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The keyword strategy is based on linking new information to keywords that are already encoded to memory. A teacher might teach a new vocabulary word by first identifying a keyword that sounds similar to the word being taught and easily represented by a picture or drawing. Then the teacher generates a picture that connects the word to be learned with its definition. According to Scruggs & Mastropieri (n.d.), the keyword strategy works best when the information to be learned is new to students.
To teach students the definition of the new word, the teacher will ask the students to remember the keyword, envision the picture and how it relates to the definition, and finally recall the definition. If a teacher is trying to teach her students the definition of the old English word carline, she will first identify a good keyword. In this instance, "car" is appropriate because it is easy to represent visually and it sounds like the first part of the vocabulary word. Carline means "witch" so the teacher shows the students a picture of a car with a witch sitting in it. When asked to recall the definition of carline, students engage in a four-step process:
- Think back to the keyword (car)
- Think of the picture (a car)
- Remember what else was happening in the picture (a witch was in the car)
- Produce the definition (witch) ( Scruggs & Mastropieri, n.d., p. 2)