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Learning for the long term...ditch the flashcards and try word maps!
  • Calendar Apr 05, 2018
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments

Rote memorization (repeating words over and over again until they stick, like trying to remember a phone number by saying the numbers over and over again) may suffice for getting through a Spanish vocabulary quiz this Friday, but if your goal is to learn something for the long haul, you need to dig deeper. Even more so if you need to do more than just memorize a fact. So how can we learn vocabulary for the long term (like, say, building your vocabulary to improve your score on the SAT/ACT)?

One method that works wonders is something we call a “Word Map”.

Here is how a word map works: Get a sheet of paper (cutting a sheet of blank printer paper into quarters should be plenty big).

At the top of the paper, write the definition of the word you are trying to learn. Draw a horizontal line directly underneath.

At the bottom left of the paper, write the word you are trying to learn.

At the bottom right of the paper, you’ll write a “link”. This should be a word or phrase that sounds kind of like the word you are trying to learn. For example, if you are trying to learn the word “gregarious”, your link phrase might be “Greg hairiest”. Or for “”ambiguous”, a good link phrase might be “big goo”. Try to make the link very concrete, as abstract link words might make the next step challenging!

Below the definition, draw a picture that 1) shows the definition of the word and 2) shows the link word or phrase. They key is to draw a picture that, if someone else were to describe it, they would be able to describe your word and link (even if they didn’t say the exact words!) This is the picture that is going to come to your mind when you think of the word you are learning, so you want it to be really obvious what message it is trying to convey!

Draw a line below your picture, and write a sentence describing what is happening in the picture, using both the word and your link.

That’s it! Sometimes you’ll find that words maps can be very challenging to write (try doing one for “aesthetic”!) The great thing though is that the process of thinking about how to create a word map for a challenging word is the process of learning the word! When you are thinking of ideas for the word map, you are rolling the sound of the word around in your mind, as well as exploring every possible aspect of the definition.

Our minds learn best when we are using ideas to create which is why word maps are so effective (and flashcards are so ineffective for long-term learning).

Your best word maps will likely be ones you will remember for a long time. And it's a much more fun, creative process then flipping through the same vocabulary word dozens of times.

This is a process that I used when I took biology at UCSD, so it works even in college level classes (and can add a little humor to a subject that a student might find dry!)

Check out the word map I made for our workshop yesterday! I bet none of the students who attended will ever forget what "articulate" means! And it illustrates another point: you don't have to have great (or even good) art skills to create a word map.




Check out our "Study Skills" workshop starting next week. Call (858.551.2650) or email ( to register today!


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