E-learning Technical Vocabulary (Part 7): Word Tree

E-learning Technical Vocabulary (Part 7): Word Tree

Word Tree is part seven in an eight-part series on e-learning technical vocabulary systems. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six.

Advanced literacy skills help students learn more, in any subject. The problem is, you may not have time to teach reading and writing when you have your own set of content area standards to cover. I have good news. You can do both with a, What? How? approach.

Maybe you teach graphic design, not literacy. But literacy can be the how. Leverage graphic organizers and adaptable lessons to increase critical thinking and develop creative communication skills. Use reading and writing to help students learn on a deeper level. This is called content area literacy.

Build in collaboration.

Graphic organizers promote high-quality conversation during and after activities. Students involved will collaborate and explain their thinking during the lesson. As this occurs, all students benefit; they gain knowledge from the process. Keep in mind the central planning question, “How can I encourage speaking, writing, reading and listening to include regular use of vocabulary terms?

Use writing differently.

There are hundreds of ways to write that doesn’t involve composing an essay. These include providing descriptive and directive feedback; preparing visuals, videos and graphic organizers; and creating useful content within your career field. Make writing a tool for meaning.

Word Tree

Gist: Students group words together based on their relationships and figure out the meaning of the root word.

When to use: With vocabulary words that are related in some way. Great for medical terms in cosmetology and health careers.

How It Works

  1. Find a word root, prefix or suffix that relates to your vocabulary words. This is especially useful for medical terms. Place the root/prefix/suffix into the first box on the word tree.
  2. Challenge students to come up with words that coordinate to the root, prefix or suffix and place them in the “branches” of the tree. For example, if you wrote the root


    Students might write:

    • analgesic
    • abdominalgia
    • adenalgia
    • erythromelalgia
    • fibromyalgia

    Encourage them to include words from their prior knowledge as well.

  3. Ask students to explain the meanings of any of their “branch” words, if they can.
  4. Challenge students to define the meaning of the root/prefix/suffix, based on the meanings of the related words.


    • Visuwords, an interactive visual dictionary and thesaurus, may be useful for planning a word tree activity.
    • Encourage students to create their own word tree using paper or sticky notes on the wall. These changes will engage bodily-kinesthetic learners.

See the strategy in action.

Download the word tree for use in your CTE classes.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger, where further detailed explanations of the strategies in this series can be found. Email her.

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