Activities for Teaching Vocabulary Words

From an early age, your students are learning fundamental vocabulary skills that will help them become strong readers and communicators. The vocabulary activities below can be incorporated into your lessons to help your students strengthen their word knowledge and usage.

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Overview of Vocabulary Skills

In early elementary school, students learn to compare common words to their antonyms and synonyms, define unfamiliar words using context and recognize how words are used in real-life situations. By 3rd grade, they look up words using glossaries and dictionaries. They also begin to understand root words and affixes, identify figurative language and distinguish differences among words with similar meanings.

Students continue to build on these skills throughout middle and high school. They learn more complex and varied language and use it in their speech and writing. You can adapt some of the following activities for multiple grade levels when teaching vocabulary words.

What Activities Can I Do for Beginning Vocabulary Learners?

Learning Verbs

For this activity, you'll first explain what verbs are. Then call out a few verbs for students to demonstrate, such as stand, sneeze, whistle and crawl. Ask students, either individually or in small groups, to come up with a list of verbs to act out for the class. Instruct the other students to guess what verbs are being performed.

Using Descriptive Words

Divide the board into four columns and write a season in each. Ask students to tell you words that describe each season and write them under the appropriate column. Help them brainstorm more words. Afterwards, have the students work alone or in groups to come up with sentences using all the words on the board. They can share their sentences with the rest of the class when they're done.

Alphabetizing Dolch Words

This activity helps 2nd and 3rd grade students learn Dolch words, also known as sight words, while practicing their alphabetizing skills. Select ten words from a Dolch word list, write them randomly on the board and ask your students to put the words in alphabetical order. Whoever is the first to alphabetize them correctly wins. You can also work with individual students by using a timer and challenging them to alphabetize their list within five minutes.

What Vocabulary Activities Are Appropriate for Advanced Learners?

Creating Word Maps

This word map activity can be adapted for several upper-level grades. Look for printable templates online or encourage students to make their own. Students write the vocabulary word in the center of the map and organize information around it. For instance, they may write the definition(s), part(s) of speech, roots, origin, antonyms and synonyms. Students can also use the word in a sentence or draw a picture that represents the word's meaning.

Hunting for Hidden Vocabulary

For this group activity, you'll hide several flash cards around the room with definitions written on them from current and previous vocabulary lists. Write the vocabulary words on the board. Instruct your students to come up to the board when they find a card, write their initials next to the corresponding word and continue their search. Once all the cards are found, the student with the most initials on the board wins. Ask students to review their cards with the rest of the class.

Finding Real-World Uses for Words

This activity requires a computer or printed periodicals. Students will refer to their vocabulary list as they look for real-world uses of the words. They can either search news sites online or go through printed newspapers and magazines in small groups. Once they locate a headline or sentence that uses the vocabulary word, they can share it with the rest of the class.

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