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8 Activities and Games to use with Vocabulary Words

Posted by Jennifer Hester on

Perhaps you've embraced the idea of building a beautiful Vocabulary Word Wall to feature all the new words your students are learning throughout the year.

Great! So now you've got a lovely display! So...what should you do with it next?

Learning vocabulary words is an essential part of the elementary classroom. It's estimated that words are only truly learned after being exposed an average of 17 times. Yes, you read that right. 17 times! 

The experts tell us that robust and quality vocabulary instruction should go beyond drills. It should include:

  • seeing and using the vocabulary word in context
  • using and thinking about word meanings
  • creating relationships among words
  • breaking the words down into word parts like prefixes, base words, and suffixes
  • dictionary and thesaurus use

And that's how you can really hammer those complex words into their brains! 

The good news is that even though all that stuff I said above SOUNDS complicated, it doesn't have to be! In fact, let's keep it simple and fun! Read on for some awesome, kid-approved ways to interact with vocabulary in your classroom.

You'll notice that many of the following ideas incorporate the use of vocabulary flashcards.

In hopes of making everything as easy as possible for you, click to download my FREE resource below, which includes blank vocabulary flashcard templates for your students to write on!

Image of Vocabulary Games and Activities and Vocabulary Flashcard Templates

Free Printables | 8 Vocabulary Games and Activities Guide with Vocabulary Flashcard Templates

1. Break out the board games.

You'll love this because you probably already have all the supplies you need!

Play any simple board game, like Tic Tac Toe, Chinese Checkers, Connect Four, or Candyland, along with flashcards of whatever words you're focusing on. The catch is that before anyone gets their turn, they have to say the definition of whatever word they draw! If they get the definition incorrect, they forfeit their turn.

Photo of board games

2. Be a drama queen...or king.

Divide students up into teams. Using vocabulary flashcards, students draw words and take turns acting out their word. Their team must guess the word they’re acting out. The winning team is the team with the most points.

Student acting out a game of Charades

3. Take out the trash!

This one is really fun for the days you have the students clean out their desks! 

Divide your students into teams somehow. Have students line up with their paper trash balled up, and have a trash can/recycling bin ready. Put a piece of tape on the floor to show students where they need to stand.

Ask each student a vocabulary question. For example, ask them to use a vocabulary word in a sentence, define the word, tell the root or base part of the word, or provide a synonym or antonym. If they get the answer correct, they get a chance to throw the "ball" into the trash can. Keep track of the teams’ points!

Trash going into a trash can

4. Memory

Split the class into partners or small groups. Use vocabulary flashcards that have the words and definitions on separate cards. Spread out the words and definitions facedown. Students must turn two cards over at a time, trying to match the word cards with the definition cards. Whoever gets the most pairs wins!

5. Once upon a time...

Display a chosen list of vocabulary words. Students must work in partners to write a creative short story containing every single one of the words. Have dictionaries at the ready for students to look up words if needed. When everyone is finished, they get to share their stories aloud!

6. Student Scramble

This is amazing for getting the students up and moving!

Use Vocabulary Flashcards. Give each student one word. Assign different parts of the room as different parts of speech. For example, the front of the classroom is Nouns, the back corner is Adjectives, and so on. Have the students go to wherever they think their word belongs. They must confer with their classmates to verify they are correct. Once they are sure that they are in the correct parts of the room, they must then work together to line themselves up in alphabetical order. At the end of a certain amount of time, check all their answers and make corrections, as necessary.

Photo of vocabulary flashcards

7. Speedy Sorts

Divide the class up into small groups. Give each small group a complete set of Vocabulary Flashcards. Have them sort the words in different ways, and only give them a certain amount of time for each way. For example, have them sort the words into parts of speech, number of syllables, words with and without prefixes, etc. Keep track of points for the groups.

Photo of vocabulary cards sorted into parts of speech categories

8. Word Clouds

Divide the class into small groups. Each group gets a piece of paper or whiteboard. Present one vocabulary word at a time. The groups have 30 seconds to write down related words or phrases. These can be synonyms, antonyms, situations, or any related words, as long as the relation is something that makes rational sense or can be explained. Whichever group gets the most words at the end of the 30 seconds earns a point. Do this for multiple words.

Photo of a word cloud for the vocabulary word muffled

Once your kiddos have interacted with their new words in all these different ways, you'll be amazed as you see the vocabulary words crop up in their writing and speaking!

And in case you missed it, click below to download:

Free Printables | 8 Vocabulary Games and Activities Guide with Vocabulary Flashcard Templates

Also, I'm here to give you another great tip! Did you know that I incorporate lots of vocabulary work into my novel studies?

Research shows many benefits to learning vocabulary words in context (like in the context of GOOD literature), rather than in isolation! Click to shop my novel studies now! 

Image of Vocabulary Resources from Al Capone Does My Shirts Novel Study