I've been tutoring with WyzAnt for almost three years, and have enjoyed the teaching and relationships I have had the privilege to build. As most of my students have sought me out for help with reading, writing or ESL, vocabulary is a key part of our studies. Over the past few years, I've developed, borrowed or added to several vocabulary review games and activities. Of course I am always looking for ways to encourage students to continue to use the words that we have been learning, so I welcome any additional ideas. Here are a few that I’ve used...
* Keep track of new words by listing them on notecards...
sometimes we draw pictures on the notecard and sometimes we write the sentence in which the word was originally used. We also list the definition on the back, which the student defines from context as well as looking it up in the dictionary. Many of our words come from the reading that we do, either from novels or newspaper/magazine articles, though I have also used vocabulary books. Two that I like are 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know by the Editors of the American Heritage Dictionary and the Scholastic series 100 Vocabulary Words Kids Need to Know by 4th Grade and others. The former uses quotations from young adult literature to contextualize each word, while the later is full of interesting activities for using the new words.
* Find a word that...
A high school ESL student and I first tested this game, and I have since used it with multiple students.
This game works best if you have a good number of words to work with. Spread the words out on a table. Explain that the first step of the game is to create clues, beginning with the phrase "Find (a) word(s) that...” and fill in the blank. Some examples include “Find a word that...:
- begins with "S;"
- that has 3 syllables
- that has more than three vowels
- that has to do with food
- that is an adjective
Thus, the clue writing can also help to review concepts such as parts of speech or syllables, or content that you may be studying.
After each player has written a predetermined number of clues, take turns reading them aloud. After each clue is read, both players search at the same time for as many words as they can find that fit the category. Sometimes there will only be one or two that fit, sometimes many. Once all the words have been found, each player reads his or her words aloud. Since some words will fit in multiple categories, this allows the students to both repeat and hear the words multiple times. Since definitions are written on the back of the vocabulary cards and can be checked at any time, the game also allows for meaning checking in the midst of searching for each category.
* Family Feud vocabulary: This game is so called because of the form the questions take. This is a game that you can prepare for by creating a few notecards at a time, and play when you’ve collected a good amount. Select a few vocabulary words for both you and your student, and have each person write a question using the word. Some examples:
Question: Why might a parent have misgivings about allowing their child to attend a rock concert with friends?
Word: apprehensive Question: Describe a time that you felt apprehensive.
These work well as a break between longer activities in a session. When you have collected 20-30 cards, (just an approximation) split the deck in half. Set a timer for a pre-determined amount of time (for example, one minute) and have one person begin by reading their questions. The other player tries to answer as many questions as possible. Questions can be passed and skipped or passed and returned to later. At the end of the minute, players switch roles. Play until your cards are gone!
*Pictionary: the old classic, but with vocabulary words instead of the original cards. Your student could even sort them into categories for use during the game.
*Vocabulary in Literature crosswords: As I read for both work and pleasure, I try to keep track of sentences that I encounter that contain my students’ vocabulary words, hopefully with at least a context clue or two. After I have amassed 10-15 sentences (this can take a while) I create a crossword, using the sentences with the word removed as the clues. There are crossword generators available online in which you type in the words and clues and the computer creates the crossword.
*Scrambled Sentences: “This is fun...we should do this again,” said one of my students after this activity. Originally, I created the sentences for this activity, writing 2-3 sentences with a vocabulary word in each, and then cutting them apart. I left in any punctuation and capitalization to give my students some clues. I adapted this game from one I found in Peggy Kaye’s Games for Reading. Next, I looked for a picture that might give a hint about the complete sentence. When I first did this activity, I was tutoring two students at the same time. They worked together to unscramble the sentence. In other incarnations of the game, a student and I both choose a word (or two!) and create our own sentences in class. We cut the words apart, switch sentences, and then unscramble each others’. Note: be sure to write down the original sentence first, before writing it on the paper/notecards that you are going to cut up.
*Catch Phrase: Another classic board and electronic game. Divide your stack of vocabulary words in half between you and your student. Your job is to describe your words for your students to guess. After a pre-set time period or number of words, switch.
*Taboo: I haven’t tried this as a vocabulary game yet, but have played it in its original board game form many times. The basic premise is similar to Catch Phrase with the additional caveat that each word that you describe for your partner comes with a list of words that you cannot use in the descriptions, thus, taboo. So, for example, if I were describing the word “strong,” my list of taboo words might include muscles, superman, and heavy.” Students may enjoy coming up with their lists of related words for each vocabulary word.
*Topic and Words: I don’t have a catchy name for this game yet, but here it is in a nutshell. Brainstorm a list of topics, people, novels, etc. that you have studied or discussed together. Write each topic on a note card. You and your student must choose one word card from the topic pile and 1-2 words from the vocabulary stack. Then each person creates a sentence about Topic A, using words B and C in the sentence. You could either each use different words and topics or you could both write your sentences using the same topic and words and discuss their differences and similarities.