So, I've taught social studies for going on 7 years. But before that, I taught English. As an English-turned-social-studies-teacher, when I first embarked on the ever daunting world history course, I put an inordinate amount of time and thought into vocabulary.

We all remember it from high school--the social studies vocabulary lists. Remember? It could be 100 words for one unit. The teacher would pass out the list and say, "Okay, define these," sit back at the desk, and grade papers while sweat dripped down our faces, and we stared at the textbook blankly.

Finally, in unison, we would all dive in. A note would pass slyly around the room. "You do 1-10, I'll do 11-20," and so on. We would all flip to the glossary first, the index if that failed, look up our words, and copy them verbatim. That afternoon at lunch or in the quad, we would pass papers around and copy definitions.

The next day, the teacher would collect our papers, place a check at the top, and then spend the rest of the period lecturing while we drew hearts and stars in the margins of our notebook paper, pausing to copy down the random points that might go on the board.

Then there was a quiz on Friday.

Ah, the Friday quiz. We would all say a silent prayer that it was matching, because if it was matching, we could remember that Qin had to do with a dynasty and so did Mauryan, but which was China and which was India?

As a new history teacher, I knew there had to be a better way, but what was it? It took me a couple of years to finally settle on this method:

  • A SHORT vocabulary list for each unit that is standards-based.
  • Pretest!
  • Flashcards
  • Quizlet (if you've never been, check out this link to my European Middle Ages Quizlet Page: My Quizlet)
  • Summarize the unit, leaving blanks for the students to fill in with the vocabulary words.
  • Puzzles! Fun ones--rebus (picture puzzles), anagrams, Limericks, etc....
  • Quiz
The shorter list is more manageable. It's important not to make history overwhelming so the students don't shut down. I don't know about your students, but mine wouldn't even bother to split up a monster list. They would simply shut down, and that's exactly what we don't want!

The pretest is so that they only make flashcards of the ones they missed. I give them a set time on the pretest, they use red pens to grade their own (I find they're pretty honest here, especially if I circulate the room and check off their progress). I have students cut up sentence strips for flashcards because I have a ton.

The summary announces: "This is what you need to know. We're focused!" Here's one of mine:

The puzzles are fun. Here's an example of one of mine: 

Just as an example, #6. is Manor, #9 is the Reconquista, and #11 is Carolingian. 

I have one of these for each of my world history vocabulary units. You can get one for free here:

I hope this helps!

Whatever subject you teach, what do you do to make vocabulary meaningful to students? Leave a comment below!


***Visit back next Monday when I discuss my new favorite topic, INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS***

If you like this, you may also like these:
All 12 of my complete world history vocabulary units are in my TPT store: Click Here to Visit My Store

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