50 Things You Can Do To Embed Vocabulary Into Training


There are lots of ways to teach and learn new and unfamiliar words. Here’s a list of 50. None of these are new or any kind of rocket science.

All 50 are ways of explicitly teaching vocabulary.

It’s also possible to learn vocabulary through exposure to new vocabulary incidentally. But that’s another thing altogether.

For every item below, you can probably think of several variations. Feel free to post them here as well for others to see.

Also, for every item on the list you could apply it in the following ways:

  • It’s something you do as the teacher, trainer, or facilitator so it becomes part of a sequence of activities that you deliver in a training environment.
  • It’s something you make your learners do with you (or even independently of you) in a training context.
  • Something you do as you design content for yourself or others to use when they deliver training.

Here’s the list:

  1. Brainstorm a bank of technical or relevant high-frequency words for a given category.
  2. Adapt or select from an existing word bank or list of high-frequency words.
  3. Categorise and prioritise words using the Learning Progressions.
  4. Categorise and prioritise words using high-frequency word lists.
  5. Categorise words using semantic groups or categories.
  6. Create contextualised mini-assessments for pre and post testing.
  7. Brainstorm, mind map, and discuss to activate prior knowledge.
  8. Make flash cards.
  9. Make word + plain-English explanation matching activities.
  10. Make word +plain English explanation + example matching activities.
  11. Focus on spelling words people don’t know by using “look, cover, write.”
  12. Focus on decoding words people can’t read aloud by identifying syllables and intonation or word stress.
  13. Complete the word using only first few letters as a prompt.
  14. Complete the sentence using a cloze (gap fill), or partial cloze activity.
  15. Complete the sentence giving two possible correct but different answers.
  16. Write own example sentences using unfamiliar words.
  17. Write own definitions for new or unfamiliar words.
  18. Collaborate with others to write a paragraph using new words.
  19. Complete the definitions.
  20. Pull apart words and look at the meanings of the parts (etymology).
  21. Match synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
  22. Match antonyms (words that have the opposite meaning).
  23. Choose all the possible answers from a list or multiple choice.
  24. Match a word with a context or scenario.
  25. Give an incorrect sentence and ask others to correct the mistake.
  26. Label a picture or diagram.
  27. Cross out a word that doesn’t belong with others in a group.
  28. Create a diagram or a framework for a group of words, concepts or process.
  29. Sort words on a scale or cline.
  30. Identify pairs of words that are similar but different and explain.
  31. Identify which words are slang or not from a group of words.
  32. Discuss connotations for similar words.
  33. Learn strategies for using a dictionary.
  34. Guess an unfamiliar word meaning from context.
  35. Find the words in a text that match a set of given definitions.
  36. Look at different meanings for familiar words.
  37. Identify cause and effect in a text.
  38. Identify opposites or contrasts in a text.
  39. Identify word type (noun, verb, adjective).
  40. Identify synonyms or paraphrases.
  41. Identify examples.
  42. Ask people to “Look for words that mean X”.
  43. Act out the word and make others guess the meaning.
  44. Describe the word without using the word (or a given set of words) and make others guess the meaning.
  45. Draw a picture that represents the word and make others guess.
  46. Make a crossword.
  47. Make a word find.
  48. Adapt a well-known card game.
  49. Adapt a well-known board game.
  50. Dictate a passage to others and make them reconstruct it collaboratively.

Also, for anything on this list you’re going to want to encourage lots of discussion and talking about the process.

You Need To Read This: Badass – Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

I’m about half way through a very cool book at the moment. It’s by Kathy Sierra who is now one of my internet heroes.

You can watch the book trailer above. But you should really go to Amazon and order it. Or download it.

It’s about User Interface Design. Or UX. This is a kind of side interest of mine. UX is what instructional design should’ve been.

Think of it as rules-for-how-to-design-cool-stuff-by-people-who-actually-make-money-designing-cool-stuff. Generally, not academics or educationalists.

Actual designers. Coders. And so on.

There’s a link on her blog. Check it out if you want to know how to design cool stuff.

How Should I Decide…?

