What is a Word Web? and Why it’s a Brilliant Way to Teach Vocabulary

Blog cover photo what is a word web? and why it's a brilliant way to teach vocabulary.

What is a Word Web? At first glance, you might think that a vocabulary word web or word map is a simple way for students to record the definition and related words to a specific focus word. Although this thought would be correct, I’m here to tell you that a word map/web used correctly can be so much more than that.

It’s not necessarily the vocabulary themed graphic organizer itself that is going to significantly expand students’ knowledge of the focus word, it’s more of HOW you use the word web in your classroom that matters! A word web/word map is the first turn on the cross country road trip that ends with students’ deep knowledge of the focus word.

⭐️ Today, you are going to learn that it’s not actually the word web that works magic. It’s using these vocabulary graphic organizers to get students to collaborate and think deeper about the focus word that makes this magical spell truly stick.

3 examples of vocabulary word webs. You can complete these together as a class when learning a new focus word.
Word webs/maps are the perfect way to introduce a new word in your classroom!

What is a Vocabulary Word Web?

A vocabulary word web is a style of graphic organizer that is themed around one focus vocabulary word. The focus word usually goes in the middle or on the top. Then, other related words, phrases, examples and meanings radiate out from it. This helps students to explore the meaning of the word in depth. Plus, make connections to other words or phrases they may already know. Some common areas on a word web are: definition, synonyms, antonyms, examples, non-examples, origin, stems and part of speech.

💻 If you’re looking to incorporate technology into your vocabulary lesson, encourage students to explore the focus word on a digital word web site. Learn more in my blog post, Say Hello to the Virtual Word Web!

What is a Vocabulary Word Map?

A vocabulary word map is very similar to a web, some people would actually consider it to be exactly the same thing. To me, this style of graphic organizer is more like a Frayer Model, using squares or blocks to organize notes about each focus word.

Plus, depending on the word map template you choose, many focus on multiple words themed around the same one topic, or support student students to dig deeper into words that have multiple meanings.

⭐️ The main goal of any word map/web exercise is to give students the opportunity to make connections to words they already know. This helps them map and organize words in their mind and will help these words to stick!

Think Beyond the Worksheet

3 examples of word map graphic organizers that ask students to dig deeper with multiple words
These word map templates are great for focusing on multiple words, or a word with multiple meanings!

Before we get too far down the road of using vocabulary graphic organizers to teach students a new word, I want to make something crystal clear. I create and share a LOT of vocabulary worksheets. To be exact, almost every post on this blog points you to a resource to take your vocabulary teaching to the next level. And 75% of those resources are worksheets. 

Just because students are using a worksheet does NOT mean this is a quiet, independent activity. I am here to scream from the rooftops that this is so far from the truth.

All of this to say, that the way I use a word web/word map for vocabulary instruction is far different than how you may have seen it implemented in the past. I use it as an avenue for introducing a new word, to spark conversation and to save for later in the year as a record of all of the new vocabulary words they’ve learned.

Example of a Vocabulary Word Web

There are many styles of word webs/word maps out there. You can adjust the items students are asked to fill out depending on the theme of the focus word. I tend to rotate between the same 3 or 4, so students are familiar with each item, making this an easy “rinse and repeat” vocabulary activity each week.

Depending on the word theme of the month (character trait, social studies vocabulary, etc.), I mix up what aspects of the focus word that the web is asking students to identify. Sometimes we only focus on the definition, synonyms and antonyms. Other times, I want them to share when they would hear this word, who would say it and what type of emotions go with this word. 

For example, for a character trait word you may want students to list synonyms and antonyms to make connections to other adjectives you’ve learned. But, with a science vocabulary words like “glacier” below, it may make more sense to have students come up with examples and non-examples.

An example of a word web/word map filled in for the focus word "glacier"
There are many styles of word webs/word maps. You can adjust the items students are asked to fill in depending on the theme of the focus word.

Example of Vocabulary Word Map

Word web graphic organizer template showing word examples themed around Ancient Egypt
This word web template is great for learning and practicing new words across content areas!

The style of word map you choose will also vary depending on the focus topic. For example, sometimes you will want students to dig deeper into the meaning of one word.

Other times, you will want them to make connections to multiple words across the same focus topic (shown in the example here).

Personally, I find word maps easier to use for content area vocabulary (i.e. social student or science) than word webs. Mostly because the word map templates that I use lend themselves better to connecting multiple words all on one sheet, which is typically what you’re doing when teaching content area vocabulary.

