Vocabulary Cards Focusing on Language in Definitions

Check out the method used to help this student who had all but given up on
memorizing vocabulary in science, social studies and literature because
she could not handle all of the dense language that seemed meaningless.
Literally, she put maximum effort into in-class work and homework, and did not bother to memorize vocabulary, hoping her grade would average out to a C.

Here is how we broke down (discussing each phrase separately) the
definition for  allegory – “a narrative in which the characters,
behavior and setting demonstrate multiple levels of meaning and
significance.” When she read the definition to me, all of the words were
rushed together, she was not parsing them out for meaning.  Because
this is how she was attempting to memorize (short-term for meaningless
information) it was unsuccessful.  First, I gave her a “language-friendly” version of the definition.  Oftentimes the website Cobuild.com can provide these.  Check it out. Then, we broke down the definition into phrases so we could pictorially represent each phrase.


order to help her anchor the meaning to the actual vocabulary word (she
had 20 multisyllabic words to remember), the student realized there
were two Ls in the word, so we wrote Level 1 and Level 2 to anchor the concept of “multiple levels of meaning”.  The gestalt
of the definition is that what you see is not what you get, there is
deeper meaning.  She said, “Like layers of an onion” so we turned the
“o” into an onion.  “Story” rhymes with “gory”, the last syllable in the word allegory so we wrote that on the
card as well.  Here is the front of the index card:


Here is another card we did for Allusion

image   image

that the  actual letters of the word contain the very concepts that are
embedded in the definition so the student had visual anchors to recall
the word.  The A became a Star of David (religious), the LL became a
piece of literature, the U became a boat in Boston Harbor (historical)
and the I became Zeus’s lightening bolt (mythological).

After studying her vocabulary terms this way, she happily announced that she had gotten a good grade on her test!