Saturday, March 2, 2013

Vocab. Activities

I am writing this post from one of my favorite places in the city: Barnes & Noble. This is where I do the majority of my essay grading, lesson planning, and when I was in Grad school-homework.

I sit here today with my favorite Starbucks drink of the moment-a Very Berry Hibiscus refresher--and typing out scholarship recommendation letters for students. This is a super busy time of year for my seniors, and many of them ask me to write letters of recommendation, which I am happy to do.

But today I would like to talk about something at the sophomore level: vocabulary.

Teaching vocab. is probably one of my least favorite subject areas to teach, but it's a required part of the curriculum for English I-III. This year is our first year using a Prestwick House vocab series that focuses on learning words through prefixes, suffixes, and Latin & Greek roots. Each unit focuses on 4 new root words, as well as 12 vocab. words made from those roots.

The kids tend to HATE doing vocabulary, and I get bored of simply doing the required workbook activities too. So over the years, I have compiled a bunch of different supplemental activities I can do to help learn that week's words in (hopefully) a more enjoyable way. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Word webs in groups (or alone)
This year we've also started doing testing three times a year that will soon become part of our evaluation (showing progress over the year). I can sort my students' results by RIT score for different areas, including vocab. So I put them in vocab. teams for the semester according to their scores. I try to give each team a fun name. This semester, I named my teams according to popular singers right now, like one team is Team Justin Bieber, one is Team One Direction and so on. They get a kick out of it.

Each group is given 3 of the 12 words to focus on and complete a word  "web" on. You can actually make it look like a web if you want or simply type out the following prompts on a sheet of paper. When everyone is done, I make enough copies for the entire class, so all students will get a word web for all 12 words to use to study, though their group only had to do them for 3.

Vocab. word:
Part of speech:
Root meaning:
Definition in your own language:
What other familiar words does this word remind you of?
Use this word in your own sentence.
What are synonyms and antonyms of this word?
What's a memory device we could use to remember the definition?
Draw a picture to illustrate this word.

2. Vocab. picture Internet activity (sorry-never claimed to have creative names for them!)
This is somewhat similar to the webs except I always have the kids do this one solo, and they tend to like it because they can browse for pictures on Google images.

In a Word document, I have them type each of the 12 words (they can use fun fonts for this activity), the definition, and use it in a sentence. Then I have them go to Google images or Clip Art to find a photo that embodies that word for them. I always advise them to NOT Google the actual vocab. word, or they will simply get pictures of the word. Instead they should think of what picture they may want and Google for that instead.

For instance, a word we had recently was "exonerate." Perhaps they could search for a photo of handcuffs breaking loose or someone breaking out of jail to show they have been found not guilty. Under each picture, they need to explain how that picture relates to the vocab. word. You could adapt this activity to subjects besides English, too. I think it could work for foreign languages or even content-specific vocabulary in science or social studies.

3. Make a crossword puzzle
There is a free crossword puzzle maker at

It is fairly user-friendly, though it was better in the past and they changed it, so I am on the lookout for an even better site. I have each student make their own crossword puzzle using definitions, sentences, synonyms/antonyms as clues (they have to make sure to type out each vocab. word correctly spelled or the puzzle will be wrong). After they make one and print it out, they switch with another student and will take complete each others'. For only 12 words, I can usually have them make the puzzle and switch within one class period. They can also print out a solution to the puzzle.

4. Make a cartoon strip
I tend to have a lot of art-loving students who want to draw all the time! To get them interested, I will sometimes give the option of doing a cartoon comic strip using all the vocab. words (many times, I give the class 3-4 different options for vocab. activities and they can choose which one they want to do).

For this, I usually set a minimum number of "slides" they can have, like 10. They need to think of a plot and draw out all the different slides, using the vocab. words correctly in thought/speaking bubbles. My art-focused students always choose this option and really enjoy it.

For each unit, we typically spend 1-2 days doing different activities, and one class period reviewing for their quiz. I have a variety of review games we play, such as Board Races, Around the World, Vocab. Bingo, Sparkle, and a Jeopardy-type game using our buzzer system. 

Vocab. may not be the most fun thing we do in English, but it IS possible to make it more enjoyable, and it starts with getting out of the workbook and not doing the same exercises in the book week after week.

I will also sometimes offer a few extra credit points if they use any of that week's words correctly in another class and have that teacher sign off on them using it correctly. This is a good way to entice them to incorporate new vocab. into their everyday language.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I use Greek/Latin roots as my daily warm ups. I give them a Roots packet I created with a 3-column table: Root[s], Definition, Example words. Then every 10 roots we have a quiz. The quiz is 10 different sentences, and they have to underline the root[s] with in the word[s] within the sentences. Great minds think alike!

    Tales of Teaching in Heels