Games for Teaching Vocabulary in the Classroom

Every language has its own specific vocabulary. I’ve been told the English language is one of the most difficult languages to learn. I know some of the idiosyncrasies of the English language can be confusing; the ones we all know. For instance for, four and fore. How do you teach those?

However difficult, it will all be new to the new reader. Just the idea “new” can equate to difficult. There must be something we can do to make this “new” thing a little easier to grasp. There is, we play games. All kids like to play games. Give them a goal and let them play a game to get there and they will all participate.

1) One of the most familiar and perhaps most common word games or vocabulary games is finding all the words you can inside another very familiar word. For instance, write the word Halloween at the top of a paper with two columns of lines on it and ask the student to write down all the two letter or bigger words they can find inside Halloween. Hall, all, owl, low and so on. When the student starts finding words like allow, wean and halo then they are stepping outside of the usual vocabulary ring. This little exercise doesn’t have them using the words in any application but at least they are seeing them.

When time is up, collect the sheets and read some of the words out loud. As you read them ask the students, one at a time, what the word means. When somebody stumbles on one, and nobody can help him or her out, you explain what the word means and use it in a sentence. This is the part that will help teach them their vocabulary.

2) Another very fun game for vocabulary is word find. Before class you make a word find diagram of say 25 letters by 25 letters square. Select at least a dozen words you want them to find and learn and hide them within the grid of letters. Place the words in all directions, even backwards, so they actually have to hunt to find them; that’s the game part. Same as with the other exercise; when time is up, collect the papers, read the words one at a time and have someone explain what each word means. When they all stumble you explain the meaning and use the word in a sentence.

3) A little more difficult, but very effective, word game involves you preparing a list of say 12 words and/or phrases that are all in the same category. Assign each word a position number of 1 through 12. For instance, let’s use words or phrases that mean how long it takes to get something done. Assign the words at both extremes of your list, the numbers 1 and 12. As the words in your list get closer to meaning what one of the extremes means, for instance the number 12 word, that word is assigned a larger number. As your words get nearer the number one assigned word the number gets smaller.

A list I use goes like;
Never = 1, Rarely = 2, Seldom = 3, Occasionally = 4, Sometimes = 5, Often = 6, Usually = 7, A lot = 8, Most of the time = 9, Quite Often = 10, Almost always = 11, Always = 12.

You can see how I go from one extreme, never to the other, always. Then a bunch of varying words/phrases in between. I assign numbers from 2 through 11 by deciding which word is closer to which extreme. To me, Rarely seemed like the word closest to meaning never so I gave it a value of 2.

Mix the words up, without their numbers, and write them on a piece of paper, in a column. Show one of the extremes at the top of the column and the other extreme word at the bottom and show their values of 1 and 12 to get the students started. Have an empty column next to the words and have the students assign their own numbers.

Grade them on how close they get to the right answer. Granted, there may not be an absolutely right answer but the exercise of trying to get there will cause them to think about the idea of words or phrases meaning something similar but different to different people.

Word games are fun; they can be very rewarding. In all cases if you feel like you want to give an award to the first one done or to the one with the most words or the most right answers, make certain it is a recognizable award. Don’t give everyone the same award. If you are going to have a winner, don’t make winners out of everybody. If you do, you will be showing the slower ones that it doesn’t matter if you get it or not you are still going to get a prize. There will be no reason for them to try harder.