For many students, learning new words can be one of the greatest joys or greatest dreads alike. For a few of our students, there is nothing more exhilarating than coming across a mysterious new word in a book, leaning its meaning, and, proudly showing off the newly-acquired treasure to friends and family. However, for countless others, new words aren’t all that exciting. And for many of our students, new, confusing, and intimidating words are roadblocks.
Alas, this is not how it’s meant to be! Here are five activities that will engage students creatively with their vocabulary words and ensure that they permanently “stick” in students’ minds:
1. Media Meetup
This weekly activity works best in partnerships or groups of three. At the beginning of each week, have students, in their pairs/groups, split up the vocabulary list amongst themselves, so that each student is responsible for an equal number of words. The students must then find examples of the words provided to them throughout the media (television, movies, magazines, the news, etc.), which they will come to share with the peers in their group at the end of the week. Follow this up with a class-wide discussion about some of the most intriguing uses of vocabulary throughout the media. To add an extra twist, students can challenge their partners to describe whatever media piece(s) they have selected using only a particular set of vocabulary words – this is bound to get funky!
Digital Teaching Tip – Have students set up a collaborative Google Slide to learn new words.
2. Pen Pals
Another great way to help vocabulary words stick is to make learning vocabulary meaningful. For this activity, students should write brief reflections on their week using as many vocabulary words as possible. Students will then share their reflections with their pen pals at the beginning or end of the week. Students can rotate pals on a weekly or monthly basis. To ensure that all “pals” engage with one another and their vocabulary thoroughly, you could also require that each “pal” write a brief reflection on their partner’s work that they submit to you. Not only will this activity allow students to relate possibly abstract words to their own experiences, but also communicate reflectively with their peers.
Digital Teaching Tip – These “letters” don’t need to be written on paper, per se, primarily if you are teaching your students remotely! Encourage students to get creative with technology in how they tell their stories (i.e., using images, visual art, short videos, etc.)
3. Did I Use That Right?
This activity is for the ones who think they’re slick. Each week, have two new students volunteer to be the “word masters.” Throughout the week, one of these students will casually use vocabulary words correctly in class, while the other student will do the opposite — misuse them on purpose. It is up to the rest of the class to detect who these two students are (their identities should remain secret at all times) and keep track of the students’ correct and incorrect usage of the relative words. If the student can spot a certain (predetermined) number of instances correctly, then they will have beaten the “masters” and will cycle forward to next week’s “master” position. Whichever two students remain “masters” for the longest time running will have won the circuit. This activity works best if done during a predetermined time in class, for example, in the first ten minutes of class. That way, students are actively looking for vocabulary usage.
Digital Teaching Tip – Use Excel sheets to keep scores organized and create a master list of words that you can share with students in an ulterior fashion. You can use this scoreboard to track which kinds of words students are more noticeably grasping, and which they might be having difficulty with.
4. Opposite Day/Opposite-Opposite Day
What better way to test word-knowledge than through our handy old thesaurus. On “Opposite Day,” students should get into groups and create a list of antonyms for each vocabulary word. On “Opposite-Opposite Day,” follow this same routine, but using synonyms. Once students have constructed their lists, they will share their lists out loud, while the other groups attempt to guess the original list of vocabulary words. Whichever group guesses the most words correctly wins. This activity is a great way to help students expand their vocabulary knowledge.
Digital Teaching Tip – Challenge students to research the earliest or most obscure known uses of each synonym/antonym – this will truly put word-knowledge and context skills to the test.
5. That’s All She Wrote
At the beginning of the period, give students a relatively brief (anywhere from one sentence to one paragraph) prompt, which will serve them as the beginning of a short story they are to write. Then, set a timer for approximately five minutes. During these five minutes, students will do their best to complete the story as they please using as many vocabulary words as possible. Try this at the very beginning and end of the week to track students’ progress. Students will enjoy this engaging and entertaining vocabulary instruction approach.
Digital Teaching Tip – If you’d like, have students type their stories in one continuous Google Doc. Then, at the end of the year, compile all of the stories into a digital catalog or “book” that students can help design and share with their family and friends.
Only time will tell whether students will ever jump at the chance to learn new vocabulary, but these five activities make it more likely than not! However you study vocabulary with your class, always remember that words are very delicate things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun and play some word games.
Vocabulary Teaching Units