strategies banner



Students use metacognition to decide which vocabulary words they know and on which they need clarification or review.


  • 4-8 vocabulary words
  • Index cards (or notebook paper)


  1. Present 4-8 vocabulary words.
  2. Students prepare their index cards:
    • On the front of each card, students write 1 of the words.
    • On the back of each card, students write a description and sketch a visual/example to show they know the word. Allow students to use notes/journals as needed.
  3. Students stick the cards face up on their desks that are sticking in their minds (words they know).
  4. Students take the cards they do not know well enough to describe, sketch, or coach and stack those cards in their hands.
    • Students who have no stack cards (they know all of the words) select 1 stick card they consider most complex and change it into a stack card.
    • Students who have no stick cards partner with a peer to turn at least 1 stack card into a stick card.
  5. At the teacher’s signal, group 1 (half the students) rise and go “shopping” to find students who have a stick card that matches their stack card.
  6. Students who know the word help others study the confusing word by explaining it and revealing their descriptions and sketches/examples.
  7. Repeat steps 5-6 with the other half of the class.
  8. At the end of the activity, students sign their name on any word card they are still confused about and stack the cards on the teacher’s desk.
  9. Conduct a whole-class loopback on words the majority of students are still confused about, and use the other cards to inform small group intervention.


OPTION: Allow students to Stick-Stack-Study in partner pairs instead of individually.

Classroom Management

  • Conduct a think-aloud, modeling how to divide words into stick and stack categories.
  • Select a few students to role-play the Stick-Stack-Study movement and dialog for others to observe.
  • Instruct students not to gather around 1 desk but to spread out their “shopping” among all the students who are potential study partners.
  • Students who know all the words and have no cards to stack should select the 1 word they think is most confusing and find a study partner to help with that word.


  • Promote access by allowing students to partner with a supportive peer or adult to determine which words are stick cards and which are stack cards.
  • Promote access by allowing students to use vocabulary journals or visual memory aids during the activity.
  • If students do not have any words that are “sticking,” ask them to select only 2-3 words they would like to learn better from the whole stack.
  • Allow students to stick and stack, shop, and coach others in the study phase as partner pairs.
  • Promote competence and confidence by allowing students needing more support to be in group 1 to “shop” first.

Think It Up!

  • Have students think more deeply about the concept by responding to a Think It Up prompt as an exit ticket or journal entry:
    • How would you sequence/rank the vocabulary word cards in order of importance?
    • How could you classify/categorize the words?
  • Encourage students to use lead4ward’s Thinking Stems (English/Spanish) to frame their responses, if needed.