Exam and Essay Verbs you need to know and use in High School

A library of language exercises to help you understand and use key academic verbs to answer test, exam, and essay questions correctly.

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Research evidence tells us that we should:

  • teach young high-schoolers some specific words explicitly; and
  • choose words that are:
  1. cross-curriculum words: words used in high school across multiple subjects. (Cross-curriculum words are also known as “academic words” or “tier 2 words”. You can read more about these words, find out why they are so useful, and access longer words lists and other free resources here); and
  2. highly functional: words that can used in all sorts of places, with all sorts of people in the “real world”; and
  3. verbs: these are harder to learn than nouns, especially for children with language, learning or reading difficulties (e.g. Nash & Snowling, 2006).

To date, vocabulary interventions show that you can teach kids new words. But choosing the right words is really important because:

  • it takes lots of work for a child to learn a new word, especially if the child has language, learning or reading difficulties; and
  • learning a word doesn’t seem to automatically help a child learn other words (e.g. Snow et al., 2009).

When teaching high schoolers new words, the evidence tells us we should go for depth of word knowledge, rather than going for lots words. Research also tells us that we should teach high school students new words:

  • intensively: at least an hour a week, with home exercises between sessions;
  • one word at a time;
  • by defining the word explicitly;
  • using lots of repetition, in lots of different contexts;
  • ideally, in small groups (3-5 children) so they can work together and discuss the words based on their real world experiences;
  • by giving them lots of opportunities to use the word in different ways;
  • focus on different aspects of the word including the:
  • meaning of the word;
  • speech sounds and syllables that make up the word;
  • grammatical role of the word;
  • morphology of the word, including the word origin;
  • spelling of the word;
  • using activities the students like to increase motivation and engagement (e.g. by consulting “experts” on YouTube or Reddit);
  • using gestures (there is some evidence that miming an action while saying the word can help younger children to learn verbs e.g. Riches et al., 2005); and
  • giving students personal challenges to use and act out the word at home or out and about.

In this library, we have addressed each of these elements to focus on eight key words:

  • Evaluate
  • Describe
  • Discuss
  • Explain
  • Identify
  • Assess
  • Outline
  • Analyse

These words are often found in high school essay and exam questions, and right across the curriculum.

For each of the 8 words, what’s in this course?

For each verb, we have prepared a fully scripted slide-pack composed of 10 activities, all focused on the target word. Consistent with the research, in these exercises, we:

  • read a short passage so students can see and hear the word in action;
  • define the word so students know what it means;
  • look closely at the word and its variants, as well as the word origin so students understand the word better;
  • listen to recorded sentences containing the word in everyday situations so students can hear how it is used;
  • teach practical strategies to answer questions containing the word with real world examples;
  • help the students answer questions using the relevant verb based on their general knowledge of the world; and
  • look and talk about some real examples of how the the word has been used in different subjects in recent senior exam questions.

Watch the video above to learn more.

The slides can be used one-to-one with a student, with small groups, or in whole class teaching. They are suitable for children aged 12-18, and older children with language, reading or other learning disorders. They are also suitable for high school children who are learning English as an additional language.


Your Instructor


David Kinnane
David Kinnane

Known to many as Speech Bloke, David is a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist, Lawyer, Author and Father. He is based in Sydney, Australia, where he helps adults and children with communication issues to speak for themselves.

David manages a busy private speech pathology clinic, and a publishing company for speech pathologists in private practice. He is the founder of Banter Speech & Language, and Speechies in Business. He is passionate about ethical practices and consumer rights and regularly guest lectures to speech pathology students and others on legal issues affecting the profession.

David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean's Scholar, ranking first in his graduating year. He is admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the High Court of Hong Kong, and lived for 8 years in Hong Kong. David is a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification. He is a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the PreLit early literacy preparation program by MultiLit, the Spalding Method for literacy, and Voicecraft for voice issues.

Prior to becoming a speech pathologist, David was a senior lawyer at a US Investment Bank and, before then, worked for global law firms in Hong Kong and Sydney. He knows what it takes to communicate professionally and to compete in a globalised workforce.


Course Curriculum


  Introduction
Available in days
days after you enrol
  Evaluate
Available in days
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  Describe
Available in days
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  Discuss
Available in days
days after you enrol
  Explain
Available in days
days after you enrol
  Identify
Available in days
days after you enrol
  Assess
Available in days
days after you enrol
  Outline
Available in days
days after you enrol
  Analyse
Available in days
days after you enrol

Frequently Asked Questions


When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.

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