Function-Based Vocabulary Notebooks

A few years ago, when I was teaching an intermediate writing course in an intensive English program, one of the experiential objectives of the course was to help students build their vocabulary by having them keep a function-based vocabulary notebook. Since the curriculum in that program was brand new, I was one of the first-generation instructors teaching the class, and I, as with the other teachers in the program, was not really sure how to go about that objective.

As it turned out, “function-based vocabulary” simply meant transition words. I thought it was a great idea—to have students keep a separate notebook by adding transition words they learn in classes and from readings. However, I knew that not every student would be able to neatly organize their vocabulary in a notebook, so I decided to prepare those notebooks for them. The preparation was minimal, but the outcome was great.

I designed a booklet in a Word processing document, so students would write function-based words of the same category (e.g., words to emphasize, words to give examples, compare-contrast words, words to add information, words to show sequence) on one page and example sentences with these words on the other page. Both pages had the same layout: a title and lined space for students to write. The number of pages corresponded to the number of the categories of the function-based words plus some extra pages for other categories that students may find on their own.

I printed out the pages and put them together in notebooks (I also designed a simple cover page). Since I did the binding myself, the notebooks didn’t cost me much.

Throughout the semester, my students were keeping their notebooks by adding transition words that they learned in their speaking class and found in their readings, so they could use them in their writing. I also encouraged them to write down their own example sentences and not to copy sentences from the Internet.

At the end of the semester, I received positive feedback from the students about their function-based vocabulary notebooks. They said they were able to pay more attention to those words when doing their readings, which in turn helped them use those words in their own writing.

If you need more information on this notebook or if you would like to receive a template of the notebook that I designed, please let me know and I will be happy to send it to you! What other ways do you see that your writing students could use these kinds of notebooks—or what variations on the notebooks could be beneficial?

UPDATE, 12Feb2014: Download my Function-Based Vocabulary Notebook (.doc) template.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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32 Responses to Function-Based Vocabulary Notebooks

  1. grazia says:

    Hi Elena pleased to meet you.
    I like your idea a lot. Is your template useful also to arrange New words by topic like work, Weather, transport and so on?
    How could I adapt it?
    Another question, collocations, idioms and prhasal verb are enough or I have to add something?

  2. Carmen says:

    Hi Elena,
    I really like your Function-Based Vocabulary Notebook!
    I think you may find useful since using it your students will be able to have totally user-adjustable digital vocabulary notebook in their smartphones, tablets and pcs.
    With Vocabulary Notebook, students can have their words organized by as many categories as they need, for example: function-based words, words to emphasize, words to give examples, compare-contrast words,…
    Students can write for each word a sample sentence, definition, translation and other notes they may need, and also test themselves or listen the right pronunciation.
    Moreover, the platform has features for teachers, which allow them to monitor their students’ progress and send them words suggestions.
    I hope you like this resource!

  3. Neela says:

    HI Elena,

    Thank you for decoding “function-based vocabulary,” and your notebook is a simple and great resource! It is a fun and easy notebook for students to use.

  4. Anna C. says:


    I’d like to receive the template for the Function-Based Vocabulary Notebook.

    Thanks for sharing.


  5. Anna C. says:


    I’d like to receive the template for the Function-Based Vocabulary Notebook.

    Thanks for sharing,


  6. Anna C. says:

    Thanks, Elena. I’d like to receive the template for the Function-Based Vocabulary Notebook. Thanks again.

  7. ammar says:

    i would be grateful to you teacher Elena to receive the notebook that you have prepared
    thank in advance

  8. youcefdaya says:

    I do appreciate what you have standed as fresh ideas .I’ll be so thrilled if you send me the deseigned template .My e-mail is

  9. Rosy says:

    Thank you for sharing us useful knowledge. I hope the more u give the more you receive.

  10. Jordi says:

    I really love this idea and I’d certainly like to implement it with my students! What I like the most is that the notebook is intended for a specific purpose, so students know exactly when/how to use it. Could I possibly get a copy of your designed notebook to see how it is organized? My email is Thank you in advance!

