AFL, HISTORY, LEARNING, LITERACY, RESOURCES, TEACHING

Getting to grips with keywords!

I recently read an interesting article on the TES online by Alex Quigley, English teacher and Director of Learning and Research, entitled ‘How to plan for and teach tricky vocabulary’. Introducing pupils to new vocabulary takes place in all subjects and as Alex explained it is essential to the success of pupil progression. Grasping subject specific terminology naturally increases vocabulary and provides pupils with a deeper level of subject knowledge and understanding. In the Humanities subjects I teach pupils are regularly introduced to new vocabulary, it is a key feature and skill within the subject. Subject specific vocabulary can often be very challenging for pupils. Difficulties can occur with reading and pronouncing the keywords, which is why modelling is an excellent starting point such as repeating the words for pupils. Also, understanding the terminology in a contextual setting can be a struggle. Alex offers a lot of great advice and strategies. I wanted to share some resources that I have created and used with pupils, across the curriculum and with different key stages, to help expand their vocabulary whilst linking to their subject knowledge and further developing their Literacy skills. All of the resources in this post can be used and adapted for different subjects, as shown with my examples. Keywords within our subject area can also be particularly challenging for both SEN and EAL pupils. A useful strategy with EAL pupils is to encourage them to translate the word, using a dictionary to check if they are already familiar with the term in their first language. I am also working with the EAL department at my College, they offer so much support and have a wealth of experience working with pupils understanding of  keywords. I have differentiated the resources to suit the needs of my pupils or seen differentiation by outcome in regards to level of depth, detail and understanding.

Keyword Spotlight


I have shared this resource online on Twitter and the TES as a free template to download, which can be found here. The response from teachers was very positive and I’ve also had feedback from teachers who have since used the resource in their lessons from Geography to Chemistry! More importantly it worked well with the pupils in my classes. The concept is to spend time focusing and exploring one specific key word. Pupils can easily provide a definition of a keyword because they have found it in a dictionary, which of course is a great resource in the classroom, but the definition can still be unclear to some pupils and there is still the need to put the word into context. This activity requires students to explain the term in their own words, they can refer to a dictionary which I do encourage but they cannot copy directly from it. To test their level of understanding it has to be used correctly in a sentence, different to that of the definition. To further assist putting the term into context pupils must list other key words that have a connection to the specific keyword being analysed. Pupils also have to include an image or drawing that they think represents that key word, there are some great examples from my classes shown! The task that pupils can find challenging is to create a question where the keyword is the answer, this can really get them thinking! Then finally there is the opportunity for pupils to self assess their level of understanding. I have found after completing this task most pupils are very honest selecting ‘Got it!’ or ‘Almost!’. This can inform my future planning and differentiation.

Keyword Board game

This is a very simple and straight forward activity yet it is great fun. It focuses on a range of key words connected to the topic being studied. I have found this is best used during the middle of the topic/course. It can be used at the start of a topic to test what pupils already know then revisited at a later date. However, I prefer the game played by pupils once the keywords have been covered and discussed in previous lessons. This will check their understanding and confidence about using the keywords as well as playing a fun game with their peers! I would suggest playing the game at this point in the topic because as well as checking understanding it can highlight any confusion or questions before progressing further. Once I made the template it was so simple, quick and easy to adapt for other topics/classes just by changing the key words in the boxes. A class set of dice and counters are required to play this game, often played in small groups. From my experience it is brilliant to walk around the classroom and hear pupils providing definitions or speaking out loud talking to their peers, including the key word they landed on. If anyone doesn’t know what the keyword means, that their counter landed on, then they miss a turn. I provide a helpful hint so whilst they are waiting for the next turn they have had time to digest the clue and try to link that hint to the keyword so they can progress further in the game. I have also set a homework task where I gave pupils a blank template and they had to fill in the game with keywords. This made them reflect on what they had been studying and the vocabulary they had been using. I have used this activity with Year 5 and Year 9, the task varied in difficulty because of the complexity and amount of keywords. It doesn’t take very long so can be a great hook at the start of the lesson or used at the end to reflect, assess and consolidate their understanding of keywords and terminology.


Keyword grid

I have blogged about this idea before, Keyword grids for learning, which can be found here. Again pupils respond very well to this task. I have found this to be a useful revision activity with both GCSE and A Level classes. In my previous post I discussed ten different ways the Keyword grid could be used. Ultimately, the idea is to once more check understanding of key terms in a variety of ways. This can be differentiated by including a selection of terms that vary in difficulty and complexity. For my A Level class I included some key terms that we had not yet come across in the lesson but some pupils were familiar with the words because of their extensive background reading! This can be projected onto the screen or stuck in books. Ideas include: provide definition, use it in a sentence, if this is the answer what is the question, think and link the keywords together and aim to use all the keywords in a paragraph or exam answer.

