REALLY knowing vocabulary

Today I spent my morning working with a high school junior who is preparing to take her ACTs. She had previously worked with a tutor who gave her a list of TWO HUNDRED words to memorize!! I teach English and have never even seen some of these words! I have more than one issue with this...

First, 200 words is a steep goal! Second, memorization will NEVER occur simply by looking up definitions in the dictionary. Third, when selecting new vocabulary words to learn, pick words that you've seen or heard used- in newspaper articles, on practice tests, in conversations, etc. You need to have a purpose for learning a word.

Okay, enough venting about the WRONG way to learn vocabulary. Now, for the right way! First, research says that you need to have seven to 14 meaningful interactions with a word before you will truly know it. Second, research also supports that vocabulary should be learned in clusters- never as random, independent words. With that said, my student and I broke down the list of 200 words into categories (math terms, social studies terms, English and literature, science, fine arts, and non-subject specific words). Once we had the words in categories we came up with a plan to spend 3-4 sessions on each chunk of words. During this "Word work" we will make sure that we do a few important things: make sure we know how the words are pronounced, know the definition of the word or a synonym for it, find places where the word is used in context, practice properly using the word in speech and writing, and finding pictures that represent the word so we have a visual to remind us of the meaning. This may seem like a lot of work, but spread over a few days, I think a student who does these tricks will REALLY KNOW the vocabulary terms. AND the bonus is that many of these words are content area words, which will in turn help my student on the science, social studies, and math sections of the ACT too!


Kelly A.

Multiple Subject Tutor

50+ hours
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