The Language of Social Studies

Increasing Content Vocabulary for Student Success

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With your table group, answer the following questions:


1. How do you adress vocabulary words in your classroom?


2. Are students able to use vocabulary terms successfully after the terms have been taught?

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Agree/Disagree

Do you agree/disagree with the following quotes? Read the quote and travel to the side of the room (agree/disagree) that fits with how you feel.


"Vocabulary is the best single indicator of intellectual ability and an accurate predictor of success at school." -- W.B. Elley


"Because each new word has to be studied and learned on its own, the larger your vocabulary becomes, the easier it will be to connect a new word with words you already know, and thus remember its meaning. So your learning speed, or pace, should increase as your vocabulary grows." -- Johnson O'Connor


"We think with words, therefore to improve thinking, teach vocabulary." -- A. Draper and G. Moeller

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Think/Write- Pair- Share


Why is it important for students to learn vocabulary terms?


How can students demonstrate that they have learned vocabulary words?


Do we need to change how we "teach" vocabulary?

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Students can have content knowledge, but when they are faced with words they do not know they have a tendency to:

1. skip reading the rest of the question or answer choice.
2. automatically not consider the answer choice as a viable option.
3. guess and move on.

None of these options work in a STAAR world…
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Based on what you have learned so far, what are 3 do's and 3 don'ts of vocabulary instruction?

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Vocabulary Strategies

Introducing new terms...

New vocabulary terms should be introduced in the context in which you want students to learn them.


What does that look like and sound like?

1. Embed the learning into your notes...

8.2B I can compare the political, economic, and social reasons for the establishment of the 13 colonies.


Example #1

Every time you have economics in your notes you do the following:

1. What does economnics mean? Discuss as a class

2. Cross it out and draw a dollar sign

3. Have students cross out the word in their notes (even if they just wrote it down) and have them draw a dollar sign.


Example #2


List political reasons for establishing a colony:


List economic reasons for establishing a colony:


List social reasons for establishing a colony:



Analyze what the reasons have in common and write a summary of the terms POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, and SOCIAL in 10 words or less.

2. Use primary sources

8.5B Identify the foreign policies of presidents Washington through Monroe
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3. Marzano Direct Vocabulary Instruction

Step one: The teacher explains a new word, going beyond reciting its definition (tap into prior knowledge of students, use imagery).


Step two: Students restate or explain the new word in their own words (verbally and/or in writing).


Step three: Ask students to create a non-linguistic representation of the word (a picture, or symbolic representation).


Step four: Students engage in activities to deepen their knowledge of the new word (compare words, classify terms, write their own analogies and metaphors).


Step five: Students discuss the new word (pair-share, elbow partners).


Step six: Students periodically play games to review new vocabulary (Pyramid, Jeopardy, Telephone).


What are some barriers to getting through all of Marzano's six steps?


Does that mean we do not do any of the steps?

4. Frayer Model

Frayer Model is a graphic organizer for students to analyze new terms in multiple contexts.


What would some of your Frayer models look like?


What terms do you think would fit best into a Frayer model activity?

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5. Student Self Assessment

Vocabulary card sort could be used as a pre-test and post-test using the following categories: know it, kind of know it, and don’t know it yet.


Throughout the unit of instruction, you keep going back to your sort and moving your words into new categories.


This activity helps you do multiple words and holds students accountable to their individual learning and growth as you discuss the terms within their historical context.

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Student Interaction with Vocabulary

What strategies can teachers use to increase student interaction with vocabulary words?

1. Card Sort

1. The teacher and/or students create a set of cards reflecting various vocabulary terms, images, models, assessment items, or content associated with the TEKS in the unit of study.

2. Students work cooperatively in small groups or with partners to sort the cards into various categories, first through an open sort and second through a closed sort.

 OPEN SORT: student create their own categories, sort the cards, and justify their thinking.

