Teaching Strategy

Word Web

Word Work
Grade Level


Word webs are mind maps that promote active learning and help students develop higher-order thinking skills. Students map their thinking in a graphic organizer based on a Frayer model.1


Before, during and after reading.


Word webs support student understanding by comparing and contrasting words and providing examples of word usage in context. The strategy helps learners acquire and use academic and domain-specific words (Tier Two and Three) and phrases.



  1. Choose your vocabulary words. From these, select words to model using a word web.
  2. Chart or project words in a visible location.
  3. Read the list of words aloud as a group.
  4. Invite students to read the text and highlight the listed words as they encounter them.
  5. Project the Frayer model or word web template. Model how to complete the graphic organizer for each word. 
    • Place the target word in the middle of the diagram.
    • Return to the text and use context clues to determine the meaning of the word. Use a dictionary if the meaning cannot be determined from the context. 
    • Identify synonyms for or examples of the word.
    • Identify antonyms for or non-examples of the word.
    • Draw a picture that represents the word.
  6. Provide support for students as they practice with one or two words. Then, ask them to complete the graphic organizer on their own for several additional words.

English language learners

A completed word web reveals students’ prior knowledge and how they make connections between words. It is useful to English language learners because it converts complex information into manageable chunks. To modify this strategy, allow students to use their native language or to draw a picture identifying the word in the center of the organizer.

Connection to anti-bias education

Word webs enhance students’ ability to hear, appreciate and understand different perspectives through new vocabulary. By negotiating student-friendly definitions, illustrating characteristics of the word, and discussing examples and non-examples, students personalize their learning, a process essential to anti-bias and social justice education. Consider selecting these kinds of words for use in word webs:

  • Identity-centered or culturally affirming words (e.g., corn rows, tortilla)
  • Difficult or sensitive words (e.g., racism, atheism)
  • Words that describe power dynamics (e.g., gentrification, solidarity)
  • Words and terms that matter but are not in the central text (e.g., stop and frisk)