How to elevate connections between students and their terms

Utilizing the Frayer Model provides unique chances to engage students with important vocabulary while formatively assessing their comprehension of reading and course concepts.

One of the most common assumptions many of us make in our teaching is that students are on the same page as us when it comes to the terms we are using. While it is fair to make that assumption in many cases, oftentimes because we’ve hopefully aligned the scope and sequence of our curriculum to build skills and knowledge, it doesn’t hurt to integrate strategies to check students’ vocabulary. That’s where the Frayer Model comes in.

I like to use this strategy on different occasions for different purposes:

  • To introduce difficult terms ahead of reading, thus allowing students to activate prior knowledge by making connections.
  • To respond to a reading.
  • To check student learning.

The model, as seen above, can be modified to fit the needs of the course, lesson, or assignment. It traditionally has the four parts in the example: definition, characteristics, examples, and non-examples.

To use the Frayer Model in your class, provide students with a template that looks like the one above, or, have the students draw/create something in their notebook or on their computer. Provide students with the term you are wanting them to understand and they place that at the center of the model. They then work through the model from the top left, top right, bottom left, and then bottom right.

I like to have students come up with their own definition instead of looking one up for the assignment. This lets students draw from prior knowledge, but also it becomes an opportunity to formatively assess where they are at. Once students complete the Frayer Model, I then provide them with a definition for compare/contrast purposes. This isn’t always needed, especially if you allow them to look up the definition themselves. Another way you can do this is to provide multiple definitions from various sources and ask students to see how their definition contributes. I also like to get students to interact with a text while doing this, so I will have them contrast their definition to what contextually is the definition in the reading they are doing.

When I ask students about examples, how I differentiate this activity is dependent on what stage of the lesson or unit I’m in.

  • Beginning: If I use the Frayer Model to help prepare students for a lesson or unit, then I ask them to come up with examples based on prior knowledge and prior knowledge alone.
  • During: If I am using the Frayer Model as an engagement strategy, then I usually will ask students to also draw from the readings to provide examples. This will help them to make sense of the reading in relation to the term. It also helps you as an instructor assess how students are interpreting the term relative to the content you assigned.

Integrating a Frayer Model into your lesson is a simple and effective way to provide a formative assessment of student comprehension. It also is a chance to have students draw on their experience to help understand terms that are often more complicated than we think.


I like to merge jigsaw activities with the Frayer model. I do this in a few steps:

  1. Identify several terms that are important to telling the story of your lesson. Try to keep it to four to six key terms.
  2. Break students into groups based on the terms; however, don’t allow them to meet with their group just yet. First ask them to work through the Frayer Model for their term individually.
  3. NOW allow students to go into their word groups. In this group, I encourage them to share their four-components, but, more importantly, I ask them to talk about how they arrived at what they’ve included. This helps students to talk out why they’ve identified certain characteristics, negotiate types of examples or non-examples, and explain their definitions.
  4. Student groups should arrive at shared definitions, characteristics, examples, and non-examples by the time they are done meeting.
  5. Students will now meet in groups that have one of each word in it. So if you have four words, you will now have groups of four that represent each individual word. This is where students (1) share what they came up with and (2) make connections among the words, the readings, and the lesson. I ask students: what story do these terms tell? What makes these terms relevant? Depending where I am at in the semester, I also try and get students to think about the implication of the terms on the essential question, or possibly how they influence their summative assessment.

This extension activitiy is a great exercise to get students to co-construct knowledge. It also provides for multiple opportunities for instructors to think about modifying instruction or progressing through the lesson. I also see this as a chance to identify individual student needs, which means giving me the ability to start brainstorming differentiation activities for students with exceptional needs that should be addressed.

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