Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vocab Lab

Vocab Lab is an activity I use to introduce vocabulary when I begin a new geography or science unit.  Last week, we began a new geography unit and this collaborative group activity was a great way to facilitate rather than directly teach vocabulary. 
This activity is so neat because it can be done with all ages (and is really helpful for ESL students), it incorporates art by having students create Word Signs, and it's very student-centered.
Here's how it works:
  • First, divide students into groups (4 children in a group is ideal; I had one group of 5)
  • Distribute a vocabulary sheet, with only the words listed, to each student.  Here's mine from last week:
  • Distribute a list of words to each group.  *Limit team lists to 4-5 words*  The list words are broken down from the long vocabulary sheet that was just handed out; each group will define certain words.  Here's a sample of a group list: (Yes, I realize that I gave 6 words to each group; that's how I know 4-5 will be better) 
  • Assign each student a job.  I used the following:
    • Orator--this student reads the list words to the group, reads the dictionary definition (if necessary), and presents the group definitions at the end of the activity 
    • Researcher--this student looks up vocabulary words in a dictionary or textbook
    • Scribe (1 and 2 for my group of 5 students)--the scribe writes down the group definition on the word list, writes the vocabulary word on the front of a piece of construction paper, and writes the meaning on the back of the "Word Sign"   
    • Illustrator--this student will illustrate the front of the Word Sign; he/she will also explain the artwork during the group presentations
    • You could include other jobs like Material Distributor, Time Keeper, Art Interpreter, etc.  I gave them name tags, but that's totally optional.
    •  If you assign a Material Distributor role, that person can get the group's needed materials: markers, light-colored construction paper, dictionary, textbook, word list
  • Inform students that they will come up with a "team definition" for each word given on their group list.  They should discuss what they think each word means before they look it up in the textbook or dictionary (I refer to these as ICE materials--In Case of Emergency materials).  If a word is looked up, it may not be copied from the glossary; students must put the definition in their own words. 
  • The Scribe will write each word on the front side of a sheet of construction paper and then write the group definition on the back side.
  • The Illustrator will draw a picture that represents the word/definition on the front side:
  • Time limits are given for each segment of the activity; I gave 7 minutes for the students to create their group definitions.  I walked around and "spied" on the definitions as the students worked.  If they were waaay off, I guided them and helped them come up with the correct meaning.
  • Once the definitions were created, I gave 5 minutes for the Scribe(s) to write the words and definitions on the Word Signs.
  • Finally, I allowed 7 minutes for the Illustrator to create a graphic representation of the word/definition.

  • When time is up, the Orator and Illustrator from each group will explain the definitions to the class and connect the artwork to the term's meaning.
  • While the groups present, every student is to write in the definition next to each word on their long vocabulary list (the sheet handed out at the beginning of the activity)
  • Hang the Word Signs up in a designated area of the classroom and review them each week throughout the unit.
  • At the very end, I handed out a vocabulary list with the word and definition that I want them to study.

  • Display a timer to manage the time
  • Provide bilingual dictionaries if necessary
  • Use proximity for classroom management
  • Encourage class to applaud each team's artistic efforts
  • Refer to Word Signs as a warm-up activity each week
  • Utilize additional team roles if necessary
  • Establish rules (e.g. No one should delegate words; the group should talk together and create a team meaning)

  • Time extensions will be used less often the more you practice
  • You can adapt this activity in a way that works best for you (Instead of Word Signs, you could fold the paper into fourths and have a box for the word, a box for the definition, one for the illustration, and one for a created sentence.)

Credit:  ACSI Conference, Vocab Lab by Amy Bratten (Assistant Professor of Education at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida)


  1. Hi, love the use of student roles in this activity. To answer your question from my blog... the exercise balls were an optional item that students could bring in. Their parents found them at Wal Mart, Target, etc for about $14. For those that couldn't bring one in but wanted one, we were lucky to be able to borrow some from our PE teacher.

  2. Hi! You posted on my blog asking about the polka dot genre posters I have in my room. I hope these are the ones you were wanting. I got them from Teaching in Flip Flops:


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