Students who are avid readers have better vocabularies. This is a fact that most teachers are well aware of. However, many students do not fit this description and even those who read regularly are unlikely to encounter high level vocabulary in the novels they select. The Common Core Standards require students expand their vocabularies, use context clues to uncover the meaning of unfamiliar words, understand word relationships and word patterns.

In addition to the various texts we read in class, I include SAT vocabulary in my curriculum. I expose my students to challenging words and definitions because I know they will see many of these words when they take the SAT.

This year I changed my approach and began using the following approach to teaching vocabulary. 

Making Prediction Based on Context Clues

I begin by presenting students, in small groups of 3-4, with 15 sentences. Each sentence has an underlined word; this is their vocabulary word. They are not given the definitions; instead I ask them to work together to use the context clues in the sentences to make predictions about what the word means.

This activity requires that they analyze the sentences, how the word is used, the part of speech to “determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases” using context clues. This directly addresses the Common Core Literacy standards which requires students to “use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.”

Flip Vocabulary Instruction

In years past, I would stand at the front of the room and use my transparency machine to present the list of 15 words to each of my six classes. This took approximately 20 minutes per class, which is a staggering 2 hours of instruction every week and a half.

When I heard about the flipped classroom, I realized that flipping my vocabulary instruction and presenting the words online via a recording would not only save me valuable class time, but it would allow students to work at their own pace. I still identified root words, broke down convoluted definitions and provided examples, but it only took me 10-12 minutes to record. I used my iPad to record some using Educreations and for the others I used QuickTime on my Mac and uploaded them to YouTube.

Students took Cornell notes of the words and definitions. I encouraged them to note the examples I highlighted in the video that they thought would be helpful in remembering the words.

Leveraging Mobile Devices: Synonym & Antonym Search

The next day in class I, again, had students in small groups and asked them to take a sheet of paper and fold it into three columns. In the first column they wrote their vocabulary word, in the second column they wrote a synonym and in the last column they wrote an antonym. I encouraged them to use their mobile devices to look up synonyms and antonyms that would help them remember the word.

During this process, they “demonstrate understanding of …word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.” They also “participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions” about the various words they find and whether or not they are strong choices. This discussion of language is music to my ears as I circulate around the room fielding questions.

Getting Creative with Unfamiliar Words

My students continue to explore their new words online for homework. I ask them to write a poem, story, or song lyrics using 10 of the 15 words and post their stories on Schoology for their peers to read and respond to. It is helpful for them to see their peers using the words. Our discussion site gives them an opportunity to learn from each other, receive (and give) positive feedback and constructive critiques of both their word use and their narratives.

Many students “write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events” using the new vocabulary. They have to “produce clear and coherent writing” so their peers understand what they are trying to say. Finally, they are using “technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.”


Finally, we conclude by sharing the students’ stories. This provides and opportunity for the class to celebrate the stories that received the most votes in our online discussion forum. It is nice to see the variety of approaches in their writing and the different ways they use the words to mold a story or poem.

By flipping my vocabulary instruction, encouraging collaboration and designing student-centered classroom activities to develop their understanding of the words, I think more of my students will walk away remembering and using this challenging vocabulary. 

18 Responses

  1. Words matter. They are the building blocks of communication! Knowing words and what they mean helps us express ourselves more clearly and accurately both verbally and in writing. This is a valuable plus for anyone in any field at any time. I can attest to that personally.

    I am not a teacher, but I became an avid reader since shortly after I passed the “See Spot run!” stage. My vocabulary grew rapidly as a result and kept growing over the years–a major asset in my 65-year career as a writer, editor, photojournalist & author. Many of my fellow students, from K-12 through college & graduate level, did not have the same love of reading, however, and would have benefited greatly from a program like Ms Tucker describes.

    More power to you, Catlin–from a proud grandfather who has been fortunate enough to work with a gifted granddaughter as editor, researcher & mentor.

  2. Thanks. Your experience and detailed flipped lesson ideas have given me the courage to try flipping my vocabulary units, too. I appreciate the time you took to share your teaching methods.

    • That’s great to hear, Laura!

      I’m glad you found my posts on the flipped classroom helpful. I only flip every week or two, but I love the time and space it creates in class for more meaningful interactions and engagement.

      Good luck!


  3. I look forward to making a screencast tonight of their first vocabulary lesson and testing it out tomorrow for homework (I’m following your lead and having them take Cornell Notes on my presentation after having put them in small groups to work with sentences tomorrow in class)! Do you give traditional vocabulary quizzes in addition to having them write poems and stories using the words–or are the poems/stories the summative assessments?

    • Hi Allison,

      How did it go? I have my students do a synonym and antonym search with mobile devices in collaborative groups in class after viewing the video, then they write their stories, poems or song lyrics in our Collaborize Classroom discussion space.

      I do give them a quiz. Here is a link to the type of quiz I give them, so you can see it. The online discussion with the posted stories acts as a kind of informal formative assessment, but the quiz is my summative assessment.


      • Hi Catlin,
        The vocabulary video went really well. I used the creative blurbs from to talk through some of the words (if you’re not familiar with this site, you must visit it! It’s published by the same people who do the Visual Thesaurus and it uses RSS feeds to collect hundreds of sentences written by some of the best writers in the world from The New York Times to Scientific American). The students have been resistant to using the Cornell Notes format, however. They are complaining that it takes too long. In retrospect, perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining WHY the format is useful. I love the Google Docs quiz you made. Do you have students take the quiz at home or in class? I used to do my vocabulary quizzes as take home quizzes. I gave students a window of time to complete the quiz when they were ready, but many students admitted to rumors of cheating last year. I wish this weren’t the case. Thanks for your help.

        • Hi Allison,

          I give my vocabulary quizzes in the classroom. I read each word three times, and they write the words in the “word box” at the top of the quiz. Then they fill in the blanks with the words that complete each sentences.

          I’m going to check out the visuals. Thank you for the recommendation.


          • Catlin,

            These are really inspiring ideas. Thank you! I noticed these posts and comments were some time ago and I was wondering if you’ve changed how you do assessments or if you still give traditional quizzes? I often go back and forth between applicable assignments and the traditional quizzes; still perfecting my system.

            Thank you for all your great ideas.

          • Hi Lindsey,

            You are welcome! I do still use traditional quizzing to assess vocabulary. Students have to spell the words correctly and complete sentences with the correct word. I’ve tried other approaches, but I always return to this as my final assessment.


  4. […] with the videos I assigned for homework and track my students’ progress. Maybe I could preview vocabulary in class with context clues, use videos to reinforce definitions, then engage cre…. Could I set up a system where students would earn badges based on mastery of the content? Once I […]

  5. When you have the students work on context clues do you go over what they come up with? Do you spend time discussing their definitions? Or do you “skip” this step in class since they go home and follow your powerpoint with definitions?


    • Hi Katie,

      The students talk about them, then I collect their predictions. Once they’ve seen the video, taken notes, and written their narratives, they return to class to compare notes to their predictions. I could probably do more with this, but I haven’t because of time. Let me know if you have any great ideas for doing more with their predictions 🙂


  6. […] had been used to read out loud and experience the reading instead of analyzing it? Sail the Book. Vocabulary Lessons: Flipped, Collaborative & Student Centered. Students who are avid readers have better vocabularies. This is a fact that most teachers are well […]

  7. I really like your vocabulary site in YouTube.but I don’t see a lot of videos in YouTube.can you please upload more videos in YouTube

    • Hi Mithela,

      I currently have 35 videos and plan to upload another 5, but I create them for my students. I upload them as I need them.

      I’m glad you are enjoying them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *