A strong vocabulary is essential for reading and writing. Students need a broad vocabulary of regular and specialized words to excel in different academic subjects. They also need vocabulary for standardized testing. Teaching vocabulary explicitly, along with skills to help students build on their own, is essential.
The good news is you don’t need to add hours of vocabulary teaching time. You can weave new vocabulary strategies and vocabulary review activities throughout your day.
When reading together, practice contextualizing when you come to a word students don’t know.
- Ask the student to repeat the word. If necessary, help them break the word into sounds until they can read it correctly.
- Explain the meaning of the word in everyday language, using the context from the reading.
- Then explain it in other contexts, again in everyday language. You can use the Collins CoBuild Dictionary to help do that.
- Have the student provide their own example using the word.
- Finally, have the student repeat the word.
- If you encounter the word again, ask students to say the word and explain it or use it in a sentence again.
Encourage students to practice contextualizing when reading on their own. They can ask for assistance and use resources to help understand the word. You can use other vocabulary strategies to help reinforce words students add through contextualizing or through vocabulary lists.
6 ways to add fun vocabulary activities to your day
Repetition and review are a big part of integrating vocabulary. When students have the chance to see and use new words, they are more likely to really “get” and retain them.
1. Magpie book
Have students create a Magpie Book. A magpie book is a place to collect interesting words, phrases, and ideas. A magpie book isn’t just a vocabulary book, but you can have sections in a magpie book to collect vocabulary words. For example, I’ve worked with students to create sections for powerful words, technical vocabulary (for different subjects), and super synonyms. We also include examples of alliteration and short descriptions.
Just creating the book isn’t enough. When you have writing assignments, have students use their magpie books for rich words. Or play games (see below for ideas) and have students use their magpie books to select words.
2. Swat it
If you make a magpie wall instead of a magpie book, you can use it for a game of Swat It. You can also make a word wall for the game using any vocabulary words you are working on. Give students fly swatters. Read the meaning of one of the words aloud. Students swat the correct word with their fly swatter.
You can also weave this into the day by giving students a meaning and asking them to tap the word on their way out the door.
3. Vocabulary board games
When it comes to fun vocabulary activities, my students never get tired of vocabulary games. You can use games in your literacy center, for small group work, for early finishers or choice time. Many can even be used as vocabulary review activities for homework.
Get games for different phonemes to help students practice:
Get your Phoneme /ae/ Vocabulary Activities FREE Sample:
4. Word walk
Word walks can be used to practice phonics. They also make good vocabulary review activities. It helps to have a print-rich environment. Give students words to look for around the room or school. You can also think of it more as a word treasure hunt and have students looking for words in the wild on news sites, in magazines, or signage.
Have students note where they find the word and what it means in the context they find it. They might see a caution sign and note that it means to be careful. Alternately, have students look for synonyms of the word. If the word is saunter, students could identify saunter as a synonym to walk in a Walk, Don’t Run sign. Have students express in everyday language any differences between the two words.
You could also have students search for words with similar roots or prefixes and use that information to help contextualize words .
5. Vocabulary bingo
Make bingo cards with your vocabulary words. Then instead of reading the words, read the meaning. Students put a marker on the word that matches the meaning. The first student to fill a row, column, or diagonal calls BINGO! Have students say in their own words, the meaning of the vocabulary words they marked.
Alternately, make a giant class bingo board for the room. Whenever you encounter a word in reading or conversation, students can mark the word on the board.
6. Word of the week
Word of the week is a great vocabulary review activity. It really reinforces the word by having the student interact with the word in different ways. For example, have students:
- Find the word in a book, magazine, newspaper, or online source
- Listen for the word and note when they hear it
- Write a sentence with the word
- Look up the word in a dictionary
- Draw a picture of the word
- Use the word in their writing
- Use the word in conversation
- Make a list of words that rhyme with the word of the week.
You can choose the word of the week, or have students pick a word from their magpie book, vocabulary list, or their reading.
The more students interact with words, the more they use them and make them part of their reading, writing, and speaking vocabulary. Use a mix of vocabulary strategies and vocabulary review activities—and use the vocabulary words when you can in conversation, instructions, or other communication with students.