Learn what works

Visual displays of new words or concepts are sometimes called graphic organizers or concept maps. Mapping of vocabulary allows students to use categories to create a visual display of a new word or concept. Students use their known vocabulary to elaborate a definition. By comparing new words to known words, students can fit new words into already existing conceptual networks. This is substantially more effective than having students look up words in the dictionary or relying solely on understanding new words through context. Students using mapping are also asked to provide examples and non-examples of a new word or concept, which causes the brain to make mental pictures based on personal experiences. Semantic mapping allows students to think about and to recall new words, use new vocabulary in their writing, and understand the nuances of language.

See how it works

Frayer Model
Concept Definition Map
Semantic Mapping

There are several steps to creating a map. Students need to learn these steps through explicit instruction and practice. The teacher will first need to explicitly teach the mapping process by modeling and thinking aloud as each step is completed. This may be followed by…

  • Shared practices, in which the teacher leads the creation of a map with students offering suggestions
  • Teacher-guided small group work
  • Collaborative group practice
  • Individual use of mapping.

Steps for Concept Mapping

  • Choose a tier two word or concept from the topic being studied or introduced in text.
  • Write the word in the center of the map.
  • Under the “Examples” category, brainstorm words that relate to or describe the new word. This will likely include synonyms.
  • Under the “What is this?” category, have students categorize the word. This might be similar to the examples, but as students mature it might include part of speech, application, or typical use or genre.
  • Under the “What is it like?” category, students fine tune by offering descriptions that focus on particular characteristics of the word.
  • Under the “Non-examples” category, students further clarify by detailing what the word does not include or describe.

Do what works

Frayer Model
Concept Definition Map
Semantic Mapping


  • Iowa Department of Education. (2007). Every Child Reads: Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
  • Rosenbaum, Catherine. (2001). “A Word Map for Middle School: A Tool for Effective Vocabulary Instruction.” Journal for Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 45:1. 44-49.