Do your students cringe when you say, "We have new vocabulary terms to learn"? These students may recall the previous times they have copied words over and over again or looked up exhaustive lists of words that lack a connection to one another.
Our learners have changed, and research shows us students don't retain new terms or gather effective word-analysis skills by copying definitions from a dictionary. Vocabulary practice doesn't have to be boring or a practice of rote memorization. Follow Robert Marzano's six steps of vocabulary acquisition to engage students in understanding and using vocabulary.

Step 1

Introduce the new term by providing a description, explanation or example of it.
  • Provide a context for the term
  • Tell a story that integrates the term
  • Use video or computer images as the stimulus for understanding information
  • Use current events to connect the term to something familiar
Use: and to add visual support to terms, as well (an online library of educational hip-hop songs and videos) to support retention.

Step 2

Ask students to restate the description, explanation or example in their own words and monitor and correct understanding.
  • Must be student's original ideas, not parroting the teacher
  • Discuss with a partner or community circle
  • Students should record their definition (interactive notebook or journal)
Use: In addition to the Frayer Model, below is an example of a vocab organizer for students to collect and discuss their vocabulary words.

Step 3

Ask students to construct a picture, symbol or graphic representing the word.
  • Provide examples of students' drawings (and your own) that are rough but represent the ideas
  • Paste a picture of the term or find a picture on the Internet of the term
Use: is a perfect way for students create infographics on key terms and concepts learned.

Step 4

Engage students in discussion activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms and word analysis in their vocabulary notebooks.
  • Highlight prefixes, suffixes and root words that will help them remember the meaning of the term
  • Sort or classify words
  • Identify synonyms and antonyms for the term
  • Translate the term into another language or point out cognates for second language students
Use: A great way for students to make meaning of key vocabulary words is for them to create comics using the key terms. Check out these free resources:,, and

Step 5

Ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  • Think-pair-share
  • Compare their descriptions and pictures of the term
  • Explain to each other any new information they have learned ("aha's")
Use: To facilitate higher-order thinking, have students create vocabulary cartoons (see image at right) that require them to engage word play by creating an association link word, mnemonic cartoon, cartoon caption and meaningful sentence.

Step 6

Involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with terms.
  • Pictionary or charades
  • Jeopardy (vocab words are on the board, players make up a question to define)
  • Swat game (post two sets of words, kids on two teams compete to find words that match the definition first and swat with fly-swatter)
Bring Tier 2 and Tier 3 words to life by using technology, adding student discourse and fun. Students will enjoy the benefits of adding new vocabulary to their vernacular by following these six steps to using and understanding the written language.