Decision Wheel

There are lots of versions of the Decision Wheel with the Decide Now app and Russel Tarr’s ‘Random name picker’ on Classtools. These are Wheel of Fortune style features that can be used in the lesson. I have downloaded the free Decision-making wheel from Microsoft. The wheel can be used for anything, the example on the Microsoft website shows ‘What shall I have for tea tonight?’ with a range of choices then the wheel rotates to land on an answer/suggestion. The example shown is a template I created focusing on the Causes of World War One, with lots of subject specific vocabulary included. The wheel spins and when it stops on a word pupils either tell me or write down in their books/whiteboards a fact connected to that word. Another activity to revise and consolidate knowledge and understanding. Tell me something about… so not always asking for a definition but linking the words to the bigger picture of the unit.

Learning Grids



These grids can be used in so many ways in the classroom! I have also previously blogged sharing ideas and resources with Learning grids in more depth which can be found here. This example is very simple. Roll the dice twice then use the two numbers to locate a letter of the alphabet on the grid eg, 5 up and 3 across will be the letter B. Pupils have to try to come up with a keyword connected the topic beginning with B, or whatever letter they land on. Some letters are obviously more challenging than others!

There’s an app for that!

Adobe Spark Post and Typorama are fantastic apps, that are free, and both were suggested to me by Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist. I often use these apps to create visually impressive resources and do so quickly and easily! Both apps allow you to create single image graphics with text overlays, with a variety of fonts and styles available. The images can be selected from the app library (all royalty free images) or you have the option to upload from the camera library on your own device.  I have introduced these apps to my pupils, they have been used both in the lesson with a class set of iPads and at home on their devices. The example shown is a graphic created by a Year 9 pupil, they used the app to explain the term Militarism and included a relevant image. This didn’t take the pupil long to create but it looks very impressive and shows a good level of understanding of the term Militarism. WordFoto app is another brilliant app for subject specific keywords and it allows you embed the keywords onto an image connected to the topic, helping to further make connections. The example below was shown at the start of the topic focusing on recruitment during World War One. The Word Foto image acts as a prompt for discussion and questioning. Do you recognise any of the words? What do the words have in common? What is the link between the keywords and the image? Again, encouraging pupils to make their own WordFoto or Wordle/Word cloud can be a useful method to embed these terms into their vocabulary.

Classic games!

Keyword bingo is a fun twist on Bingo! The game focuses on keywords rather than numbers. Firstly, I will project a list of key terms connected to the topic onto the board or hand out a sheet with a list. Pupils have a blank bingo template with nine squares. From the list of keywords provided pupils select nine, one for each box. Obviously the aim of the game is to get a line then the full house! A definition will be read out, this can be done by the teacher or a more able pupil can lead this activity. For example, the definition read out loud to the class could be ‘The term used to describe a union or agreement between different countries’. If a pupil has the word Alliance on their bingo grid they put a line through it or get their bingo dabber on it! Another hook to start the lesson. 

The example shown was used in a Welsh lesson in my previous school.


There are lots of other classic games that can be played to develop understanding of key terms that include Taboo or mime an action in the “give us a clue” style. Also, the post it game where a person will have the keyword written on a post it note, stuck to their forehead so they are unable to see it and then they can ask the class or their partner questions but the response can only be yes or no. “Is this word used to describe a cause of World War 1?” “Is this word connected to Germany?” Hangman is another basic yet classic game, this focuses the pupils on spellings, which is another important aspect of learning new vocabulary. Scrabble mats and Boggle boards, which can be downloaded from my TES page, are ideal as they challenge pupils to think about key words connected to the topic as well as developing their basic Literacy and Numeracy skills.

Colour charts

The colour charts are free paint samples from DIY stores such as Homebase! I’ve found it interesting and quite funny how much pupils like writing on these charts. They are bright, colourful and an alternative to using exercise books. I have seen the colour charts used for a range of different Literacy tasks. Ideas includes listing keywords or providing pupils with a keyword and they have to list synonyms or antonyms, as shown below. The charts can act as a spelling log that pupils can refer back to with words they may struggle with. Another idea is using the charts as a bookmark for pupils to make a record of new vocabulary they discover when reading that they don’t understand or want to find out more about. There are so many creative ways the colour charts can be used in the lesson, I’ve seen many teachers share their best ideas on Twitter. Go to Homebase and be inspired!

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. If you’ve been inspired by any of these ideas I’d love to hear from you to find out how you’ve taken them / adapted or remixed them and used them in your classroom. I now have a new and improved site to post my blogs thanks to the support, help and inspiration from the brilliant and kind Mark Anderson- so thank you again Mark! You are amazing! Please feel free to follow my blog and leave comments below or why not just drop me a message on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Getting to grips with keywords!”

  1. ORLA says:

    Came across your page on my Facebook account and so glad I clicked on the link,, Great to see these activities and ideas are working for you, I intend to use as many of them as I can this Year! I particularly like the key word grids, endless possibilities and suitable for all age groups. Thanks again.

  2. Matthew Lewis says:

    Brilliant ideas here; simple but effective. I’m going to ask all teachers in our Humanities Faculty to try out at least one this term. I’ll let you know how we get on.

  3. Vicky Gray says:

    Thank you for all your ideas Kate. I have been preparing a presentation for literacy across the school and your blog has helped me so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *