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Word maps

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Last updated 22 November 2012 15:33 by NZTecAdmin
Word maps (PDF, 36 KB)

The purpose of the activity

The learners brainstorm words that relate to a single focus word in order to extend vocabulary relevant to the writing task.

By using a word map, you can find out about the vocabulary the learners already have and link that vocabulary to the writing task. The word map shows the learners links between words (for example, how several words can be formed from one root or one headword). A word map can also clarify the relevant subject-specific meaning of a word that has more than one meaning.

The teaching points

  • The learners make connections between words.
  • The learners become aware that some familiar words may have different meanings in specific contexts.
  • The learners can use new words independently.
  • The learners can use words from different word classes, for example, adjectives and adverbs as well as nouns.
  • Critically analyse the relationships between words, for example, in discussing the completed word map, are the learners debating whether the meaning of one word is closer than another to the meaning of the focus word? Would everyone agree with the connections?


  • A writing task.
  • A whiteboard.
  • Markers.

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Identify a key focus word for the task.
2. Decide what the various branches of the word map will be. These could be: the focus word itself used with different meanings, other words that have similar meanings, words from the same word family as the focus word, words that relate to the idea or theme presented by the focus word.
3. Write that word in a central circle on the board and draw the branches of the map on the board.
4. Identify headings for each branch with the learners before starting the brainstorm.
5. Ask the learners to brainstorm words that relate to the focus word. Record each word on the appropriate branch of the map (see example below). (The brainstorm can be a think-pair-share exercise before a word is contributed to the group discussion.)
6. Discuss the words on each branch. Discuss new words, familiar words used in new ways, and relationships between words.

Follow-up activity

After completing this activity with a group, word maps can be used for various purposes with groups and individuals. For example, you could provide a blank word map chart with labelled branches the learners could fill in. The learners could select several words they wish to use and write sentences that contain those words.

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