5 ways to enhance your academic vocabulary instruction - #4 - PLAY with the Words


It's time for installment four of my "5 Ways to Enhance your Academic Vocabulary Instruction" series.  If you're interested in Way #1 - SEE the Words - Click HERE, or Way #2 - WRITE the Words Click HERE, and Way #3 - KEEP the Words - Click HERE.

Way #4 is PLAY with the words.

In post number one I reminded you that it's critical for students to SEE several visual representations of new vocabulary words (examples, models, drawings, word wall cards, representations, etc.) and in post number two we discussed that it's imperative for students to have time to WRITE about new vocabulary words (descriptions, definitions, examples/non-examples, synonyms/antonyms, meaningful sentences, test questions, and so on). Lastly, in post number three the strategy I shared to help your students reach vocabulary success is to KEEP the words in a common, easily accessible location (vocabulary notebooks, folders, binder rings, interactive bulletin boards, word walls), so students can reference new vocabulary words as much as possible.

Today we're going to move on to the fun stuff - PLAYING games with new vocabulary words. Research shows that often students forget new vocabulary words for three reasons:

1.  They are not properly stored in student's minds (long term memory).

2.  They are not practiced enough.

3.  They are not related to students own experiences and interests.

Playing vocabulary games can help with all three of these issues.


According to The Effect of Games on Learning Vocabulary by Maryam Rohani and Behzad Pourgharib, some teachers think that vocabulary games are a waste of time and prefer not to use them in the classroom.  But in fact, games provide students with strategies to improve their vocabulary proficiency.  Games offer visual aids, drama, role-play, critical thinking, connections and much MORE.

It's been proven that students learn new vocabulary more quickly and retain it better when they get to apply it in a relaxed and comfortable environment such as center or game time. Vocabulary aquisition should be enjoyed and fun.  Games are not a distraction but the perfect way of helping students to use new vocabulary repeatedly, connect it to their own lives, and store it in their long term memory.


In our classroom, we play vocabulary games once a week during our word work block.  I teach one game at a time until all games have been learned and after that the students may choose which game center they want to attend during game time.  The games we love are:

Flip It - (Headbandz) - Students can write vocabulary words on index cards. They will take turns flipping a card up to their forehead and attempting to guess the word with question stems like......
Does it mean? or is it a synonym of? or is it an antonym of? etc.

Memory - Again students can write new vocabulary words and descriptions/examples on separate index cards.  Mix them up, turn them over and match up the words with the meanings.

Bingo - Give students a blank bingo sheet and have them write in new vocabulary words.  Read off descriptions/examples and students will cover the corresponding word on their card.



Swat - Write vocabulary words on your whiteboard.  Call two students up to the board. Give them each a fly swatter. Read off a definition and the student who swats the matching word first earns a point for their team.

Puzzle Match - Write words on one half of an index card and descriptions/examples or synonyms/antonyms on the other half.  Cut the cards in half with a fancy cut to create two puzzle pieces.  Mix up all the pieces and try to match them back up.  Cut several cards with the same fancy cuts so students have to read the examples and not just match up the cuts.

Master It! - Use any game board and game pieces.  Use index cards for the question cards - write questions like: Use ____________ in a test question, or Use ____________ in a meaningful sentence, or Give a synonym/antonym for ____________.  On each card, give directions for how many spaces to move if answered correctly.  Also create wild spaces on the board and use index cards for wild cards that tell students to lose a turn, reverse the play, go backward 4 spaces, etc.

You can make all of these games yourself or you can purchase a set I made for my classroom right HERE.


Once again, studies have shown that students make the greatest gains in word knowledge when an interactive approach is used. Teachers who engage their students in vocabulary acquisition through books, think alouds, hands on activities and games are setting their kiddos up for vocabulary success.

PLAYING with new vocabulary words will help your students do better in school, on state tests and in life!

And, best of all, it's fun!!!!

Stay tuned for the final installment of my "5 Ways to Enhance your Academic Vocabulary Instruction" series - USE the words.


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