Student-generated vocabulary

In 2015, I shared my AP student-generated vocabulary list and rubric and received a lot of positive feed-back and follow-up questions on them. I promised I would write a more detailed blog post to explain how it works. I just never said when…

The idea is simple: throughout each AP unit, relevant vocabulary emerges through our reading, viewing, and listening of resources or through conversations/debates we have about the topic. Students are to collect this emerging vocabulary and create a detailed list that is usable for the AP exam. 

What are my expectations for the vocabulary list?

It is not really a “list”, it is a tool to help students access relevant vocabulary. I use a rubric to share my expectations and grade my students’ work. I also allow students to improve their work and resubmit it to me as many times as needed.

o Most of the vocabulary and the example sentences are relevant to the theme.
o Efficient organization, which allows the student to quickly access and recall the information.
o A wide variety of words and expressions which reflect the sources studied throughout the unit.
o Comprehensible with few errors.

I share the rubric and my expectations at the beginning of the unit. Students have the whole unit to get organized and submit their vocab tool to me.

What does the student generated vocabulary list look like?

Here is an example (It goes with this unit). I like how this student organized this list in sub themes. Some students will organize their list using grammatical terms (verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.). I am less of a fan of this kind of organization. I believe the brain makes better connections when the vocabulary is in context. Also, I return lists that look like a laundry list, even an alphabetical laundry list. 

  • Conte (tale/story) : « La Belle et La Bête » est un conte où un refuge dans la forêt devient finalement un endroit dangereux, et « Hansel et Gretel » est un autre exemple. 


Why not just giving them vocabulary quizzes?

I don’t give vocab quizzes. Ever. Students just cram vocab in their short term memory and hit reset after the quiz. Waste. Of. Time. (You get how I feel about vocab quizzes) I prefer to expose them to a lot of comprehensible and compelling input and let vocabulary sink in. But in AP the themes are so dense that I have found it useful for students to create their own little tool. They have to go through and reflect on everything we have done in class (i.e get one more round of input), and make decisions as to which vocabulary will be useful for them to communicate on these themes.

I also allow my students to use their vocabulary tool during any presentational task, so they have an incentive to make it really efficient. And finally, they are nice little memory jugglers right before the actual exam.


I hope this helps. Please don’t hesitate to ask any additional questions! 



  1. Super, Cécile! Simple mais efficace. Justement je me demandais comment j’allais faire pour les inciter à apprendre un peu plus de vocab sur le thème de la science et la technologie. Je n’ai pas fait de liste. Je n’avais pas encore vu ta rubrique, et alors ça rend cette exercice faisable.

  2. Merci, Cecile! c’est super et une très bonne méthode pour les élèves de se rappeler et utiliser le vocabulaire. Moi aussi je trouve les interros de vocabulaire inutile.

  3. J’avais une question : les élèves, combien de mots environ doivent- ils chercher et définir par thème ?
    Ça sera sûrement une question qui se présentera !

    • Oui, a chaque fois les élèves demandent. Je n’aime pas leur donner un chiffre. Je leur dit simplement de faire de leur mieux pour que leur liste représente bien toute l’unité. Si l’unité est petite, il y aura moins de mots… L’exemple que j’ai partagé a reçu un A+ et elle avait une quinzaine de mots. J’espere que ça te donne une idée.

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