5 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary (Fun but Effective)

By , Staff Writer
Activities for Teaching Vocabulary
    young student learning vocabulary from dictionary
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Are you looking for some fun and effective ways to help students master new vocabulary words? Vocabulary is such an important part of language arts education that it only makes sense to incorporate a wide variety of teaching strategies. Discover several great teaching vocabulary activities that your students are sure to enjoy.

Dictionary Races for Teaching Vocabulary

Turn vocabulary lessons into a fun speed-focused game by playing a round of Dictionary Races.

  1. Give each student a series of words to look up in the dictionary (paper or online). Either provide printed dictionaries, or assign a specific dictionary website.
  2. Have the students look up each word and write its definition.
  3. The first student to find and write down all of the definitions wins first place.

Consider treating it like a car race, with finishing positions being recorded so that each student is recognized for completing the “race.”


Crowdsourced Story Creation

Give students a list of related vocabulary words, with the goal being for them to individually come up with sentences that can be combined to tell a story.

  1. Provide students with a vocabulary word list appropriate for their grade level.
  2. You can either include the definition with each word, or assign students to look up and write the definitions in their notebooks.
  3. Assign each student to write a sentence with a particular word from the list.
  4. Ask one student to begin the story with a sentence using the first vocabulary word on the list.
  5. Go around the room, having each student build upon the story using a sentence created using the next word on the list.

Have someone read off the full story once the activity has been completed. Consider awarding a certificate of recognition to the class as a whole for their literary prowess in working together to crowdsource a story.


Backwards Building Blocks

If your students have already studied prefixes, suffixes and root words, try a fun activity that involves breaking down vocabulary into their most basic building blocks.

  1. Assign students to work in pairs to identify prefixes, suffixes and root words contained in a list of vocabulary words.
  2. Let them know that the activity will be timed, and that their goal is to find as many prefixes, suffixes and root words as they can within that time frame.
  3. Turn this into a contest by awarding a prize to the pair of students that correctly identifies the most prefixes, suffixes and root words from the list within a given period of time.

To further extend this lesson, consider following up with an activity that requires students to come up with additional words that use the prefixes, suffixes and root words they identified.


Printable Crossword Puzzles

Crosswords puzzles are a fun way to help students master new vocabulary words. These crosswords for kids can be fun for elementary grades. For middle schoolers, using common SAT words in a crossword is a good option. You can even create your own crossword puzzles.

  1. Allocate a set amount of time for the in-class crossword puzzle activity.
  2. Provide each student with a printable crossword puzzle based on the current vocabulary lesson.
  3. Award first place to the first person who completes the crossword puzzle correctly.
  4. Recognize everyone who completes the puzzle within the allocated time.
  5. Allow anyone who isn’t able to complete in class to finish for homework and recognize those who do so as well.

Remember: The ultimate goal is for students to master the words, so while speed can make the activity fun and competitive, completing it is what really matters.


Decoding Vocabulary in Context

Rather than giving middle school students words and definitions, try to encourage them to apply their critical thinking skills to determining what a word might mean based on the context in which it is used.

  1. Come up with about 10 sentences, each of which contains a middle school vocabulary word that is likely unfamiliar to them.
  2. Read a sentence aloud while also showing it on the board.
  3. Ask students to identify which word within the sentence is the vocabulary word.
  4. Confirm the vocabulary word, then ask students to write what they think the word means based on the way it’s used in the sentence.
  5. After each student has had a chance to write their definition, lead a discussion to clarify the meaning of the word.
  6. Repeat with all of the sentences/vocabulary words.

After going through the list of words this way, assign students to craft new sentences using each of the vocabulary words, either as homework or in class working in pairs.


Vocabulary Teaching Tips

While activities like the ones above can be very helpful, it’s important to use sound instructional strategies when teaching vocabulary.

  • Encourage students to draw upon their prior knowledge when introducing new vocabulary words.
  • Define each word within multiple contexts so that students can get a sense of how the word can be used in terms of things that are familiar to them.
  • Encourage students to use context clues to decipher the meaning of vocabulary words and other terms they come across that they are not familiar with.
  • Teach word structures such as roots, prefixes and suffixes so that students will know how to figure out what new words might mean.
  • Explain how to effectively use a dictionary, including online and printed dictionaries. Provide students with practical dictionary usage experience in class.
  • Help students integrate new words into their existing vocabulary, through activities, writing exercises and homework assignments.
  • Providing repeated exposure to new words so that students become accustomed to increasing their vocabulary on an ongoing basis.
  • Use vocabulary terms in other classes so that students are exposed to them beyond the context of English class.
  • Assign freewriting exercises that involve reflecting writing or journal writing that utilizes vocabulary words.
  • Help students learn a series of important related words before moving on to introduce entirely new vocabulary terms.

Lessons designed to teach students new vocabulary should draw on one or more of these concepts in order to ensure maximum value.

More Classroom Vocabulary Activities

These are just a few examples of the many great vocabulary strategies you can use to engage students in learning new words. For elementary school students, you may want to start with games to play with children to build vocabulary. If you’re teaching vocabulary for higher grade levels, consider using SAT vocabulary activities. For even more ideas, explore how to teach new vocabulary words in creative ways.