No Series: Vocabulary Paint Chips


Common core State Standards

  • ELA:  English Language Arts
  • L:  Language Standards 6-12
  • 11-12:  11th & 12th Grades
  • 4b: 
    Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and
    phrases based on grades 11-12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a
    range of strategies.

    a. Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a
    wordâ\x80\x99s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word
    or phrase.

    b. Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different
    meanings or parts of speech (e.g., conceive, conception, conceivable).

    c. Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries,
    glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation
    of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning, its part of speech, its
    etymology, or its standard usage.

    d. Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase
    (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)

Vocabulary Paint Chips

Lesson Objective: Build vocabulary by examining related words
Grades 9-12 / ELA / Synonyms


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. What scaffolds does Ms. Wessling put into place to get her students using new vocabulary?
  2. Which words are best suited for paint chips?
  3. How could you use paint chips in your classroom?


  • Private message to Heather S

LOVE LOVE LOVE This idea! I like that this exercise would work well with a creative writing course as well. Paint chips are a great (cheap - free) material that is fun for students to use and I really like the word variations changing as the color becomes more saturated. Also, the chips are recyclable, so if they are no longer needed, you can either package them up and pass them on as ready-made unit to another teacher or recycle them.

*Quick tip* - If you are worried about being "that guy" at the Home Depot taking all the paint chips (they usually don't care unless you are taking the whole display at one time) *LOL*. Ask the store if they have any discontinued paint color chips and make sure they know you are collecting them for a school, if they have them they are usually good about sharing. Paint stores are another good place for discontinued chips.

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  • Private message to Shery Z

So useful. Thank you so much! They properly work when we are trying to study for some special exams for instans. Academic writing really drive me crazy!!!! I really need such tips to improve myself in writnig. In my opinion one of the most important way to achieve good grades in writing is learning words and absolutely have good knowledge about when we need to use them or how we should use them indeed.I personally need text, sentences or even movies which include meaning of that special almost hard word and need to undrestand when/how I can use it.
Recently I have found an application which is really helpful. I can say it' an "all in one application".It contains lots of movies, text, synonyms and etc."WordUp" is an amazing app that you can enjoy your studying with. For those who want to see "Wordup" have a look at .

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  • Private message to Amy Shipley

I can see how this is useful for highlighting word forms and famlies, but I'm not seeing the connection to the color. If these words words had an emotional connection to the color (like those in an emotional color wheel), I'd see how using colored paint chips would be useful. If they don't have a strong connection to the color, then I would be a bit confused as a student. Maybe, however, we are missing something in this video since it only seemed to highlight the idea.

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  • Private message to Leslie Newman

My understanding is the shade/saturation variations within each paint chip color can visually demonstrate the variations of a word (and that words have variations).  

Recommended (1)
  • Private message to Raven Groom
There is no one that I know who does not love bragging rights. This is such a fun but meaningful activity. It would help visual learners a lot.
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  • Private message to Regina Mcdaniel
A great way to teach shades of meaning!
Recommended (2)


  • [00:00]
    Interviewer: There are lots of ways that teachers can approach teaching vocabulary. In every unit I will give them

    Interviewer: There are lots of ways that teachers can approach teaching vocabulary. In every unit I will give them conceptual vocabulary words.

    All right, so I’m gonna send these around, take one that you want.

    I’ve discovered that in order for students to really engage in the literacy around a concept, in order to write about it, talk about it, read about it, they have to have language about it.

    This particular strategy is taking paint chips, and taking the vocabulary word, and putting it on one shade of the paint color, and then putting different versions of the word, and then finally synonyms of the word on that paint chip. Every time they use that word or any of the words on that paint chip during class, they have a little sticker and they get to post it on the wall on their way out.

    I want to read them, and I want you to say them back to me because I am afraid that if you get a word that you don’t know how to pronounce, that you’re gonna be a little self conscious. And even though you think you might want to use the word, you might not raise your hand and do it. All right, so here we go, juxtaposition.

    Interviewee: Juxtaposition.

    Interviewer: Dichotomy.

    Interviewee: Dichotomy.

    Interviewer: Two of my classes this semester are having a little competition with each other to see who can fill up their white poster the fastest. Bragging rights, they win bragging rights. I think the correct teacher response of course would be that they win a more robust vocabulary.

    [End of Audio]

School Details

Johnston Senior High School
6500 Northwest 100th Street
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1668

Data Provided By:



Sarah Brown Wessling
English Language Arts / 10 11 12 / Teacher


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