Vocabulary Games That Work

Children need vocabulary practice at every stage of their development in order to make them stronger readers and writers. The suggested games are categorized for beginning and independent readers, but many of them can be adapted to several grades and skill levels.

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Vocabulary Skills Development in Children

Early in elementary school, children learn to connect spoken and printed words. They may also recognize letters, rhyming words and simple word sounds. Children are always acquiring new words by using context clues. By the time kids reach upper elementary school, they use dictionaries to look up words and may also determine word meanings through affixes and roots. They continue to build on these skills throughout middle and high school.

Regardless of your child's grade level or ability, you can use vocabulary games to help him or her practice vocabulary skills. Below are vocabulary games designed for beginning readers and more advanced students. Most of these games can be adapted for multiple grade levels.

What Games Can Help My Child Practice Vocabulary?

Games for Beginners

Missing Dolch Words Activity

This game can help your child use context and practice Dolch words, also known as sight words. Write several sentences using Dolch words, leaving blanks where they should go. Write out all of the Dolch words on index cards and lay them face-up on a table. Read each sentence and ask him to choose the word that completes it.

Rhyming Words Match-Up

Write rhyming words individually on index cards. Lay them out on a table in random order. Ask your child to match them. Alternatively, have your child come up with his or her own words that rhyme with the ones on the cards.

1-Minute Word Exercise

Write the letters of the alphabet separately on index cards. Shuffle the cards. Set a timer for one minute, pull out a card, and ask your child to list as many words as she can think of that begin with that letter. When one minute is up, help her add to her list. Repeat for every letter.

Advanced Games

Vocabulary Memory Game

Write all of your child's vocabulary words on one stack of index cards and write the definitions on another stack. Write different parts of speech on color index cards, which you will lay face-up in a row. Your child plays by spreading the vocabulary and definition cards face-down and turning over two at a time. If he gets a match, he can place his card pair underneath the appropriate part of speech. If not, he has to turn them back over and try to remember their locations as he works through the game.

Word Race

Write words from your child's vocabulary list on slips of paper and mix them up in a bowl. Ask her to choose one word and read it aloud to you. Once she reads the word aloud, start a stopwatch and time how long it takes her to look up the word in the dictionary and read the definition out loud. Write down the times for all the words and see which word has the shortest time.

Synonym Match

Make a list of synonyms for each of your child's vocabulary words. Choose a random word from his list and read the synonyms out loud. Have him guess the vocabulary word based on the synonyms. For an extra challenge, read the antonyms - words with opposite meanings - of each of his vocabulary words and ask him to guess the word.

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