Teaching Effective Vocabulary Strategies: Using Language Structure Clues, Using Word Maps, Using Concept Definition Maps, Using Possible Sentences

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Teaching word maps, concept-definition maps, language structure clues, and possible sentences has improved vocabulary learning in all my classes. It took me seven years to figure it out, which means I have approximately 2100 former students wandering the streets using a limited vocabulary. Don’t make the same mistake I made. Utilize these concepts now.

Teach Better

Using Language Structure Clues: take context clues to the next level with language structure clues. Look for negation: I needed a warrior not a pacifist. Look for parallel structure: The campout included spelunkers, explorers, and adventurists. Effective teaching strategies include:

  • Modeling: verbally demonstrate the thought process involved with determining word meanings with language structure clues.
  • Context Clue Justification: Require students to identify the type of context clue involved. Types include synonym, antonym, definition, example, compare and contrast, general context, and language structure.

Using Word Maps: Help visual learners by implementing word maps into your vocabulary assignments. Word maps show a central bubble containing a key word or idea. Bubbles that surround the center bubble are linked and contain words that show semantic relationships, explain structure, provide examples, or analyze word parts. Teaching Strategies include:

  • Modeling: You probably recognize a pattern. Believe it or not, students model teacher behavior in regards to how they learn. When you come across an unfamiliar word, write it on the board and make a concept map.
  • Concept map assignment: Instead of the traditional vocabulary assignment with which we are all familiar, require concept maps. Options include synonyms, antonyms, other forms of the word, examples, or just about anything that will help students learn.

Using Concept Definition Maps: Completing a Concept-Definition Map can be a powerful tool for providing background information and incorporating multiple aspects of vocabulary building. Direct students to use prior knowledge of the word to answer the following questions: What is it? What is it like? and What are some examples? Lesson ideas include:

  • In groups of 3 to 4 answer the aforementioned questions for a designated number of words.

Using Possible Sentences: encourage students to speculate about word meanings. Write sentences on the board using 10-12 key words, heretofore untaught. Some sentences are correct; others are not. Students speculate which words are used correctly. Teaching ideas include:

  • Check sentences immediately (beating students with incorrect answers with a wooden sledge-hammer. Just kidding. I wanted to make sure you were still reading).
  • Grade the possible sentences as you read the word in context.


  • Teaching experience.

This post is part of the series: Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Increasing student vocabulary enhances their ability to communicate effectively.

  1. Effective Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary
  2. Lesson Plans: Greek and Latin Roots
  3. Even More Effective Vocabulary Strategies
  4. Strategies for Unlocking Word Meanings: Using Context Clues
  5. Determining A Word’s Meaning From Context: Different Types of Context Clues
  6. Determining Meaning from Word Parts Lesson Plan: Analyzing Word Parts