More like Art or Work

Here’s something else that I’ve been thinking about recently: What criteria should I use to make decisions?

It’s easy to say yes to things. But it’s much harder to say no.

Recently, I’ve compiled and collected several decision-making heuristics. A heuristic is like a mental shortcut. A tool for helping to make quick decisions.

They don’t always serve your best interests, but I like them.

The first one is up above and comes via Seth Godin from one of his TED talks. If it feels more like Art, then, of course, I’m going to want to say yes. And do more of it.

Here’s another:

Joy or Annoy

This one comes via Sarah Knight who wrote a delightfully naughty book with the following title:

  • The life-changing magic of NOT GIVING A F*CK

And then there’s this one:

Hell Yeah

That comes courtesy of Derek Sivers. You can read his whole article here. He’s great to listen to as well.

And then last of all:


This one is inspired by Nassim Taleb. I posted a great quote of his on procrastination here the other day.

There’s a common thread here. They’re all just variations on the same thing.

So… the next time I need to make a decision, this is what I’m going to do: Listen to my gut… that’s my gut instinct. And then I’ll apply the rules.

(And… probably just ignore the answer).



How Do You “Undertake Kaitiakitanga” In Education?


Here’s my question of the day…

  • How do you “undertake Kaitiakitanga in an adult literacy and numeracy teaching environment”?

This comes from one of the Graduate Profile Outcomes in the New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education.

But what is Kaitiakitanga? And how do you undertake it?

From the Wikipedia:

Kaitiaki is a New Zealand term used for the Māori concept of guardianship, for the sky, the sea, and the land. A kaitiaki is a guardian, and the process and practices of protecting and looking after the environment are referred to as kaitiakitanga.

The concept and terminology have been increasingly brought into public policy on trusteeship or guardianship—in particular with the environmental and resource controls under the Resource Management Act.

Just a quick sidebar so I’m not misunderstood:

  • I’m Pakeha and I’m not an expert in these matters – I’m very much a learner.
  • I’m not trying to coopt or colonise this terminology.
  • I do understand that there are issues around how this concept has been interpreted (or misinterpreted) in relation to the Resource Management Act.
  • I am trying to understand what this terminology means in the context of NZQA qualification documents.
  • My text editor in WordPress doesn’t seem to allow me to insert macrons over letters, e.g. like over the letter “a” in Maori.
  • Any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine alone.
  • I am interested in your feedback and comments.

Below is what I understand at the moment with regards to Kaitiakitanga as a general concept. Further down, I’ll shift gears and bring this into an education context.

So let’s start with the more general use of the word and in relation to the environment:

  • Kaitiakitanga is most often used in relation to Maori ways of understanding the care and conservation of the land and other natural resources.
  • It has its source in Maori customary practice.
  • It is underpinned by an abstract and philosophical basis but in itself, it’s not abstract and should have visible and tangible effects.
  • In a contemporary context, it is flexible and fluid and open to modern interpretation including with areas such as social work and education, for example.
  • It is both a tool and a process.
  • It should be underpinned by advice, training, and experience.
  • It involves a set of obligations and responsibilities. This includes a responsibility to those who have come before you as well as those who will come after.
  • Its undertaking must result in a positive outcome.

The measurable effects of undertaking Kaitiakitanga in an environmental sense could include:

  • Restoration and enhancement of natural and other resources
  • Sustainability
  • Respect and awareness of issues of working with Maori
  • Recognising principles of the Treaty of Waitangi
  • Recognising the importance of culture and customs

And as applied to relationships:

  • It brings responsibility
  • It seeks to bring balance to the bond between people and place
  • It should be mana-enhancing. This means that it should not compromise others’ identities, self-worth, or trigger insecurities.

Now to shift to education: The older definition used by the NZQA in the current unit standards in various places states that (US21192 Ver 3, p.2):

Kaitiakitanga refers to the practical doing; and rules and tikanga of adult literacy and numeracy education.

This indicates that Kaitiakitanga has a definite practical aspect in education as well. E.g. there are things that you have to do, and ways that you have to do them.

