As teachers, you know teaching vocabulary is important, but you need ways to make it stick. One way elementary students learn is with visuals, but you may wonder how to teach vocabulary by using pictures?
When you are planning your vocabulary lessons, look for pictures that are kid-friendly and high-interest to make connections to the words. Children love to see pictures of animals in the wild and other children their age, whether it is a real or drawn image. Tie a story to the image to engage students’ memory muscles. Readers learn so much from pictures and words together. See more here about the different kinds of pictures you can use to teach vocabulary.
Illustrated word wall
Many elementary classrooms have a word wall. It’s usually organized alphabetically and with words the class has been learning throughout the year. Most of the cards are about the size of an index card with letters, or fonts, large enough for students to be able to see from across the room. Usually, the card has only a word on it and nothing else, but you can add a picture that might represent the meaning of the word.
In order for this to stick with your students, talk about the picture while teaching the word. This will help students remember the connection between the image and the vocabulary when they look up at the words on the word wall.
For example, print out an image of Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for the word “kindness”. Talk about how World Kindness Day in 2019 was celebrated with honoring Mr. Rogers. Many people followed #cardiganday on social media to see images of people wearing a cardigan, just as Mr. Rogers was so well known for on his show. There were even little cardigans crocheted and knitted for newborn babies to wear in their hospital bassinets on the same day. So adorable!
This story connection will help strengthen students’ memory as they view the picture of Mr. Rogers by the word “kindness” on your word wall all year long.
Some teachers only use special images for certain words on their word walls. Many teachers use illustrations for the words that are for every subject area, the CCS critical vocabulary, and are found in 85% of standardized tests. Use images on your word wall that are best for you and your students. Starting here is the easiest way to teach vocabulary with pictures.
Teach with Pictures in Slides
Most people have access to Google Slides or some sort of slideshow presentation software, and it’s so easy to use for the classroom. Following Marzano’s six steps to better vocabulary instruction, you can easily have a slideshow template for any vocabulary words you choose! Plus, you can easily find web images within Google Slides to add to your slides and make using pictures with vocabulary super simple.
Start with your first slide that shows the vocabulary word and the image you plan to use to teach and connect to the word. That’s all that you will have on the first slide because you will have students hear you say the word and then repeat it after you as they look at the spelling of the word and the picture beside the word.
Duplicate this slide and add a student-friendly definition of the vocabulary. Students will follow along as you read the definition aloud. You could even have them repeat the definition as well.
Duplicate the first slide to be your third slide, but you will include a short sentence that relates to the image and has the vocabulary word in it.
This is where you make the connection between the vocabulary and the picture and discuss to expand on how the image represents the word. Using the example from before on the word “kindness”, if you had a picture of Mr. Rogers the sentence may just be something like this: “We can celebrate kindness by wearing a cardigan just like Mr. Rogers on World Kindness Day.” You can then talk about how this amazing man was well-known as a kind and generous human being and give examples. Of course, you may need to look up some specific examples to share accurate information with your students.
Sometimes you need to show a vocabulary word in video form. For instance, to teach the word “around”, look for a video snippet that illustrates something going around. A simple 15-second video showing a spinning top will show a spinner spinning around. It’s also a mesmerizing video to watch. On that note, relate the word to another subject you are studying with your class. When teaching time on an analog clock, you mention how the hour and minute hands go “around” the clock face in a clockwise rotation. It’s pretty easy to find a short video of an analog clock going around the clock face to represent the passage of time.
Teach vocabulary “sprout” with video.
You could even create your own videos to share the meaning of a vocabulary word. Students love to see videos of themselves and one another. Find ways to illustrate the meaning of words with students quickly acting out the word.
Teach vocabulary “bloom” in a fun way by watching it happen!
Here are some examples. Showing students a video of a spinning top to illustrate the word “around” makes the message of the word more meaningful for everyone. Illustrate with a video on “kindness” between one student and another is very effective on many levels (academic, social/emotional).
Teach with interactive notebooks
Interactive notebook activities have become popular in the way that they allow students to create a folding, flapping page in a notebook to interact with and reread for future reference. It’s a fun way to take notes and review!
Open up Google Slides and find an image for students to paste into their notebook. Then create a rectangle with the vocabulary word in the middle. Include a dotted line on one side so that students cut and fold on the line to make a door or window that opens and closes on the page. Under the word flap, students write a kid-friendly definition and sentence to go with the image.
The first time students do this cut and paste activity will be a little challenging because they are not familiar with the interactive notebooking technique. Just go slow and take them step-by-step. It may be easiest to try it in small groups or have students watch you assemble the page before they start in with their own cutting and pasting.
Draw their own pictures!
Given the chance, students will visualize their own pictures to go along with the meaning of a vocabulary word. Start with a kid-friendly definition and then challenge students to orally produce a sentence that includes the word. If students need help, give them a list of characters or animal names, or suggest they use a friend or family member’s name.
Here’s an example. For the word “around”, a student might write, “My mom put her arms around me for a hug.” The students then draw their own picture of themselves and mom giving them a hug. This makes it the most meaningful of all pictures, for sure.
Though, some students may not be able to draw a picture with a pencil because of differently-abled students. If this is the case, find other ways for students to represent their pictures through painting, cut and glue collage, or using a photograph. However, a student chooses to represent their correctly stated sentences using the vocabulary is to only help their schema make those word meanings stick.
Now you have a better idea for how to teach vocabulary by using pictures. Here are some favorite places to find free images that are for personal and/or commercial use.