Strategy Name: Four-Square Vocabulary Approach (p. 95)
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Strategy Description: This strategy is used to introduce key vocabulary by providing students with the opportunity to make verbal and visual associations to learn new vocabulary words. Students can draw on their background knowledge and experiences to help them remember what the vocabulary words mean.

Description/Name of the class in which you used the strategy: Math (3rd grade)—We are currently preparing for the ISAT. Much of the 3rd grade ISAT includes geometry—i.e. lines, angles, names of triangles, plane figures, perimeter, area, etc. I used this strategy to introduce the names of the different types of triangles. We discussed equilateral, isosceles, and scalene triangles the first day and right, acute, and obtuse triangles the following day.

Rationale: I chose this strategy for several reasons. First, many of my students love to write and this strategy allowed them to write sentences that will help them remember what the definitions of each triangle. I also have students who like to draw and this strategy allowed them to do so.

Procedure: 1. Each student was given 2 pieces of copy paper.
2. I asked the students to fold one paper in half like a hamburger and then to fold it in half again like a hamburger.
3. Students unfolded the paper and I asked them to use a pencil to go over the lines made in the creases so that they had four separate boxes.
4. On the over head, I drew four boxes. In the first box (in the upper left), I wrote the term “equilateral triangle” and the math book’s definition. They copied it down.
5. In the 2nd box (upper right), I drew a picture of an equilateral triangle and the students did the same on their papers.
6. We discussed what connections they could make to this picture to help them remember what it was. The students came up with the idea that an equilateral triangle is the type of triangle they always think of when they think of a triangle, so we wrote a statement to that effect on our papers.
7. In the 3rd box (lower left), we discussed all the plane figures that were not an equilateral triangle. They came up with things like circles and squares which they drew in the box. I added a different type of triangle so that they could see that a triangle with sides of different lengths are not equilateral.
8. In the 4th box, we came up with a definition for an equilateral triangle in our own words.
9. Because this was the first time we had done this strategy, we did it as a class.
10. We turned the paper over and repeated the procedure for an isosceles triangle and used the other paper to do a scalene triangle.
11. For the other three triangles students will have more responsibility coming up with their own connections, etc.


  • How did it go?—This strategy went very well. My students were engaged in discussion about the vocabulary words and they did want to make sure they got everything done on their papers. They were excited about the opportunity to do something that was a little different from doing a worksheet (which often happens in math) or doing an ISAT practice test.

  • Describe the experience from your student's view. Did this literacy strategy reach diverse learners? What learning styles responded well to this strategy? Did you have students engaged that previously weren't? What learning styles seemed to like it least?
My students seemed to enjoy this strategy and actually were making connections to another similar strategy we’ve used in reading class to help us remember new vocabulary. I also got the sense they were excited because they felt more mature—probably because I told them that junior high and high school students are learning about triangles. My students have decided that taking notes in math class is fun since we’ve started geometry but I don’t know if that’s strategy or the subject. When we reflected on this strategy, 20 out of 21 students said it was helpful. The one student couldn’t explain why it wasn’t helpful. However, this one student is stronger in the arts rather than in math.

  • What changes would you make if you use the strategy again?
I’m not sure I would use it as an initiating strategy to learn new vocabulary. I would prefer to provide as many concrete examples of the vocabulary I am introducing and allow my students to experience those examples before asking them to try to think of different ways to remember the definitions. For example, I may show them different types of triangles first and ask them to identify what is the same and what is different about the different triangles. We could them compile a list for each triangle and see if we could come up with a definition for the triangle and then attach the name of the triangle. After we’ve done that work, then I would ask them to implement this strategy to help them remember the definitions.

  • Make suggestions for using this strategy in other content areas.
This strategy could be used in science to learn about producers, consumers, and decomposers. It could also be used in social studies to learn about democracy, the 3 branches of government.