According to the recently published Graduate Profile Outcome (GPO) 6 in the NZQA documentation for the New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy (p.4):

Kaitiakitanga refers to concepts of leadership, mentoring, coaching, care, guidance, nurturing, sharing, responsibilities, external consultation.

This is a much broader definition and indicates that we should not separate our understanding and undertaking of Kaitiakitanga from our roles as leaders and “caretakers” of knowledge. I think it’s a much better definition.

These concepts of leadership and care seem to be more holistic in nature (at least to me). My reasoning for this is that the concept of leadership and professional support is already referenced elsewhere in GPO 5 in relation to academic support:

Provide leadership and professional support to other practitioners working both within and across programmes (p.4).

Here professional support refers to:

that provided for academic and discipline-related teaching. It includes:

  • improving adult literacy and numeracy practices to inform other practitioners’ development
  • opportunities for exchange with other professionals to assist others


So… taken together, we can see an approach to leadership and guidance that includes both the academic and discipline related; as well as the more holistic and relational aspects where the primary concern is for the well-being of others including one’s fellow teachers as well as learners.


It may be the case, that in the real world there is actually no distinction between these… However, let’s assume that there is. Because we are going to need to measure it if we’re going to design qualifications that include it.

With that in mind, here are three frameworks for undertaking Kaitiakitanga.

For each of these, I’ve framed them in the first person and present tense. But they could just as easily be conceptualised for groups and/or applied retrospectively.

Frameworks for undertaking Kaitiakitanga

The Process

I’ve adapted these four steps from Hei whenua papatipu

  1. Kaupapa: What are my drivers?
  2. Mana Tu: What are my obligations and responsibilities?
  3. Tikanga Tiaki: What actions am I taking?
  4. Mauri Tu: What are the effects?

Applied principles

These are adapted from three applied principles that make up the Kaitiakitanga Draft Concept available on the Social Workers Registration Board website here.

The three applied principles and related elements are:

  1. Te Rangatiratanga: Are my actions…?
    • Mana enhancing
    • Self-determining
    • Respectful in relationships
    • Mindful of cultural uniqueness
    • Acknowledging of cultural identity
  2. Te Whanaungatanga: Am I…?
    • Connecting
    • Strengthening relationships
    • Contributing
    • Encouraging
    • Communicating
  3. Te Manaakitanga: Are my actions…?
    • Acknowledging boundaries
    • Mana enhancing
    • Ensuring safe space
    • Being respectful
    • Meeting obligations

Six Elements of Kaitiakitanga

This comes from social work as well. You can view the original powerpoint presentation here. While the six elements come from social work, the questions are my own.

  1. Te Tiaki – to care
    • What do I care about? Why?
    • How do I show this?
  2. Te Pupuri – to hold (holder of knowledge)
    • What knowledge do I hold that comes from outside of me? E.g. from my industry or sector?
    • What knowledge do I hold that comes from my life and experiences?
  3. Te Tuku – to transmit
    • What skills and values can I pass on to others?
    • What’s the best way to pass these on?
  4. Te Arataki –to guide
    • What kind of guidance can I provide to those around me?
    • What’s the best way to provide this guidance?
  5. Te Tautoko – to support
    • What kind of support do my colleagues and learners need?
    • How can I best support them?
  6. Te Tohutohu – to instruct or correct
    • What kind of expertise do I have?
    • How can I best teach what I know to others?

Any thoughts…? Corrections…? Please let me know if this is something you could work with.

How Should We Evaluate Our Training?

Kathy Sierra Post UX UX

I’m changing how I think about course evaluation… And how everything should be evaluated.

Here’s a new set of questions. Try them out for yourself after the next training session you deliver. Or attend.

Or after any new experience:

  • What did that experience enable?
  • What can I now do?
  • What can I now show others?
  • What will I say to others?
  • How am I now more powerful?

Or if you’re someone involved in designing something new… Or re-designing something. And your results are tied to the results of your users, then what matters is what happens when their experience with your training course (or product or service) is done.

Here are the same questions in their original form.

