Teaching Content Area Vocabulary

Vocabulary Instructional Tools

Cognitive Mapping for Powerful Vocabulary Instruction

When students participate in content area lessons, they need to have a sound cognitive framework for reading and writing using multiple types of vocabulary in order to meet all of the demands instruction brings. Students need to have a bank of known words that relate to a content area such as history, science, etc. that are easily accessible. They need to have problem solving strategies in place to help them get at content related words they do not know. Students need to read and understand content area vocabulary in order to think deeply about what they read, and respond orally or in writing to related tasks. Students that do not have existing cognitive maps that support the learning of a content area may have difficulty learning and retaining information (Harmon et al., 2010). Using visual displays, semantic mapping, word sorts, close reading, and graphic organizers can increase acquisition of vocabulary and vocabulary related concepts (Allen, 1999). Instruction that promotes cognitive mapping is very powerful in that it aids in learning and recalling vocabulary.

Read More About It

Too Little or Too Much? What Do We Know about Making Vocabulary Instruction Meaningful?

Cognitive Vocabulary Strategies

There are many approaches to vocabulary instruction, however, one model that experts seem to agree on is acquiring vocabulary through the use of cognitive strategies. This approach is designed to promote vocabulary attainment and problem solving strategies through cognitive mapping. Not only do students learn vocabulary, they learn how to learn vocabulary through gaining word learning strategies and "word consciousness,"(Allen, 2014, Harmon et al, 2010 ). Janet Allen, author of, "Tools for Teaching Vocabulary," suggests the use of a comprehensive vocabulary instruction that includes providing a high level of access to language and the time to study and discuss words, teaching individual words, teaching word learning strategies, and engaging students in interacting with words (Allen, 2014).

Want to know more?

There are many resources on the internet for cognitive strategies that aid in vocabulary learning. Janet Allen has instructional Power Points, images, and reports on the internet that are easy to access and serve as excellent tools for learning and classroom use. You can find one of her Power Points at:



Karen Mengel, Title I Reading Teacher

If you would like more information on cognitive vocabulary instructional strategies, you may contact me at the