 CLOSED SORT: teacher provides the categories and asks student to re-sort their cards into these new categories and justify their thinking.

3. As students sort, the teacher should circulate among the groups asking for justifications, but not correcting errors yet. Instead, the teacher may pull a card and ask students to first justify their categorization. Rather than telling students they are incorrect, the teacher should ask students to “re-think” their categorization.

4. Teacher clarifies/verifies as a whole group.

5. Students may transfer the sorting categorization cards into a graphic representation in their journals.


NOTE: To save preparation time, write terms on the white board, and ask students to form groups and create their own card set using note cards or notebook paper cut into rectangles. For assessment item sorts, present groups with a worksheet or test and ask them to cut the items apart into separate “cards.” If the card set has images, copy one set of the images for each group and ask students to cut the images apart to create their card set.

2. Connect 4 Thinking

1. Students are organized into groups of 4.

2. Students are provided a key term or concept.

3. Each student makes a connection with the term and explains the connection to the group.

4. Possible connections may include the following:

 synonym

 antonym

 analogy

 quick sketch or graphic representation

 another term or concept

 real life

5. Students record the 4 connections in their journals or interactive notebooks

6. Teacher clarifies and verifies as appropriate.

3. Connect the Dots

1. Provide students with the Connect the Dots visual or have them draw the visual on notebook paper.

2. Organize students into pairs, triads, or groups of 4.

3. Students (or teachers) select four familiar titles, text excerpts, concepts, key academic vocabulary terms, math problems, lab experiments, etc.

4. Using the Connect the Dots organizer, students label each dot with one of the ideas. (Each dot has a different idea.)

5. Students follow the arrows to find ways in which the ideas connect.

6. Students find one similarity and one difference between the aligned dots.

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4. Fact or Fib Showdown

1. Students write “fact” on one notecard or post-it note and “fib” on another notecard or post-it note.

2. Teacher presents a statement associated with the content.

3. Teacher allows 3-5 seconds for student processing to decide if the statement is a fact or a fib.

4. Teacher says, “1, 2, 3 Showdown!”

5. Students slap their response in the middle of their desk/table.

6. Students justify their response with a partner or small group.

7. Teacher clarifies/verifies correct response and dispels misconceptions.

5. Matching Double Trouble

1. Organize students into pairs or groups of 3.

2. Provide students with a set of WORD cards, TEXT cards (descriptions of the terms) and GRAPHIC cards (images representing the terms) representing 5-10 key vocabulary terms.

3. Students distribute the cards.

4. Taking turns, students match the WORD card to the TEXT card, justifying their matches.

5. Student then take turns matching the TEXT cards to the GRAPHIC cards, justifying their matches.

6. At the end of the activity, students evaluate their hands-on matrix of terms, descriptions, and graphic representations and make adjustments/revisions as appropriate.

7. Teacher clarifies/verifies matches.

8. Students transfer the hands-on matrix into their interactive notebooks, by restating the descriptions in their own words, and adding NEW graphic images/sketches.

6. Rock and Roll Vocabulary

1. Organize students into pairs.

2. Provide students with a numbered cube (die).

3. Present students with a vocabulary term aligned to a difficult concept or skill.

4. Student pairs take turns rolling the dice.

5. The number rolled dictates the activity they complete with the term.


1 - state the meaning of the term in your own words


2 – provide a synonym


3 – provide an antonym


4 – create a sentence using the word


5 – create an analogy


6 – act it out


6. Students continue rolling the die until they have completed all the activities.

7. Teacher clarifies and verifies correct responses for each of the numbers rolled.


NOTE: to help struggling learners, the teacher may choose to differentiate the activity by offering students a synonym/antonym word bank and sentence stems for the analogy.


Let's Practice:

REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT

7. Sketch It

1. Students are presented several key vocabulary terms or concepts.

2. The teacher describes the terms.

3. Students draw a quick sketch or graphic representation of the terms on separate notecards or post it notes.

4. Students then place the sketch it cards into their interactive notebooks and add a restatement of the term descriptions in their own words.

