By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
I’ve written a number of blog posts and made several videos about various methods for studying vocabulary words. But this post is about how to study hard vocabulary words or concepts that you’re struggling to remember or understand, for whatever reason.
It’s important to know that when material gets tough, we sometimes have to change up our study methods. That means that if you typically use something like flashcards for most of your vocab studying, you might have to jack up your game when you’re dealing with words or concepts that are not coming as easy to you as you’d like.
Without further ado…
How to study hard vocabulary words
Enter the graphic organizer. We either love them or we hate them. I know.
Even if you’re a hater, hear me out (read me out?) on this one. There’s a graphic organizer — I did not create it — called the Frayer Model. It’s an organizer that enables us to come at a vocabulary word or concept from various angles. And if you’ve watched my latest study hack video about vocabulary, you’ll know all about the importance of coming at new vocab words from various angles. (Seriously, go watch the video before reading any further, because what I talk about in there will make this graphic organizer thingy make so much more sense.)
You can see what the organizer looks like below, and you can download a free template I made here, but here are the essentials for using it:
How to study hard vocabulary words using the Frayer Model
1. In the middle, put the word or concept you’re studying
2. In the top left, write the definition and any good synonyms
3. In the top right, list facts and characteristics of the word
4. In the bottom left, list examples
5. In the bottom right, list non-examples (antonyms, or what the word is not)
The idea with this graphic organizer is that it gets you thinking about a vocabulary word in different contexts and from different angles. Just memorizing the definition of a word doesn’t mean that we really get the word. Thinking about examples, non-examples (what it is not), and other traits / characteristics / visuals of the word gives us important information that allows us to know how to use the word properly across various contexts. You might be thinking but all I care about is the definition. I get it. And sometimes that’s enough for a quick vocab quiz or something. But for hard vocabulary and concepts that you have to really understand thoroughly, memorizing a simple definition is not enough.
What the Frayer Model looks like filled out
You don’t have to use this Frayer Model graphic organizer to study every vocabulary word on your list, but you should use it for the tough ones. You could even use it to study full-out concepts like mitosis, which certainly involves more than just a simple definition.
Knowing how to study hard vocabulary words is going to make so many aspects of school easier. Download and print out a few copies of the free template. Stash them in a folder. Pull them out when things get tough. You never know: it might be the one graphic organizer you don’t hate!