Three Classroom Games for Practicing Vocabulary
Make it Fun
In an article written for Kentucky Teacher (2010), Matthew Tungate reports on how and why making learning fun works to educate children. Therefore, it is no surprise that interactive vocabulary lesson plans that incorporate games have a greater potential for successfully reinforcing the meanings of words regardless of the subject area.
The objective of the following games is that students will learn and understand words and their definitions with the ability to use them correctly.
Let the Games Begin
Game One: Find that Word
- On the board or overhead, write a list of vocabulary words
- When the students arrive, have each person take out a blank piece of paper
- Have students write all the words, in random order, all over the paper. (Emphasize that you want these words all over the paper in a random order. It will look messy, but there is a method to this madness.)
- After writing all of the words, students are to put circle each one.
Break students into Groups
Now break the class into groups of threes. The students will only need their piece of paper and their notes or textbook with the definitions of the words written out. Next, tell each group to pick a leader. The leader will present his list of words, written in random order and circled, to the other two students in the group. He/she will then mentally pick one of the vocabulary words, without telling his/her group what it is, and start reading the definition. The two competing students will listen to the definition and try to point at the appropriate word first. Once the correct word has been indicated, the leader picks a new word.
Start a New Round
Each group will keep score and when the first student reaches ten correct answers, he/she will then become the new leader. At this point, he/she would pull out his/her list and the other two students would use this new list, which of course looks different, to compete in the same game. If the words are too easy, you can instruct students to give the definitions in their own words as opposed to reading verbatim out of the book. This will really challenge both the leader and the two students competing
Students will get excited and animated while participating in this activity. Let them have fun, as long as everyone is on task. Pick your groups wisely, so you have personalities that work well together. This activity should last about ten minutes after which, move on to an individual quiet assignment, such as putting each of the new words into sentences.
Game Two: Ring that Bell!
This activity is a great one for assessing competency after vocabulary has been given and studied.
- Two bells, either small hand bells of the kind used in stores where you hit the button on top
- Teachers' list of vocabulary words
Have students count off by two (one, two, one, two, etc.) Have all the ones form a line with the twos forming the other line. In front of each line have a desk with a bell. The first student in each line will try to ring the bell if they think they know the definition of a word. The first one to ring answers, if they are wrong, they go to the back of the line and the other team answers. If they are correct, they get another turn. After a student answers twice in a row correctly, they move to the back of the line so that all the students get a chance to answer. The team with the most correct answers wins the game.
This game may be modified to test knowledge of word origins (i.e., Does the word psychology come from Latin or Greek origins?), word forms (i.e., If the noun form of the word is nation, what is the adjective of this word [national]?).
Game Three: Building Words
- Word cards for each student to create words with prefixes, compound words or words with suffixes (i.e., pre-, post-, -est, -ing, etc.)
- List of vocabulary words that teacher uses
Note: For suffixes, make sure that students understand that some words change when an ending is added, such as baby becomes babies when an "s" is added.
Have students take turns at the board building new words from the one placed on the board. For instance: The teacher puts up the word, board. Students can add, room - boardroom. Or, the teacher places the word, operate. Students can create, cooperate, operation, cooperation, etc.
Games used in vocabulary lesson plans, regardless of the subject, present teachers with an informal assessment of students' ability to comprehend and use what they have learned.
References and Resources
Some content is from the author's own experience.
Kentucky School Board Association: Lab Motivates Students by Making Learning Fun, M. Tungate, 2010 - http://www.ksba.org/news/article/lab-motivates-students-by-making-learning-fun
National Capital Language Resource Center: Vocabulary Activities, 2006 - http://www.nclrc.org/teachers_corner/classroom_solutions_yana/vocabulary_activities.html