Extend the Strategy with Who Am I? with Mix-Freeze-Group:

• To extend the strategy, layer it with the Who Am I? and Mix-Freeze-Group strategies.

• Teacher collects students’ sketch it cards.

• Teacher redistributes one set of the sketch it cards to the students – face down

• Students do not look at the sketch it cards but pick it up and hold them to their foreheads.

• Students then mix-freeze-group (mix around the room, freeze when the teacher says, “Freeze!” and group with the student closet to them.

• Partner pairs look at the sketch on their partner’s forehead and provide clues about the term it represents. When students guess the correct term, they take the card from their forehead and look at it.

• Teacher collects the cards, and redistributes new sketch it cards for round 2.

• The Who Am I” with Mix-Freeze-Group continues until all cards have been used,

• The teacher then collects all the sketch it cards and returns them to their owners for them to include in the interactive notebooks.

8. Synectics Snowballs

1. Place students into cooperative groups of 4.

2. Provide students with a sentence stem aligned to a major, complex concept represented in a Readiness Standard such as, “Manifest Destiny is like…” or “Forming an inference is like…”

3. Provide students 4 -5 pictures unrelated to the concept.

4. Ask students to circle one picture and to form a relationship or analogy to the complex concept in some way.

5. Students justify their analogy by writing a “because statement.”

6. When all students have completed their Synectics analogy, they stand up and push their chairs in.

7. Students crush their paper into a “snowball.”

8. The teacher should provide clear instructions for the Snowball sharing activity.

 At the teacher’s signal, students toss their snowball at a classmate.

 Students pick up a random snowball and toss it.

 Students pick up another random snowball and toss it.

 After tossing 3 snowballs, students pick up a 4th snowball, read it, and share it with their group.

 Cooperative groups evaluate their 4 analogies and select the best to share with the class.

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9. Talk a Mile a Minute

1. Students are organized into pairs.

2. Student A is the clue-giver. Student B is the guesser.

3. Student A provides clues to the list of terms/words in category 1.

4. When all the words are guessed correctly, the student asks, “What’s the category?”

5. When student B guesses the category, Student A pops up and says, “Whoo hoo!” and then sits back down to continue giving clues for the next category’s terms.

6. Student pairs continue giving clues and guessing terms until all terms and categories have been correctly identified.

NOTE: some students may need a word bank, vocabulary cards, or their notes to successfully participate in the activity.

10. Triple Play

1. Form teams of 3 and assign each person an A, B, or C role.

2. Teacher assigns each group a different vocabulary term.

3. Team members help each other to complete the following tasks:

 Write the term on one paper

 Describe the term or give example on another paper

 Sketch the term on a 3rd paper

4. At the teacher’s signal, students wad their papers up like snowballs and have a snowball fight!

5. Students toss three (3) snowballs.

6. On the 4th snowball, students open it, and try to make a “triple play” by finding the other students who have snowballs that complete the three parts: word, description, and sketch.

7. Students call out “Triple Play!” when they find the other students who fit with their paper.

8. Students add value by drawing another sketch or adding to the description.

9. Students then return to their original group of 3 and teach their Triple Play term to their friends.

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11. Visual Vocabulary

1. Teacher presents a visual to the class (painting, picture, object, etc.).

2. Students observe, record characteristics, brainstorm, and describe/define a visual.

3. Students then make a connection to vocabulary term or concept they have learned.

12. Vocabulary Dominoes

1. Teacher prepares a set of dominoes with academic vocabulary terms pasted on one side.

2. Students are placed in groups of four.

3. Vocabulary dominos are placed face down and scrabbled.

4. Each student is given six dominoes.

5. One domino is placed in the center to begin the game.

6. Each player takes a turn matching one of their vocabulary dominos with one on the board explaining how the two terms are related to each other.

