Research says that to learn a new word a person needs to encounter it at least six times, and up to as many as 20.  Students need to encounter a new word in multiple contexts.  They also need to attend to how the word sounds, how it is written, its usage, and what it means to own the word.  This means we teachers need to present and recycle new vocabulary in a variety of meaningful and distinctive ways.

Here are some of the activities I do to present and recycle vocabulary:

 Vocabulary Corner

Students need to dedicate a place to record new words. This can be a small spiral notebook or a page in their binder.  They should review their lists regularly.

 Teachers also need a place to record the class’s new vocabulary.  I dedicate one area of the board to new words.  At the end of each class, the class and I go over the words, pronouncing them, and then selecting 5 to 7 salient words for our vocabulary lists.  We all record these words in our notes.


At the beginning or end of class, I take five minutes to dictate short sentences with the new vocabulary. 

Flash Cards

I encourage students to write up flash cards them and keep handy a zip-lock.  They write a new word on one side of a small card and its translation or definition on the other side.  they can clip the bag to their binder or

 Question Cards

As a warm up, I often distribute questions on cards to pairs of students.  These questions incorporate or review recently learned vocabulary.  In pairs, students take turns asking and answering the questions; for example:  How many nieces do you have?  (niece is new word)  or How many parts of car can you name? 

 Class Vocabulary Cards

I also write all the new vocabulary from the class on cards.  I write each word or phrase in large print on a 3 x 5 card.  Every few months I start a new collection of cards.   We use these cards in the following activities.


I hand ten random cards to each pair of students and tell them to sort the words in any of the following categories:

  • parts of speech (verbs, nouns, adjectives) 
  • one, two, three, or four syllable words
  • alphabetical order


I call out a category and have students look through their words to find ones that fit.  For example, I tell the class:  

  • Find all the verbs. 
  • Find all the words that describe a person.
  • Find all the words you use at work.
  • Find all the words that are about food.


I hand one or two cards to each student.  Students write a true sentence using the word on their card.  When the student is finished writing, I check the sentence.  If the usage is correct, I hand the student a new card.

 What activites do YOU use to make words stick?