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Vocabulary development is an important part of language and literacy learning. This lesson will give you some ideas about how you can grow your middle school students’ vocabulary while keeping things fun and entertaining.

Why Games?

Having a large vocabulary is helpful in so many ways. Students with well-developed vocabularies are more sophisticated in conversation and are better readers and writers. Vocabulary that is content-specific can also help with learning and communication in all of the subject areas. Yet sometimes students resist vocabulary lessons because they seem dull or drill-like. In this lesson, master 7th-grade teacher Ms. Wilkins shares some games she uses to keep vocabulary learning engaging and motivating for students.

People play games because they are fun. Teachers can take lessons from families and friends to get inspired about how to make learning fun and engaging.
play together

Vocabulary and Traditional Games

Checkers anyone? Ms. Wilkins likes to include a vocabulary list in each of her units of study. To help students become familiar with the vocabulary, she will take a checkerboard and put a sticker with a vocabulary word on alternating spots. She then lets her students play checkers, but when they land on a space that has a vocabulary word, they have to use the word they land on in a sentence.

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Another activity Ms. Wilkins likes to use is bingo with vocabulary words. To play this, make sure students have a strong base of traditional bingo rules. For this game, create cards with words on them and hand them out to the students. Ms.

Wilkins then reads the definitions. Students who cover five words in a row call out ‘Bingo’! As a variation, she asks students to prove they have won by using their covered words in complete sentences. Winners get a small prize.With particular types of vocabulary, Ms. Wilkins has her students play pictionary. She divides her class into teams and instructs them to take turns illustrating vocabulary words for their team members to guess. The teams that do the best job at drawing out meanings and guessing the words are the winners.

This is another game where prior knowledge of the game’s basic rules will be helpful before using it to practice vocabulary words.Tic-tac-toe is another classic game that students may use to practice vocabulary. Ms. Wilkins will make tic-tac-toe boards with vocabulary activities in each blank, and splits the class into teams. This version of the game includes cloze activities. Cloze activities include sentences where students have to fill in the blanks of a sentence where words have purposely omitted. In this case, Ms.

Wilkins uses sentences with missing vocabulary words. In tic-tac-toe, she sometimes creates questions that must be answered with a vocabulary word. In order to place an ‘X’ or an ‘O’ on the board, students have to successfully complete the activity in the square.

Classroom Games

Many teachers have classrooms games that are simple, effective, and work well in a classroom environment. Ms. Wilkins will partner up her students for her classroom game of guess the word. She gives each student a stack of cards, each with one vocabulary word on it. Taking turns, each student gets one minute to try to get his or her partner to guess the word that is on the card, however, the person who is trying to get the partner to guess is not allowed to use the word itself. Rather, students must use other words that are similar to the word at hand to get his or her partner to guess correctly.In yet another classroom game that she calls speed word, Ms.

Wilkins will project one of the vocabulary words for the whole class to see using a projector or smartboard. She then quickly fires questions at her students. The questions include details about the vocabulary words the class is studying.

She may ask:

  • What part of speech is this word?
  • What is an antonym of this word?
  • What is a synonym of this word?
  • What other words have similar roots to this one?
  • Can you use this word in a sentence?

What makes this game particularly fun is asking the questions very quickly so that students get caught up in the excitement of high speed.One final classroom game that Ms. Wilkins uses is called public conversation. For this game, Ms.

Wilkins will select two or three students to stand up in front of the entire class. Their task is to have a conversation that makes sense, on any topic they want, using as many vocabulary words from their current unit as possible. The conversation has to make sense, and both partners have to take responsibility for incorporating the vocabulary words. Whichever pair of partners is able to incorporate the most words in the least time is considered the winning pair.

Vocabulary and Outdoor Games

At times, Ms. Wilkins takes her class outside for a popular game of vocabulary basketball. First, she will divide the class into two teams.

Each member of the team is asked a vocabulary question (definition, spelling, pronunciation, etc.). If the student gets the answer right, that team wins a point. As a bonus, an additional point can be won for the team if he or she is able to make a basketball shot from a designated spot on the court.

If the student makes the shot, they get to keep going and try to answer another question. This continues as long as the student answers correctly and makes a basket. However, before each additional shot the student must back up one or two steps from the basket. This continues until the student misses a shot or gets a question wrong. In either case, the next question goes to the other team.

After everyone has had a turn, the team with the most points wins.

Basketball is one possibility. How might you incorporate vocabulary development into tetherball, baseball, or other games your students are interested in?
ball play

Lesson Summary

Ms. Wilkins’ students are used to developing their vocabulary in fun and engaging ways! Ms. Wilkins tries to incorporate vocabulary practice with classic games, like vocabulary checkers, bingo, and tic- tac-toe.

She tries to include some form of game or classroom activity into her teaching at least twice each week. This may include an outdoor game that involves physical activity in order to continue keeping her students excited about words and their definitions. Sometimes she includes cloze activities, or sentences where students have to fill in the blank with vocabulary words, in her games. She hopes that you can use vocabulary games in your practice to help students enhance their reading and communication skills.

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