Applications of Four Corner Vocabulary Charts for English Learners
A well-documented strategy to encourage English learners’ mastery of academic vocabulary is the use of Four Corners Vocabulary Charts (FCVCs). FCVCs have been used across subject areas and grade levels to illustrate new vocabulary terms, develop personal dictionaries, and create print-rich classroom environments displaying students’ work. Students enjoy creating FCVCs, especially because the process of charting vocabulary words encourages them to make their own choices as they process new academic terminology.
To create an FCVC, first the students write the vocabulary term on one side of an index card. Next, on the opposite side of the card, the students draw two lines dividing the index card into four squares or corners. In the top left, students draw an illustration of the vocabulary term. In the top right, they write one or more synonyms. In the bottom left, students write a sentence incorporating the vocabulary word, and finally, in the bottom right, students write a definition in the students’ own words.
In developing FCVCs, students’ level of proficiency in the English language must be factored in. To modify the FCVC approach for students with beginning levels of English proficiency, students could use their native language to work on the three corners of the FVCV, namely, the synonym corner, the sentence corner, and the definition corner. To facilitate students’ work, dictionaries in the students’ native language can be provided. Beginner students, for instance, can write synonyms, sentences, and definitions in their native language, while high beginners and low-intermediate students can use their native language only for sentences and/or definitions.
Another differentiation for beginners, high beginners, and low-intermediate students could be the use of cognates in their native language for the synonym corner, in the cases that cognates apply. Cognates are words with shared meanings from common etymological roots (for example, biology and biología).
Perhaps one of the most important steps in the processing of new vocabulary is having students write their own definitions for vocabulary words. One issue with traditional definitions often found in dictionaries is that they are usually complicated to understand because such definitions often include unfamiliar words to explain vocabulary words. This does not always help English learners but rather hinders them because students need to learn the definition of the words within the definition of the original word they look up in the first place. By writing a definition using words students understand, English learners can comprehend the meaning of the academic terms in their dictionaries. As students write their own definitions, a very helpful tool they can use is the definitions from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary. These definitions are written in simple language and often are shown right before the list of examples using the term in question for a given entry.
FCVCs lend themselves to multiple possibilities for organization of the vocabulary (alphabetically, by easier/more difficult terms, by content words [nouns, verbs, adjectives], by academic topic [for example, type of science – life science, earth science, etc.], and chronologically, depending on when during the school year the terms were learned).
The use of FCVC dictionaries on index cards gives students flexibility in how they handle their cards. Students can keep their cards in an index card box or they can secure the cards with rings into a small dictionary or flip book for studying. Students enjoy punching two holes into the top of each card and securing all the cards together alphabetically. When students wish to add more words to the stack, they simply pull out some cards to slide in the new words and then secure them all with the rings. Securing the FCVCs with rings allows for ease of transportation, so students do not lose their cards in their backpacks or at home when they review vocabulary.
Applications of the FCVC Personal Dictionaries on Index Cards
As soon as a set of 16 terms or more has been created, students can play with the academic vocabulary in their FCVCs using the approaches described below.
Fill in the Square
Students use a corner of a blank index card to cover up one of the four sections of a given Four Corners Vocabulary Chart. Then, students encourage each other to “fill in” the covered space with a description of the corresponding illustration, a synonym, a sentence including the vocabulary word, or a definition in students’ own words. Students provide each other feedback on the accuracy of responses, keep the cards for which they provided correct responses, and challenge each other to keep as many cards as they can.
For this game, students take turns asking and answering questions until the student answering questions guesses a given vocabulary word. To prepare for the game, you can use blank index cards and paper clips to cover the vocabulary words showing on one side of the FCVCs. Next, pile up all the FVCVs in a stack with blank sides up and have student A pick up an FCVC from the stack. Student A holds up the FCVC with the blank side facing her and the other side showing the four corners (i.e., illustration, synonym, sentence, and definition) facing student B. While student A holds the FCVC to her head, student B gives student A clues about the “mystery” vocabulary word. For example, student B can describe the illustration, name the corresponding synonym, say a sentence while replacing the vocabulary word with the words blank, or say the word’s definition until student A guesses the vocabulary word in question. Student A keeps all the vocabulary words she guesses. When she fails to guess the word, it is student B’s turn to guess. In the end, the winner is the student with the largest number of vocabulary words.
Modified Version of Connect Four Game
To play this game, students get into pairs, count a set of FCVC cards, and divide the cards in two groups with the same number of cards in each. If there is an extra card left, students put this card aside.
Each player picks a color for her chips and gets the same number of colored chips as the total of FCVC cards she has. To help students organize their cards during the game, a chart showing the same number of columns and rows can be drawn on a large sheet of paper to then be placed on a table of the floor. This chart serves as a template for students to place their cards. Next, the “name of the card” (vocabulary word) is written on the back of each card and the cards are placed face down on the template sheet with the “name of the card” face up.
Depending on the focus of the review, students can describe the illustration for the vocabulary word or describe a different illustration that would make sense, provide at least one synonym, say how they used or would use the vocabulary word in a sentence, or define the vocabulary word in question. To decide who will start the game, students can flip a coin. The student who goes first could select a card, provide her answer, and if the answer is correct, she would flip over the card she had selected and would place her colored chip on it. Next, it is the second student’s turn to select a card, provide the correct answer, flip the card over, and place her colored chip on it. If any student fails to provide the correct answer, the card in question would not be flipped over and no colored chip would be placed upon it.
As students take turns providing their correct answers, they try to connect their chips in a row of four, whether horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, while preventing their partner from connecting four of their chips in a row, as is the case with tic-tac-toe. The student who is first in connecting four consecutive cards in a row wins the game.
I really hope you will consider giving FCVCs a try in your classroom in case you haven’t yet. If you liked this idea and live in Texas – around the Dallas or McAllen areas – you might be interested in a workshop I will co-facilitate, where we will learn about games that can help our ELLs master academic vocabulary. I would love to see you there.
Thank you for reading!
Claudia Sánchez is a bilingual curriculum writer, conference presenter, and professor. The focus of her work is the practice of teaching and learning with ELLs.