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Vocabulary Ideas That Aren't Like Pulling Teeth

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Vocabulary is a necessary evil. Each subject area has its own set of words that students need to master in order to succeed. Without them, knowledge gaps can begin to form.

But most vocabulary activities are like brushing your teeth: they might be necessary, but it takes a lot of creativity to make them fun.

Here are some vocab activities that, with a little personalization, could shake things up in your classroom.

Entry Password

This one is as simple as simple can be. No one gains entry into the classroom unless they provide the definition, synonym, antonym, or sentence usage for a vocabulary word from the previous day’s studies. The trick is not to let the students bottleneck in the hall while they struggle for answers.

Graphical Word Wall

There is a lot of study pointing to the efficacy of word walls. Unfortunately for visual learners, they are just words (and maybe definitions) on a wall. Word walls can be much more engaging if they are changed into graphical representations of the vocab words. Kids simply draw pictures that describe the definition or usage of the word. It 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 roots, suffixes, and prefixes. Your word wall should reflect that. Then invite students to contribute words that use those roots, either graphically or otherwise, to flesh out the wall.

Cautionary Tales about Homophones

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 can lead to some hilarious pictures and is more memorable than just a red mark on a paper.

Vocabulary List Differentiation

Any textbook gives you a list of vocabulary words that students need to know for a particular unit or chapter, but what if students are struggling? Instead of relying on the textbook, rely on the kids. If they ask about a word, whether its on the book’s list or even in your subject area, it should go up on the word wall, become tomorrow’s entry password, or any other activity you do with vocab.