Lesson Idea: Key Terms Traffic Lights

Travis DixonUncategorized

IB Psychology is filled with new vocabulary, so the sooner students develop strategies to comprehend and keep up with new terms the more successful they'll be.

One of the biggest challenges for many IB Psychology students is the massive amount of new vocabulary. At ThemED we’ve tried to help with this by having a full, 10 page-400+ key term glossary in our student guide textbook. But this alone won’t be enough, so one basic idea I like is to use what I call a “key terms traffic lights.” You might also know this basic activity as a “word splash.”

How it works

Provide students with the list of the most essential key terms for the unit. There are three columns (you can see a snapshot below) to be used for pre- and post-assessment. Students use highlighters or coloured pencils to colour in the boxes depending on their level of understanding.

  • Green: they know it and could teach the term to someone else
  • Yellow: they’re familiar with the word, but there is some uncertainty or doubt
  • Red: they have no idea what it means 

I like to do this in the workbooks that I make for students and I include on the reverse page the terms and their definitions, plus another column for students to put examples (see below for preview).

The colour-coding and basic layout of the document, plus having it in a workbook, means it’s really easy for me to assess student learning of key terminology after the unit. But like all self-assessment data, a bit of triangulation never hurts 🙂

Additional Activity

After students first complete their self-assessment by colouring, I like to give them a few minutes to roam about the room and find someone who has coloured a word green that for them is yellow or red. This way students have an opportunity to discuss the terms and learn from one-another. This simple exercise ticks a lot boxes in my teaching-activity checklist, because it has:

  • Minimal planning time
  • High level of student engagement and interaction
  • Students physically moving
  • A strong effect on causing learning

After a few minutes of peer-sharing there can be a Q&A session on any of the terms.

A similar activity can be completed in the last lesson of the unit during a test review lesson. In this lesson, I like to reverse the order and have students roam about the classroom first and discuss the key terms with each other before completing the post-unit colouring. We also have a brief Q&A as vocab is part of my post-unit test for the introductory unit.

As the glossary in IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide contains over 400 key terms and definitions, it’s important to choose the most essential to include in this activity for each unit, or else students could become overwhelmed.

Download Travis’ key terms traffic lights here.

Key Terms Traffic Lights

Self-assessment is a good way for students to keep track of their own learning. I’m all about fast, easy and stress-free assessment.

Sample completed key term traffic light

This is a sample of a student’s completed key terms traffic lights. (I like to keep a stash of red, yellow and green pencils in my classroom for just such an activity).



Along with the pre-assessment, I like to provide students with the glossary of key terms and space for them to write examples. Being able to identify examples is important as it helps students to have concrete examples in order to understand these abstract definitions.

Key Terms Glossary Example

These terms are included in the textbook’s glossary, as well as defined in the textbook, but I also like to provide them in their own list per unit so students can access and study them more readily.

Effective assessment is essential for good teaching, because if we don’t assess it how do we know we’ve taught it? But it doesn’t have to be time consuming or involve copious amounts of marking. I’m all about keep stress levels down – mine and the students, so I’m always on the lookout for fast, easy and effective assessment activities. For me, this is one of the best for vocabulary.

Have you got a good activity for teaching vocab? Or can you see how this idea could be improved? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.