Let’s face it. Teaching vocabulary can be just plain redundant and boring unless you have a deep repertoire of teaching options. As teachers, we have to mix things up and keep learning fresh and fun. But how?? Certainly, it’s not by having kids look up definitions in the dictionary, so let’s talk about the options we have to make vocabulary instruction fresh and fun!
Professional Reading about Vocabulary
If you’ve read many blogs, then you probaby have heard the title Bringing Words to Life. It is a quick read, but one that teachers need to read with post it notes in order to mark activities to use in the classroom. It takes 12-15 exposures for a word to become part of a student’s speaking and writing vocabulary, and therefore, we need a vocabulary teaching routine that is varied and frequent.
As we introduce new words, the process we use matters. With each word, I use the following steps which are recommended in Bringing Words to Life.
- Show and share the word. Say it and have students repeat it.
- Give context for the word. Share how the word is used within the text you’re reading.
- Explain the word’s meaning in words students understand versus the dictionary definition.
- Repeat the word together focusing on each syllable, the spelling pattern of the word, etc.
- Give other contexts for the word.
- Have students share examples of the word or related words.
- Repeat the word again and if there are other derivations, share them.
Vocabulary Building Activities:
From Bringing Words to Life, you might try these great teaching options after you’ve explicitly taught each word and it’s meaning:
- Have You Ever…? Use questioning about words to build context about them. Have you ever scampered up a tree? Who might scamper up a tree?
- Applause, Applause! With this one, kids clap when you share words that describe the focus word. You get everyone responding, and the reasoning behind their thinking too with follow up discussion.
- Idea Completions – With this activity, you give students a sentence frame for them to complete based on the context included.
- Word Association – With word association, you try to build connections by meaning and by origin. You might have word cards and have small groups decide through discussion which words they’d connect together OR other words that might connect to the focus words.
Kids love playing games. They are motivating and offer expansion and discussion of the focus words. One fun game I’ve used is Bunko My Words which just requires numbered task cards with activities on the back and two dice. Students role the die/dice to pick their activity. When they’re Bunko board is completed, then the game ends.
In addition to Bunko, another is fun game is Headbanz. All you need to do is have a set of vocabalary word cards that kids can tape to their foreheads. Then, students give clues about the word until the student can figure out the word on their forehead.
Other games commonly used include Bingo, Concentration, and Jeopardy. All you need are word cards and definition cards for many fun game options.
Vocabulary Task Cards
Task cards can be used in so many different ways. You can take many of the activities from Bringing Words to Life and create task cards with them for use in games like Jeopardy, Scoot, or even within your interactive notebooks.
This task card collection includes twelve different activities. I love printing them on Astrobrite paper which makes them pop. You can laminate them and use them in your stations or print them on copy paper for kids to use in their vocab notebooks. I created pages with four different cards per page and four of the same task card per page to make copying easier on the teacher.
Another idea is to put task cards on a ring and when you’re working on vocabulary in whole group or small group, you can randomly pick activities for teams to do together or as part of your small group book introductions.
Kids love hands on activities, so why not use projects to grow word knowledge. One project I love is making paper bag books. They are easy to do, just require a few brown paper lunch bags, and the activity printables. In this book, students:
- Record kid friendly definitions
- Name examples and non-examples
- Identify derivations or synonyms
- Categorize the word using hashtags
- Sort words by part of speech
- Plan and write a story using them
- Create a word search for them and give word clues for a friend to solve
- and Create picture cards for each word.
Other projects that work well are vocabulary trifolds and lapbooks. Both of these are included in this vocabulary bundle.
Keeping a word wall continues to be a great idea, and I think for upper elementary, a word wall of tier 2 words supports students with writing and provides them with additional exposures to new and useful words. As new words are taught, add them to your wall.
Referring to the words often helps integrate the words into speaking and writing vocabulary, and with the words readily available, you can include quick activities. As kids line up, have them find three words that …, name four words that form a category, give a word that uses the same root as …, and discussions like this. Every teacher needs transition ideas, and this is a great place to work in vocabulary.
Another great tried and true option is to use personal word walls. Students can build their personal word walls as they include words of their own in their writing, as words are discovered through thesaurus use, or when you include lessons on replacements for overused words are done. They are easy to make. All you need is a file folder and recording sheets that your students can add their words to.
Graphic Organizers and Interactive Notebooks:
The final suggestion for vocabulary instruction is to keep an interactive notebook specifically for your word building activities. In the front of your interactive notebooks, you can keep a running list of the vocabulary words taught (another location where students can refer to the words). Then, as lessons are taught, students add their lesson materials into the book. I use graphic organizers and foldables that can be glued into the notebooks.
Using interactive notebooks may seem like I lot of work. However, I like keeping the notebooks for two reasons; students can refer to them, and parents can see a “portfolio” of the instruction that’s gone on in the classroom. The organizers to the right are a few I included in this vocabulary bundle.
We all have classroom jobs, but have you thought about naming a word wizard each week? This person’s responsibility is to find new words that no one knows and teach them. It can be a role that is teacher supported, but it can be a job any kids can do.
Word of the Day:
Many classrooms focus on a word each day. This word could come from the content areas and could be tied in with Word Wizard. Typically, word of the day is part of morning meeting discussions. Again, just another way to get new words in front of your students. The vocabulary bundle I’ve highlighted includes teaching posters that can be projected for this activity. (no prep involved) You could also print them for use on a bulletin board if you wanted.
Well, I feel like I’ve shared at least twenty vocabulary ideas here. Perhaps you can rotate through them, and keep your vocabulary instruction fresh and fun. Learning new words IS fun, and I love discovering rich words in our students writing projects. That’s truly a sign that they’ve taken it all in.