The Four-Square Strategy
When you come across a word you don’t know, your first stop is always to look it up in a print or online dictionary. Carefully read the word’s definition and make sure you understand it. Then grab your vocabulary notebook. Yes, you should have a vocabulary notebook to organize and review all your new words. Just a regular old spiral notebook will work fine, and all your words will stay together and accessible. Open to a fresh page, and get ready to learn the Four-Square Strategy.
First, draw a large square at the top of the page. Then divide it into four equal smaller squares by drawing a line up and down in the center of the square and another line in the center left to right. Finally, draw a circle right in the middle of the square.
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In that circle, write your new vocabulary word. Now in the top left square, jot down the word’s definition. Don’t just copy from the dictionary. Instead, write a new definition in your own words. You’ll remember it better if you have to get a little creative.
In the top right square, use the word in a sentence. This is a very important step in making the word your own. Words are made to be used, not just defined, so knowing how to actually use the word is crucial.
In the bottom left square, jot down one or two words that mean just about the same thing as your word. These are called synonyms. Then write one or two words that mean the opposite of your word. These are antonyms.
Finally, in the bottom right square, draw a picture, print one from the Internet, or cut one out of a magazine to illustrate the word. Sometimes a visual element will stick in your head better than anything else.
Follow this process for every new word you meet in your reading. Yes, it will take time and work, but you’ll be surprised by how easily you’ll remember your Four-Square Strategy words. You’ll have made them your own by interacting with them in such a thorough way.
Now let’s practice using the Four-Square Strategy. Let’s say you’re reading a history text, and you come across the word ”chronology.” Yikes! What does that mean? So you look it up and find the following definitions: ”the order in which a series of events happened” and ”a record of the order in which a series of events happened,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Now you’re ready to use the Four-Square Strategy to solidify the word ”chronology” in your brain. First, write the word in the circle in the middle of your four-square chart. Now write a definition in the top left. Remember not to just copy a definition, but instead, write one in your own words, maybe something like ”the order in which things happen.”
Then, in the top right square, use the word in a sentence. You could write something like ”My teacher told me to learn the chronology, or order of events, for the Civil War.” In the bottom left corner, write a synonym like ”timeline” and an antonym like ”single moment.” Finally, in the bottom right square, draw a picture of a little timeline and label it with a few events in American history.
Let’s try one more. This time you’re reading a book about African animals, and you come across the word ”gazelle.” Hmmm. . . What is that? You look it up and read the following definition: ”any small antelope of the genus Gazella and allied genera, of Africa and Asia, noted for graceful movements and lustrous eyes,” which is how it’s defined on ‘Dictionary.com. You also see a picture of this animal. It looks like a big-eyed deer.
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Now you’re ready to fill out your chart. In the middle circle, write the word ”gazelle.” In the top left square, write your own definition, perhaps ”a graceful, big-eyed deer found in African and Asia.” In the top right square, use the word in a sentence like ”The gazelle ran swiftly through the grass, trying very hard to get away from the lion before it became the lion’s supper.”
In the bottom left square, write a synonym like ”deer,” and try to think of an antonym. That one might be a little harder, but you could write something like ”lion,” to emphasize that a gazelle is not a large predator but rather more often the prey. Finally, in the bottom right square, draw a picture of a gazelle or print the one you found online and glue it into position.
See how that works? You aren’t too likely to forget the words ”chronology” or ”gazelle” ever again.
All right, now that we’ve wrapped up, let’s review. As we learned, the Four-Square Strategy is a visual technique that helps readers learn and remember vocabulary words. To practice the Four-Square Strategy, draw a large square on a fresh page of your vocabulary notebook and divide the square into four smaller squares. Then draw a circle right in the middle.
In the circle, write the vocabulary word. In the top left square, write its definition in your own words. In the top right square, use the word in a sentence. In the bottom left square, write a synonym or two (which are words with similar meanings) and an antonym or two (which are words with opposite meanings). In the bottom right square, draw or paste in a picture to illustrate the word.
If you practice this Four-Square Strategy for every new word you meet, pretty soon those words will be your own, and you’re probably not going to feel as intimidated when you encounter a word you don’t know.
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