Using Pictures to Teach Vocabulary

Teaching vocabulary makes me stretch my teacher muscles. I want students engaged (of course) and learning. They don’t want to fill out endless definition sheets. Never have I felt immensely confident when I need to teach vocabulary. My students have rewritten popular stories using vocabulary and written their own sentences. I never want vocabulary instruction to be a *yawn* though.

Last week I finished covering a maternity leave for a friend. She had most assignments prepped, and many were vocabulary activities. These activities encouraged my thinking about vocabulary, and I’m happy that my vocabulary lessons will now be improved from teaching vocabulary her way.

Use pictures to teach vocabulary with secondary students. You will increase interest and highlight the context.

Primarily, she used pictures to teach vocabulary. One activity provided students with funny cartoon pictures. The pictures were not specific, but to teach vocabulary, students had to imagine and make a connection from the image to the words. For instance, one picture had a “thought bubble.” Most students related the vocabulary word illumination to that – the character was clearly looking at the problem in a new light.

The pictures made students think and imagine. Students could interpret the pictures in numerous ways, so if they explained a connection, they received credit.

For review, I built on this idea. We used real pictures from To Kill A Mockingbird‘s setting to review the novel vocabulary. When we discussed vocabulary such as stark, devour, and ominous, we looked at this picture and created sentences:

Great Depression

This also connected nicely to our background information concerning the Great Depression – all lessons connected.

And? Because students are awesome, they began doing their own doodles of vocabulary words. Once when I walked in from hallway supervision, students had drawn sad faces next to the end of the school year countdown and had written “demise” beside it.

Too often, I’ve relegated vocabulary to the end of lessons. By using pictures, I can incorporate vocabulary into the lesson seamlessly, and students can now have a visual for vocabulary words.

UPDATE: My friend who inspired me to use pictures for teaching vocabulary words created activities for older students. Her methods for teaching vocabulary always resonate with my students.

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