7. Students continue to use the six dominoes they were given at the start of the game, making connections as players take turns.

8. Should a student not be able to make a connection, he/she draws another vocabulary domino and tries to make that one connect.

9. The first person to place all six of their vocabulary dominoes on the board wins!

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13. Vocabulary Pyramid

1. Students are organized into pairs.

2. Student A is the clue-giver and provides hints, phrases, and ideas related to the term revealed on the game board.

3. Student B is the guesser who provides possible answers.

4. When student B guesses the correct term, Student A pops up and says, “Whoo hoo!” and then sits back down to begin giving clues for the next term.

5. Student pairs continue giving clues and guessing terms until all terms have been correctly identified.

NOTE: some students may need a word bank, vocabulary cards, or their notes to successfully participate in the activity.

14. Who Am I?

1. Students and the teacher determine 6-10 terms that are the most difficult for the current unit.

2. Students secretly select one term from the list and write their word on a post it note.

3. Keeping the word hidden, students place the post it on a partner’s forehead.

4. Students MIX-FREEZE-GROUP (see strategy) to find a new partner and ask, “Who Am I?”

5. Student partners communicate 1 or 2 clues (describe, explain, examples, etc.) at a time about the word on their partner’s forehead.

6. Students synthesize all clues to make an inference about which word they have.

7. If the friend cannot guess his word, his partner finds another friend to come help give clues.

8. Play 2-3 rounds of this game so that each student is exposed to 2-3 difficult terms.

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Embedding Vocabulary Terms into Your Assessments

How can we know what words students have added to their vocabulary?


When you embed vocabulary terms into your assessments, you are making students apply their knowledge of the content with the vocabulary. This will increase the students' ability to use these vocabulary words in the correct context.

1. Exit Tickets

1. Students are given a term, question, assessment item, or sentence stem to complete as an exit ticket.

2. Students analyze the task and apply what they learned.


Exit Ticket based on Key Understandings or Anchor Charts:


1. Post the chart in the room.

2. Students create an Exit Ticket at the end of the lesson: The information we learned in today’s lesson links to Key Understanding # ____ because ____________________.

2. Word Banks for Written Response

Provide students with word banks with specific vocabulary terms to use for any written assessment. This will help them generate ideas and know where to start with their writing.
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3. Questioning Strategies

Have students write questions including vocabulary terms that apply to the learning you did that day.


Example: Use the question stem "How might..." to write 3 questions about today's learning. You need to use a different vocabulary term in each question.

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4. Q-Chips Activity

1. Students draw a question stem chip

2. Choose a vocabulary box

3. Write a question using 2 of the vocabulary words from the box.

5. Formative Assessments

When you are giving student formative assessments in class, include vocabulary words in the activity.


Example: Think-Pair-Share Activity


THINK: Did Andrew Jackson respect the principles of the Constitution.

Connecting words: separation of powers, republicanism, checks and balances


PAIR: Discuss your thoughts with your partner. Use the connecting words in your conversation. Raise your hand when you or your partner have used all 3 words successfully.


SHARE: Have partners share out their answers and make sure you have at least one statement for each of the connecting words.

6. Summative Assessments

Any quiz or test should that you give students in class should include all of the appropriate vocabulary with the questions and/or answer choices.



  • I allowed all of my students to ask me for a definition/synonym of any word that they did not know during an assessment.
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Learning vocabulary is a process.


For students to be able to use the words successfully they need to:

1. Be taught intentionally

2. Practice without penalty

3. Use them within the context of the content


What does that mean for your instruction?

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Questions/ Comments/ Thoughts?

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How does this quote fit with our learning for the day?

"...in order for a vocabulary word to become part of one's personal reportoire, it must be used in meaningful ways close to 30 times."

Miki Murray

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Top Strategies

Bang for your BUCK!

If it takes 30 times, which strategies give your words the most exposure to the student's brain?


Write down your top 2 vocabulary strategies for each phase of instruction.

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