomes a place we refer to during our writing activities, journals, or writer’s workshop, and during our thematic units and lessons. Children have the words readily available, and they can use them as needed. This pocket chart is where we keep our words until it is time to make a new set of word cards for another theme.
Using Word Cards as a Reference
After they come down from the pocket chart, I hole-punch them and place them on rings. These rings can be hung or placed in a basket for students to refer to during writing or other activities. It is exciting for children to refer back to the words they have learned.
Using a Glossary with Nonfiction Text to Build Student Vocabulary
I also use this activity during our science units. When we begin to learn something new, we create a set of theme word cards to learn the words that many of us have not encountered before. I take this opportunity to introduce students to understanding text features and using a glossary.
Students work in partners to locate their new word in the glossary of a non-fiction book. I make sure to find plenty of non-fiction books that have glossaries of the given words inside.
They must work together to write the definition given in the glossary at the top of their theme word card. They read it aloud together and ask questions if they need clarification from me. Once they understand their word and have written it on the sheet, they decide how they will illustrate it. They work together to draw a detailed representation of the word and color it.
This routine is an excellent way for students to develop a deeper understanding of a new topic. You can see that students are busy learning about whales, are reading and experiencing non-fiction books, and developing their whale vocabulary.
Once groups of students complete their theme word cards, they share and “teach” them to the class. They stand in front of the class and read the word, its definition, and describe their picture.
Students hold up their words for the class to see and experience. The rest of the class is encouraged to ask questions and share thoughts. We have an open discussion about the new vocabulary. After we post and refer to our words often during our lessons.
Putting children at the center of building their vocabulary has immense value. Children can use the new vocabulary daily throughout lessons and activities. Taking the time to create and learn theme words builds fluency and understanding.
I include theme words in many of my units in my store. I include them in all of my science and thematic units and writing packs to help build student vocabulary. To see all of the products with theme word cards, click HERE or the image below.
Free Vocabulary Activities for Kids
Grab your FREE life science pack, which includes activities for learning about four different life cycles (chicken, butterfly, flowers, frog).