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5 Ideas for Groan-Proof Vocabulary Lessons

Monday, November 2, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

Vocabulary lessons tend to be met with eye rolls rather than enthusiasm in the classroom; for the vast majority of students, it’s simply not the most exciting aspect of any topic. However, vocabulary is a necessary evil. Each subject area comes with its own set of terms that students must be familiar with in order to succeed. Without that foundational information, knowledge gaps can more easily form.

That being said, most vocabulary activities are just about as exciting as brushing your teeth: read a list of words and definitions, memorize, recite, rinse, and repeat. With a little creativity though, these lessons can go from a drag to a classroom favorite. Try one of these five activities to shake up your next vocabulary lesson!

Entry Password

This one is as simple as it gets. Stand at the doorway to your classroom, and have each student provide the definition, synonym, antonym, or sentence usage for a vocabulary word from the previous day’s studies before they are allowed to enter. The trick is to avoid a bottleneck in the hall while students come up with their answers!

Graphical Word Wall

There is a lot of research pointing to the efficacy of word walls. However, traditional word walls sometimes don’t meet the needs of visual learners, since they are simply words (and maybe definitions) posted on a wall. Appeal to these students and up the engagement factor by using graphical representations of vocab words! Simply have your students draw pictures that describe the definition or usage of each vocabulary word and post those instead of or in addition to the words and their definitions. This can also serve as a great “brag board” for parents and administrators.

Root Wall

As students get older, the focus of vocabulary moves from whole words to the construction of words with roots, suffixes, and prefixes. Try creating a word wall that reflects that shift. Then, invite students to contribute words that use those roots, either graphically or otherwise, to flesh out the wall. This idea can make vocabulary lessons more interactive, and it can be reused for different sets of terms.

Homophone Pictionary

There are 441 total homophones in the English language, and the vast majority of your students cannot tell them apart—especially when they are writing. Whenever a case of misused homophones comes up, invite two students up to the board to draw pictures representing the correct usage and then the incorrect usage. This strategy is more memorable than a red mark on a paper or worksheet – and it can lead to some hilarious pictures.

Crowdsourced Vocab List

Any textbook will give you a list of vocabulary words that students need to know for a particular unit or chapter, but what should you do if students are struggling? Instead of relying on the textbook to inform your vocabulary list, rely on the kids. Whenever a student asks you about a word, whether it’s on the textbook’s list or even in your subject area, it should go up on your classroom word wall, become tomorrow’s entry password, or be incorporated into any other vocab activity you use.

Interested in learning about Edmentum’s solutions to support foundational learning and literacy? Check out our Guide to Successfully Implement Literacy Stations!