Visualizing Vocabulary

Posted by on Jul 8, 2013 in vocabulary, vocabulary development | 2 comments

You may be interested in this linky for ELA task cards.

Robert Marzano, a guru of vocabulary instruction, tells us that the bright kids need about 4 exposures to a word to own it, average students need about 14, and our struggling students need at least 40. How can we expose our students to words this often? There are so many words and there is never enough time.


Of all of the many ways to expose students to a word, one of the most effective is a visual. Students need to make a visual connection between the word and its meaning. We need to help students have  a visual picture to go with the word.


Very often teachers have kids draw pictures to represent words. However, children with a minimal understanding of a term will have difficulty creating a visual representation for themselves with any depth of meaning. At the very least, students should be shown a visual of a new concept before being asked to draw their own.

A better approach is to have kids find photos or illustrations to represent the words. For example, if the word is “rural,” students have to find a photo that represents “rural.” If it’s “custom,” they find a photograph, possibly from a magazine, that represents “custom.” Elementary teachers could possibly find photos ahead of time and then have them available to the students. Teachers may want students to look through magazines and newspapers on their own.

To take the idea of using visuals a step further, you might have kids look for two photos – one that represents the word and one that represents the opposite of the word.If the word is “rural,” have students find a picture to represent “rural,” Then they find a picture that shows the opposite meaning. In this case, the student has to determine that the opposite of “rural” is “urban” and then find a photo that represents “urban”. This really deepens meaning and understanding because students have to know what the word means and what it looks like in a photo, but they also have to have an understanding of its opposite. This is a harder, higher level thinking and increases their exposure and understanding.

This is the perfect time to weave in technology standards. After teaching students how to access the clip art, they could look for graphics that represent each of their vocabulary words. This is a whole lot less messy than cutting photos and less time consuming than drawing pictures.


Many Marzano forms with places for the word, an understanding rating, definition, related terms, and drawings are found on the internet and designed by schools. I have created this “My New Word” template to be used in a similar fashion with words student choose to keep in a My New Words binder.

My New Word

My New Word


I have many vocabulary products available on TpT. Each word that I present is defined, used in a sentence, and illustrated. For some of the words I provide synonyms, for others, I provide multiple meanings. Here is an example and a link to my vocabulary products. You would be most welcome to try using this format with vocabulary in your classroom.

Vocabulary presentation idea

Helping our students own their new vocabulary is an important part of teaching. I hope my ideas have in someway helped you.





  1. I really appreciate your knowledge. As I read this I am wondering what type of word should I pick or present for the “my new word?” I have a set of 5 vocab. words per story. Should I allow the students to choose 1 and work with it? Thank you for your input.

    • That is what I would do. After they finish you could have all of the ones meet who did each word to see if there something more they’d like to add to their own work. (I encourage collaboration not “copying”.) After that you could try to form groups with each of the 5 words and have the “experts” teach more about their word.

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