Last summer I attended an Anita Archer training to help struggling readers. She introduced us to word diagrams, and I think they are a really great tool to help students understand complex words in a simple way. These diagrams also double as a great student made study tool as well. I find that many of my students come to me with very poor study skills. They have no idea how to commit something to memory. I like to expose them to many different study tools throughout the year, so that when I am not with them anymore, they have their own tool box.
In this particular strategy, students start by generating a simple definition of a word. For this example, I will use the word devastate. It can be defined as simply as "to destroy". Next, they will decide what it is like and record it. It is like demolishing. Next they will tell what it is not like. For example, devastate is not like rebuilding. Finally, they will give an example. Devastate is like the destruction seen after a hurricane. You could also have students do a quick picture or symbol to help connect to the word.
I have found that after carefully examining words in this way, and coming up with their own examples, students are much more comfortable using the words. In fact, my vocabulary test scores were much higher (most students scored a full letter grade higher) after making word diagrams and using them a study tools.
Students do struggle to decide what the word is like and not like, so support is often needed in those areas. Making those connections will allow them to see that the word is actually useful and applicable in their lives. Helping student find real life relevance in their learning is one of the most important ways to foster motivation to learn in middle level students. If they can't see it's relevance, they are not going to want to learn it!
My big push with vocabulary strategies this year is to increase my students' lexile ranges in order to help them comprehend more complex texts. Using word diagrams, forces students to think about vocabulary words in their own terms. They have to process all of the information that they are given by me and then put their own spin on it. Students must compare and contrast the word to something in their own experiences. I feel like this higher level of thinking helps my students really understand new and complex words. I have used different forms in the past, but I prefer the one that I am attaching to this lesson. The reason I like it is that the boxes are small so students cannot 1. copy a whole dictionary definition or 2. give complicated answers. It is short simple and perfect to use as a study tool.