➡️ It’s not rocket science which word map or web I use when. Before I decide, I try to fill it out myself. If I’m not successful, students won’t be either. Words will quickly lend themselves to one style of word web versus another. If you have trouble filling out the first style of word web for the word of the week, try style 2, style 3, etc. 

Keep it simple, when it doubt use a less complicated word map/web. You don’t want to spend all of your time explaining the graphic organizer, the focus of the activity is learning the vocabulary word!

3 Ways to Implement a Word Map for Vocabulary

1. Use it to Introduce a New Focus Vocabulary Word

As a class, we focus on one new word each week. To kick off this word learning, we fill out a word web together.

One item at a time, we move through each area of the word web/map graphic organizer. For those that have heard the word before, I offer a chance to participate and share their understanding with the class.

When teaching content specific vocabulary or a very challenging word, I typically have to do more direct instruction to help the class fill out each area of the web/map.

⭐️ Using a similar word web template or word map template each week helps to build a routine and allows students to focus on the new vocabulary word and not struggle to understand the directions of the activity at hand.

Word web examples to show how word webs can help students make connections to words they already know.
Use word webs during your whole class lessons, not just as independent work.

Differentiation Option: For students who need more of a challenge, you could offer them the chance to use a dictionary, thesaurus or digital word web generator to fill out the word web graphic organizer BEFORE you do so as a class. Once you double check that they have the correct understanding of the word and synonyms, they could help you teach the class the new word. Of course, if you choose to do this, make sure to rotate which students are presenting to their peers each week 😉.

2. Use it to Spark Conversations

No matter when you choose to use this graphic organizer, the most important thing is that you’re using it to lead a conversation about the new focus word.

⭐️ I will never stop saying it, getting students to TALK about words is how you get vocabulary words to stick!

Ditch the "Assign, Define & Test" way of teaching vocabulary. Focus on providing students opportunities to use new vocabulary in conversation.
Develop a word conscious classroom by giving kids the chance to use new vocabulary in conversation every single day!

The more opportunities students have to practice using each focus word in conversations, the better:

  • Use this as a chance to spark a conversation about related words they already know.
  • Discuss examples of when and where the focus word may show up in real life situations.
  • Ask them to draw a picture representing the word, and then have them explain that picture to a classmate.

3. Use it to Keep Track of New Words Learned All Year!

If you choose to implement the 1 new word per week method that I do, students will completing 4-5 word map templates per month. Plus, additional activities throughout the month to increase their depth of knowledge. These sheets add up fast!

Come up with a way to keep all of these activities organized, whether it’s in a word study/vocabulary folder, or in an interactive notebook.

Example of a word study/vocabulary folder and notebook to help keep students organized.
Organization is one major way to help make your classroom less chaotic. Have students keep a separate folder for each subject area, so they always know where their notes are!

Make sure to model how students can refer back to their folder/notebook when they can’t remember the meaning of a past focus word. This notebook/folder will act as an archive of all of the words you’ve taught this year. 

Develop a routine of cleaning out students’ vocabulary folders every so often. I suggest every 3 months or so. Make sure they keep 1 artifact from each focus word, like the word web! This way no words are left behind!

Word Web Template

Word webs/maps are simple to create, but even simple things take time.

⭐️ Since your teacher time is so precious, I’ve created 12 Vocabulary Word Web/Map Graphic Organizer Templates that require zero prep!

These are adaptable for any type of focus word. Whether you’re teaching science vocabulary words, or just a handful of rich words from your read aloud text, there is a word web in this pack that will work for you!

Cover imagine sampling a resource that includes 12 word web graphic organizers for your classroom that can be used for any vocabulary word
Grab these no-prep word map templates and word web templates on my Teachers Pay Teachers Shop!

🎥 Learn More About My 12 Pack of Vocabulary Word Maps & Word Webs in this Video:

This no prep resource is a great way to introduce new vocabulary words in your classroom. These graphic organizers work with any word!

❤️ Remember, it’s more about HOW you use the word web than which word web you choose. Use these as conversation starters and let it flow! All in all, the purpose of any vocabulary activity should be to get students to use these words in conversation. That is the special ingredient for getting vocabulary words to stick!

➡️ Loving these vocabulary word webs? I’m here to help you skip the growing pains of revamping your vocabulary curriculum with simple, easy to implement activities you can teach in just 10 minutes a day!

I invite you to comment with your success stories themed around using word webs in your classroom! Or please share any other tips and tricks for building a word learning routine.

I look forward to continuing to share low investment, high return ways to spice up your vocabulary lessons. Until next time, make today meaningful, friends 💕 .

More Vocabulary Word Web/Word Map related articles:

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