Studying Vocabulary: If It’s Not Fun, You’re Doing It Wrong

According to a review of vocabulary acquisition research, the three most effective methods of vocabulary acquisition requires students to:

  1. connect new vocabulary with what they already know
  2. experience repeated exposure to new words
  3. use new vocabulary in meaningful ways
The king had such great washboard abs that he abdicated the throne to pursue a career in modelling!

The king had such great washboard abs that he abdicated the throne to pursue a career in modelling!

While repeated exposure echoes the philosophy behind the most traditional methods, such as vocabulary flash cards, matching games, and crossword puzzle practice, the most common methods used by students today completely neglect two of the three most essential and most fun parts of vocabulary learning.

Read on below to find suggestions for making the study of vocabulary both fun and effective by bringing connection-making and the meaningful use of vocabulary back into the equation.

Fun and Effective Ways to Increase your Vocabulary

1. Make Ridiculous Connections To Your Vocabulary Lists

If you’re assigned a list of words to study, find ways to draw connections between the vocabulary, your own life, and each of those words’ meanings. From day one, you should create your own devices for remembering these words by getting in the habit of connecting ridiculous ideas to the definitions. Try:

  • Connecting words to family, friends, places, events that relate to the definition

For example, the word “petulant” has the word, “pet” in it. Since “petulant” describes someone who is easily irritable, I can try to think of a “pet” that fits this description. My cousin’s fluffy black cat who’d hiss and claw at anyone within a ten foot radius is unforgettable and fits the profile of a petulant creature purrfectly.

  • Making associations with a word based on its sound, then connecting it to the definition

For example the word, “parsimonious,” sounds like someone with a bad accent saying the word “money” or even “purse” in it, which is great since it describes someone who is greedy or stingy. Mentally hearing “mōnē” whenever you see the word would make remembering the definition easy.

  • Drawing pictures to illustrate a silly scenario or image to connect to the word and definition

Here’s an unforgettable one: the word “abdicate” means to give up the throne or relinquish power, but all ll I can think of is “abs” when I say this word, and this doesn’t really relate to kings and queens… unless I can create a silly story about it. So to remember the definition, just think of a king who developed a great six-pack. He had such great washboard abs that he abdicated the throne to pursue a career in modelling! Drawing a king with abs next to the word would help me associate the word with the story and then consequently to the definition.

2. Make Connections to Word Roots

Personally, I enjoy making connections between root words and Pokemon. For example, Psyduck, who, though often plagued by headaches and general dimwittedness, has great psychic attack moves, which relates to the root “psych” for mind.

The Pokemon, Metapod, is another great example since he has essentially no function other than as an intermediary stage between two evolutionary forms. This makes the root “meta” or change perfect since this is his predominant purpose– to change one evolutionary form to another.

There are plenty of other ways to use the meaning of root words to study. Often root words are hidden within authors’ character names, creatures, and places (particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres). Check out my next blog post for more examples of creative uses of root words within Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and more!

3. Social Studying

Once you have come up with off-the-wall ways of remembering definitions, share them with friends.

  • Get together to play a game like “Celebrity” or “Password” with vocabulary words. Forcing your teammates to guess the definition or vocabulary word based on use of the word in a sentence, a one word clue, or acted out clue will make them easy to recall come test day.

  • Or try playing a game like “Pictionary” in which you must illustrate an assigned word so that you teammates can guess it. Drawing examples of the word or drawing your own bizarre clues will serve as great meaningful application of the words.

The words that are especially difficult will be the most memorable after study techniques like these since you’ll be forced to say, do, and draw ridiculous things to try to get your teammates to correctly guess the word. Playing fun vocabulary games will make the difficult terms unforgettable.

4. Record Vocabulary From Your Favorite Reads

For improving your overall use of vocabulary words, instead of studying lists of words that you have little interest in, create a glossary of words that you find in your latest books. Alternatively, find online vocabulary lists for the book you just picked up. Try reviewing the list of terms for your book from a website such as to help you pick up on new words.

Associating new words with favorite characters and settings will help you connect the words to your prior knowledge. For repeated exposures of these personal vocabulary words, try taking a screen shot of each vocabulary word and definition, then put them in a folder, and set your computer’s screensaver to cycle through them!

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About Caroline

Caroline graduated magna cum laude from The College of New Jersey with a degree in English and Secondary Education. She taught 8th grade language arts and has enjoyed tutoring in a number of different contexts, including through volunteer opportunities, tutoring centers, and one-on-one tutoring. In her free time she enjoys applying literary theories to non-literary topics, faking athleticism fairly well, and pondering philosophical, political, and sociological quandaries. Since she lives to help others, she is looking forward to utilizing her education and experiences in order to help PT continue to make a difference in students’ lives.

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