Teaching vocabulary doesn’t have to be a dull routine with the right vocabulary activities. I’ve already shared some simple steps for teaching vocabulary so that students retain it. The last of these steps is to engage your students in playing with the vocabulary words.
My favorite way to do that is to use vocabulary activities and games that add a fun challenge to (let’s face it) an otherwise boring topic. Here are some easy vocabulary activities and games you can use with any vocabulary list, in any subject.
This game is a lot of fun. If you find that your class gets too loud, you may want to divide them into more than two teams as described below.
- Divide the class into two teams. (If you have a large class, you may want to divide into 4 teams and take turns. So Team 1 & 2 play the first round, Team 3 & 4 play the second round, etc.)
- Give each team a different vocabulary word. The teams have 5 minutes to meet together and make a list of 10 words related to the vocabulary word. These might be synonyms, related concepts, or similar topics.
- Begin the game by telling Team 1 the vocabulary word Team 2 has. Team 1 then gets 1 minute (or longer depending on the age of your students) to call out words they think Team 2 wrote on their list. Team 1 scores a point for every word they guess correctly.
- Alternate groups, and play as many rounds as time allows. The team with the most points wins.
This is an oldie, but a goodie! Keep it interesting by adding some new twists to a favorite vocabulary game.
- All you need to do is write all of your vocabulary words on the board or tape them to the wall using index cards.
- Divide students into two teams, lined up facing the board. Give the first student in each line a flyswatter.
- Read the definition of a vocabulary word out loud. The first student to swat the word with the flyswatter gets a point for their team.
- Play as long as you want. The team with the most points wins.
- Variations: Read a sentence with a blank in place of the vocabulary word. Read a couple of synonyms or antonyms for the word (tell students which one you’re doing!). Read a list of related words. The options really are endless, and mixing it up keeps this game fun and fresh!
Students love this interactive vocabulary activity. Requiring them to justify their choices at the end increases the difficulty and helps solidify their understanding of the new vocabulary words.
- Give your students an assortment of old magazines, newspapers, etc.
- Set a timer depending on your students and the number of words.
- Students must look through the newspapers or magazines and find pictures or other words related to each of their vocabulary words.
- When time is up, put students into groups of 3-5 (or use their existing table groups). Students share their pictures with their group members and justify their choices.
Another student favorite! This vocabulary game is played like Pictionary and can be played as a whole group game in two teams or with a partner. Playing in partners can help keep the chaos down if your students get too loud in the whole group setting.
- Divide the class into two teams. Play will alternate between the teams.
- One player from Team 1 is chosen to draw. This player chooses a vocabulary word card without looking at it, and begins to draw picture clues for the word on the board.
- The rest of Team 1 calls out their guesses for the word. The team has 90 seconds to guess the word correctly. If they identify the correct vocabulary word, the team gets a point.
- Repeat with Team 2. Play until a team reaches 10 points or until time runs out.
- To eliminate arguments about which team went first, I always say teams must win by 2 points.
Odd One Out
This game works best with a larger number of words, and with words that center around a certain topic. This makes it perfect for teaching content area vocabulary.
- Students play in groups of 2-5. Before playing, place a card with each vocabulary word into a paper bag or other container.
- Students draw 4 word cards from the bag, and lay them face up on the table.
- Students decide which 3 words go together and which one is the odd one out.
- The first student to identify the word that does not belong and explain their reasoning gets a point.
- Play can continue as long as you want. When students run out of cards, have them put everything back in the bag, shake it up to shuffle the cards, and start again.
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Your students will love these fun vocabulary activities, and you’ll love that they’re practically no prep!