Classroom Vocabulary Games

A strong vocabulary improves reading skills, relationships, and career opportunities. Children with strong vocabularies are better readers and better able to express themselves both socially and academically. These are just a few games for teaching vocabulary in the classroom. By making the process fun, students are more interested and more likely to reap the benefits of a strong vocabulary.

Label it!

This is an easy game in which students are challenged to create labels for items within the classroom. All it takes is a stack of 3×5 cards, a bucket of markers, crayons, or pencils, and some tape. Students can work individually or in small groups to label as many classroom items as possible within a given time.

Give me a [letter]!

Break out the pompoms and challenge students to find items within the classroom that begin with a specified letter sound. This can open the door to learning more about odd letters, such as c, g, and j, among others. Each day can be spent on a different letter, including activities such as creating collages from magazines of pictures or words starting with the letter of the day.

Board games

There are many board games that teach vocabulary and they are a great way to use time constructively when the weather prevents students from going outside. Scrabble, Boggle, Word Up, Hang Man, and many more are available for practically nothing from local thrift stores and yard sales. These games also teach valuable social skills.

Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles and word finder games are easy to distribute to a class and they provide quiet time for individuals to build their vocabulary and can also be used in small group activities.

Find it!

Start by writing an interesting, motivating quote on the board. Read it to the class and then have them, if they are able, read it aloud. Next, using a basket of colored chalk, invite students to underline different words with different colors. This exercise can be expanded to challenge students to find another word to replace words in question and to identify nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech.

What’s another word for…?

Children love challenges and this game can g a long way to teaching vocabulary. The teacher asks the class, “What’s another word for…?” For example, the teacher inserts the word house in the question and writes it on the board. Students are then encouraged to offer suggestions. Words can be contested or challenged, and the vocabulary discussions that take place are beneficial to many struggling students.

What’s my word?

This is a great rainy day game. One student is selected as “It” and is seated in front of the class, with their back to the chalkboard. Then, the teacher writes a word on the board. Students then raise their hands and are selected by It to give hints about the word, without actually using the word on the board. The student who provides the hint that causes It to correctly guess the word becomes It in the next round. These games can be very entertaining and they teach students that there are many ways to look at things such as words.

[Word] free days

This is an excellent exercise for older students who tend to rely heavily on filler phrases, such as “like” and “but, um” to convey more complex ideas. For example, if you declare a day to be a Like Free Day, students must avoid using the word “like” in all of their conversations. You can make it even more challenging by issuing each student 3-5 popsicle sticks or colored rubber bands, which they must relinquish to the person who caught them using the forbidden word. It’s pretty comical, watching a room full of teenagers trying to avoid words that have become habitual parts of their vocabulary, and grappling with other words to find replacements.

Candy tales

This is another fun exercise for older students. Have them start by writing a list of 5 or 10 of their favorite candies. Once they have their list, give them 10-15 minutes to write a brief story, including each of their listed candy words. MadLibs are another popular vocabulary builder, fun for all ages.

Another way to say

This game uses a mini-recorder, which is passed between students. Each student holds the recorder for 5 minutes, starting from the time it is handed to them, whatever they are doing. At the end of the 5 minutes, they write down what was recorded, exactly. Then, they hand the recorder to someone else and go back to their paper and write what was said, but using different words. This can be very challenging and illuminating to students who are generally unaware of exactly what they say or how they sound.

Spelling lists and spelling tests, while useful, can get tedious and detract from a student’s potential interest in building a better vocabulary. Games for teaching vocabulary in the classroom can be as simple as focusing on a word-a-day, or you can use some of the ideas described above, or you can create your own inventive ways to make vocabulary building more fun.