  • What did that experience enable?
  • What can they now do?
  • What can they now show others?
  • What will they say to others?
  • How are they now more powerful?

These questions come courtesy of Kathy Sierra and her excellent book: Badass: Making Users Awesome (p.56). There’s a link to the book here on Kathy’s blog.

Kathy calls this the post-user experience user experience. Buy the book. It’s awesome.

Is Anyone Still Interested In The NZ Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy?

Develop Superpowers

It’s been awhile, but I’m still thinking about the New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NZ Dip ALNE).

This newly revised diploma is now on the NZQA framework. It’s a 120 credit level 6 qualification.

The new one is a million times better than the old one. I think I started trying to write the old one about 6 times and failed each time.

What I’d like to find out is… is anyone else still interested?

It’s a lot of work to work to write the documentation that a provider needs to get this accredited. And then there’s a lot more work to do to create the actual course content.

I have a bunch of (mostly untested) assumptions about the NZ Dip ALNE that I’d like some feedback on.

So feel free to comment here or let us know by email (assess@alec.ac.nz):

Here are some of my assumptions… in no particular order:

  1. NCALNE (Voc) and NCALNE (Educator) graduates would be interested in extending themselves through the NZ Dip ALNE. This would include those who enjoyed the personal challenge of their previous literacy and numeracy professional development and saw positive changes in their own professional practice.
  2. Graduates who are now in leadership or management roles may be interested due to the fact that the level 6 qualification is focused on leadership and informing organisational change and capability.
  3. Managers would support the further professional develop of experienced staff, particularly those who have shown an interest in embedding literacy and numeracy into their teaching.
  4. ESOL teachers and managers involved in TEC funded training could be interested as their project work could reference the needs of ESOL learners and the contexts in which they work and study.
  5. The TEC would support the training as it aligns with their current implementation strategy, priorities, and goals.
  6. Cross-crediting up to 30 credits from previous NCALNE study could provide a strong incentive for joining the course. This includes NCALNE (Voc) graduates working in trades or vocational training.
  7. Candidates would need up to 2 years to complete the qualification. And alternatively, some candidates would be able to work through the requirements faster depending on their circumstances.
  8. A series of three or four big projects based on a teaching and learning inquiry cycle and that each reference all or most of the graduate profile outcomes would be more interesting and engaging for candidates. The alternative would be a series of smaller discrete assessment tasks that step through the graduate profile outcomes, but… [sorry, just fell asleep].
  9. It would need to work (mostly) online and by distance. Although, there could be some great opportunities to bring candidates together at key times to support each other and contribute to sector development through sharing what people are learning through the work.

Some further thoughts on using three or four big projects… If you’ve done our ALEC version of the NCALNE (Voc), what I’m thinking of here is what we called your project work.

Our NCALNE (Voc) project work is a kind of inquiry cycle where you:

  • look at issues and context
  • then assess learner needs
  • design literacy and numeracy skills development
  • do some teaching
  • measure learner gains
  • and then evaluate your effectiveness.

The Diploma is bigger (120 credits instead of 40 for the Voc) and at a higher level (6 instead of 5). This means we need to turn the volume up. But if you could cross-credit up to 30 credits through a portfolio of your NCALNE (Voc) work and some other bits and pieces this would then leave you with 90 credits to complete across three big projects over two academic years.

Each project would take you through the inquiry cycle, but with a different focus each time. And because it’s a higher level course, you’d be required to provide leadership and support to other practitioners. These could be people you work with or your colleagues in other organisations.

The goal:

By the time you’ve put yourself (and your team or collaborators) through their paces three or four times, you’d have developed not just literacy and numeracy, but high-level teaching superpowers.

By this, I mean:

  • You’d know more about teaching and learning and could use the knowledge.
  • Your skills would be in much higher resolution than before.
  • You’d be consistently able to get better results.

Sure, it would be about literacy and numeracy. But actually, it would be about leadership. And getting results. And learning to teach better. And supporting learners to learn better.

The literacy and numeracy content would be the vehicle… the waka… a way to create a growing community of badass educators who can thrive in the turmoil of sustained innovation and organisation change.