  11. Egle says:

    Thank you for such a great idea! I will definitely use it in my Writing class for HiSet (former GED) students.

  12. Samar says:

    I am a teacher and I’d like to share your idea with my supervisor and my students.
    I would like to have a template.
    Thanks for your great effort

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Dear Elena:

    Thank you so much for sharing with us what you did with your students.
    Please, I´d love a template of your notebook that you designed,
    Thank you so much.
    My email:

  14. Terry Nelson says:

    Great idea, Elena. Could you possibly send me a template of the notebook you designed. Thank you!

  15. Tere says:

    I love this idea! I like that the journal is for a specific purpose, so students know exactly when/how to use it. I could see creating a writing journal for beginners with sentence frames for specific topics. Could I get a copy of your journal to see how it is organized? My email is Thank you!

  16. Liz says:

    This is a great idea! I’d also love a template please.



  17. Carrie Melin says:

    What a great idea to help students build vocabulary for transition words. I would love to see the template. Thank you very much!

  18. Janet Beane says:

    Thank you for sharing a proven idea. I would like to have a copy for my upper elementary and middle school students. Last year we tried grouping them by categories, but it was information overload. This seems as if it might be more manageable for the students.

  19. Dear Elena, Thank you for this insightful article and the generous offer to share the template. I’d love to have one as well. template here?Thanks again. Rosalind Warfield

  20. Andy Howard says:

    This is a very practical and productive idea! A good way to organize lots of different material.
    Please send me a copy of your template.
    Thanks so much.

  21. marcella massa says:

    what a wonderful idea! I too would love a copy of your notebook for my intermediate students.

  22. Karine says:

    This is a great idea! I would like a copy of the template as well

  23. Maureen Lemos says:

    Dear Elena,
    I would appreciate a copy of your template via email. I am currently teaching german employees in various industries. I think this book will further improve their English communication skills.

    Thanks for sharing!

  24. Bianca Bevill says:

    I am always trying to find ways my students can organize their vocabulary. I have a form that incorporates vocabulary and grammar, but this idea sounds perfect for my reading class. Could I also get a copy of your template? Thanks!

  25. Kısmet Funda Akgül Zazaoğlu says:

    Dear Elena,

    Thank you so very much for sharing your great idea.. I tried to convince my students to keep a vocabulary notebook in the past. Some did, some didn’t.. I’ll be teaching academic writing course for the Intermediate Level students next term. I’ll be more than happy if you could send me the template you’ve created.

    I’ll definitely share my ideas with you about the experience I’ll have with my students regarding the new vocabulary notebook.

    Once more, thanks a million..


  26. Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

    Dear Emma,

    I tried to send you the template via email, but my email returned back to me. Do you have another email address that I can send it to?



    Elena is a pleasure to meet very kind persons like you who loves sharing their knowledge without any thing. I’d be very grateful if you may send a template of the notebook to use it with students studying at Normal Schools in the State of Mexico.

    My best regards
    Jesús Hernández

  28. Dianna says:

    A great idea, thanks for sharing Elena. I’d love a copy of your template – it would be an incredibly useful too.

  29. Dorsaf Naoui says:

    Thank you so much, Elena for sharing your experience with this creative learning tool. I definitely would appreciate if I you can send me the template and I might tailor it to the needs of my students.

    Thanks again and great job !

  30. L Harris says:


    Thank you for sharing this information. I would appreciate it if you would share your notebook template with me. Currently, I’m teaching intermediate writing at an intensive English program in Colorado. I think this would be very useful for my students. Our program is looking at current research on vocabulary building, and I would like to see more on this model.

  31. Emma says:

    I have been thinking about making something similar for my ELL students in Grade1…but I haven’t decided how to section out the “My New Words” book. I would love a copy of yours for reference! I really like that the book you made for your students would be something that could travel with them and be apicable a cross all curriculum areas.

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