Having a wide vocabulary is a huge part of what helps students to be successful in both reading comprehension and writing. This is why vocabulary is one of the National Reading Panel’s five core elements of reading instruction along with phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension. In general, the wider a reader’s vocabulary is, the better they will be able to make sense of a piece of text.
According to the National Reading Panel, vocabulary should be taught indirectly as well as explicitly. Direct, explicit vocabulary instruction does not always need to require students to only memorize definitions. While this type of practice is useful some of the time, keeping vocabulary practice fun and fresh is so important in keeping students engaged in vocabulary acquisition. Having students explore word parts, synonyms/antonyms, examples/non-examples, parts of speech, and real-life applications allows them to deeply internalize vocabulary.
There are so many ways to keep weekly vocabulary practice engaging and meaningful. Below are ways students can study and practice their weekly vocabulary list or any set of new vocabulary words.
10 IDEAS FOR TEACHING VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES:
VOCABULARY TEMPLATES AND GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS:
Vocabulary graphic organizers are a great, low prep option for students to dive into their vocabulary list. Students can practice using graphic organizers that take a look into each of the words on a word list. They can also use graphic organizer that just focus on breaking apart one or a couple vocabulary words individually.
VOCABULARY LIFT-THE-FLAP FOLDABLE:
There are two options for using vocabulary lift-the-flap foldables. The first option is to have one lift-the-flap foldable for each word. This is great for a word of the week or any activity where you really want students digging deep into just one or a few target words. Each flap could have students look at facets of the word, such as word meaning, antonyms, synonyms, word parts (affixes), a connection, or example of the word in context. Again, student fill in the information for these facets of the word under each flap.
The second option uses one lift-the-flap foldable for all words on a vocabulary list. In this option, the outside of each flap is a vocabulary word and underneath each flap is a definition. Students could also put a visual of the word, part of speech, or an example of the word context. This is a great and interactive study tool for a weekly vocabulary list that switches it up from always using flashcards.
Flashcards are a tried-and-true method for remembering word meanings. Using index cards is a great and simple way for hands-on learners to be able to interact with cards.
Another option is digital flashcards. With digital flashcards, students type the target word into a text box that is able to be moved over the definition that they also type into a text box. They can drag and drop the target word card to reveal the definition.
TEACHING VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES – TAB BOOK:
These tab books are a fun activity for students to dive into their word lists. Students write each word on a tab and fill in information about that word on each tabbed page. They fill in each word’s part of speech, word meaning, a sentence, and a picture. Then, they rate their own understanding of the word. Their understanding can change as they practice and interact with the words.
VOCABULARY VISUALS POWERPOINT GAME (whole class):
In this game, teachers find visuals that represent each word on a vocabulary word list and give each visual its own slide in a Powerpoint or Google slides document. First, the students number their paper along the left side with the number of slides (number of words on their word list). Then, the teacher goes through each slide giving students time to guess which word goes with each visual/slide number. At the end, students check their answers.
Another option is to have students each create their own visual vocabulary slides and have other students in a pair or small group guess which vocabulary word is represented on each slide.
VOCABULARY STRATEGIES CRAFTS:
Reading and vocabulary crafts are an engaging way to switch up vocabulary practice. Students love them because they are hands-on and allow them to let their creative sides shine. One example of a vocabulary craft is this vocabulary word wheel. Students write all of their words along the outside of the wheel. The cover of their word wheel covers all but one definition at a time, which provides students with a fun alternative to studying vocabulary word meanings.
Another vocabulary craft is “A Close Look into My Vocabulary Words” window craft. Inside each window of their book, students write a definition, sentence, synonym, antonym, or illustration for each vocabulary word. Then, they staple their book together.
TEACHING VOCABULARY ACTIVITY – THE FRAYER MODEL:
The Frayer Model is a commonly used strategy for breaking down vocabulary words. In the Frayer Model, students are required to provide a definition, essential characteristics, examples, and non-examples for each target word. Students can use a pre-made graphic organizer or just create their own Frayer Model templates in a notebook.
This can be used before reading vocabulary in context in order to activate background knowledge, or after reading to assess students’ understanding of new vocabulary.
TEACHING VOCABULARY ACTIVITY – SHADES OF MEANING:
Shades of meaning has students look at groups of synonyms with varying strengths of each word. For example, if their vocabulary word was humorous, they could rate this word along with synonyms such as amusing, funny, and hilarious.
While this is a great activity to use for understanding vocabulary words, analyzing shades of meaning is also a helpful activity for growing writers. Students can use this skill to take words from their own writing pieces in order to find and use the most appropriate word choice in their writing.
“GUESS MY WORD” VOCABULARY GAME:
Similar to Heads Up, this game has one student at a time place a vocabulary word faced out above their head. Their partner or group tells the student attributes of the word without telling them what the actual word is. These could be the word’s definition, a sentence with the word, synonyms, antonyms, etc. to assist the player in guessing their word.
VOCABULARY PICTURE DICTIONARY:
A vocabulary picture dictionary allows artists and visual learners to shine. In this activity, students simply draw or print out a picture or symbol that represents each of their vocabulary words. This is also a great tool for ELs to use in an their own personal ongoing picture dictionaries.
TEACHING VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES WITH VOCABULARY VISUALS:
A Vocabulary Word Wall is a great support for students with the above teaching vocabulary activities. Word wall cards can include terms that students will encounter when studying vocabulary, such as parts of speech, roots, affixes, shades of meaning, etc.
While word wall cards are great to display year-round, it is important to teach these aspects of vocabulary word study one at a time in more detail. One way to do this it to display a full-page anchor chart or poster on the same bulletin board, as shown below.
All teaching vocabulary activities pictured above can be found in the following resources:
- Vocabulary Graphic Organizers & Activities Pack
- Vocabulary Reading Crafts Pack
- Vocabulary Word Wall
- Vocabulary Anchor Charts
Looking for more ideas for teaching vocabulary activities? Check out this blog post on Tips for Building Academic Vocabulary in ELLs.