Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox

[Lesson Planning] 4 Creative Strategies to Make Vocabulary Fun

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 -- Scott Sterling

Next-generation state standards are putting more and more focus on reading comprehension, critical thinking, and information analysis. At the same time, an increasing number of American students are English language learners still working to grasp the nuances of language. What does this mean for classroom teachers? The classic vocabulary lesson still needs to be a priority!

Luckily, there are plenty of creative ways to liven up vocabulary learning and keep students engaged. Try one of these four ideas to take your next vocab lesson from blah to brilliant!

Make pop-culture connections

Make new words stick by presenting your students with a list of vocabulary words and asking them to relate each word back to a book, song, movie, or TV show. Try creating a simple worksheet to help students keep track of their answers. Initially, they will probably just find titles that include the given vocabulary words. In time, though, make it more of a critical-thinking exercise by asking them to equate the vocab words to the theme of different works by including a justification column on your worksheet.

Play a guessing game

This idea borrows a lot of the concepts from the popular board game Guess Who? Start by splitting your class into two teams, each with half of the vocabulary list. Each team is responsible for one word at a time and takes turns asking competitors questions that lead to identifying the word. This activity works for words across any part of speech. As an example, for verbs, students can ask about who or what can perform the action for a clue. For adjectives, they can ask to what could the word apply.

Crowdsource a story

This is a great strategy for those teachers who want students to strengthen their creative writing skills as well as broaden their vocabulary. Project a vocabulary list on the board, and ask each student to get out a piece of paper. Then, have each student write one line of a story that includes the first vocab word. Next, have each student pass their paper to another student, who then writes a second line of the story using the next vocab word. Keep going in this manner until each vocab word has been used. At the end, have your students return the stories to their original owner and share as a class—laughs guaranteed.

Review with words of a feather

Science suggests that the most effective way to teach vocabulary is to group words thematically; the brain likes to use context to consume and make sense of new information. Assuming you’ve used this approach over the course of a unit, when it’s time to review, print out slips of paper for each word and give one to each student. Then, have your learners move around the room trying to find the other words that belong with their word’s theme. For an added challenge, tell students they aren’t allowed to say the word on their slip of paper aloud, and have them communicate their word by using other contextual hints. 

Vocabulary is just one piece of broader literacy skills that are so critical to success for today’s students. Looking for more tips to make your classroom a word-rich environment? Check out these 4 Tips to Incorporate Creative Writing in Any Subject!