This is one of those activities I stumble on in my files and think, “Surely, I’ve posted on this before.” That’s because this is such a productive way to review vocabulary–students have to think about the meaning, the part of speech, and how to use it. And it’s an activity that produces something you can hang on your wall and refer to later, or reproduce and give to students in the form of flash cards. Most importantly, students love it. I did this in class and the students raved about it so much to their other teachers that the whole school started doing it.
Vocabulary Squares are easy to make but they should be done only as review of a list of vocabulary words or as further practice when students know the words well enough to use them in a sentence. Otherwise, they can reinforce errors.
Making Vocab Squares
- Give students one piece of paper for every word you want them to do.
- Have them fold the paper in half and then in half again. When they unfold it, they will have a piece of paper with four sections.
- In the top left section, students write the word they are studying. It’s good to have them mark the part of speech, either explicitly or by putting “to” in front of verbs and an article in front of nouns.
- In the top right section, students should illustrate the word. For some abstract words, they might have to draw a scene or make a little comic strip or caption. Remind students that they don’t have to be great artists; stick figures will do just fine. Optionally, I let students Google search an image as long as they are critically thinking about the image they choose rather than just printing out the first result. That defeats the purpose of having students reflect on the meaning of the word and using their visual brains to depict it.
- In the bottom left corner, students should write the definition and/or synonyms.
- Finally, students should use the word in a sentence or ideally, write a question that other students can answer which involves the word.
Note: As students are doing this, make sure to monitor and correct any mistakes. Also make sure students aren’t copying from a dictionary or using the word oddly, possibly confusing it with a synonym or related word.
In terms of dividing the vocabulary, that’s up to you. You might have every student do every word on their vocab list. You might give each student one or two or three words. This can be a group activity. It can even be a station activity, where students rotate doing different words or different quadrants.
Using Vocabulary Squares
The activity of doing the vocabulary squares itself is a great review. It targets the definition, visual associations, context, and even spelling. However, there are also a number of ways to use it.
- Students can fold their squares so that only the picture shows. Then they pass around their squares so that other students can guess. Or they hang them on the wall and students walk around and guess the meanings before checking their answers.
- Students can fold their squares so that only the definition shows and pass around their squares or hang them on the wall for other students to guess the word.
- If more than one student is doing the same word, you can hang up the vocab squares for the same word and have the class decide which the best one is. Alternatively, each creator can present to the class on why his vocab square is the best. This activity should focus on the sentence and the picture.
- Cut up a set number of vocab squares and have students reconstruct them by picking out and matching the word, definition, picture, and sentence. Of course, to do this you have to use squares done by the same students. Otherwise, students can use the handwriting to match.
- You can hang the vocab squares up and have the students respond to the sentence, or answer the question.
- Finally, you can just hang the vocab squares on the wall to make a giant wall of review. My students often browsed my vocab square walls before class or before a test or quiz.
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