We all remember vocab lists from our days as students. Teachers doled out lists of words and us students carefully copied these words along with their definitions into our notebooks. Most of us were then assigned some homework in which were to write out the new vocabulary and use it in a sentence. If we were really lucky we would have a test on these words at the end of the week. Our vocabulary was expected to become more rich and varied.
You know what it probably did become somewhat richer but not everyone learned through this method and the whole process was incredibly boring. It was very disconnected from the other learning we completing in class. We learned a whole series of words and used them in very isolated ways that didn’t connect to the other subjects. I know I’ve forgotten a great deal of the vocabulary I learned. I forgot it because I learned it in isolation. I didn’t take those new words and use them in a practical manner.
I am always searching online thesaurus sites from new words. For instance, I should have replaced the term “incredibly boring” with some like “monotonous” or “dry”. I would argue that we can improve student vocabulary by being creative in the ways in which we incorporate the learning of new words into our language programs and the other subjects students learn. Learning has to be fun or the content just won’t “stick”.
So without further ado, I’ve created a list of activities and strategies for building student vocabulary…
- Scrabble – What better way to finish off a Friday afternoon than with a 30-minute session of Scrabble. It’s an even richer task if you allow children to utilise dictionaries to look up words they can use. This might even lead to an opportunity to use play-based learning with your students. Imagine taking an interesting word they’ve used from Scrabble to create a lesson. Suddenly, this simple game seizes upon the moment and grows into something more meaningful. My students once discovered the arthropod during a scrabble game. This word quickly became the centre of a mini-inquiry unit.
- Unit Centred Vocab. Building – this long winded term simply means that as teachers we use the terms students are learning in science or geography in their language lessons as well. This means that we encourage students to create paragraphs or stories in which they include terminology from other subject areas. One of my favourite activities is to have students write newspaper articles that discuss a science concept. For instance, my students are currently writing articles in which they discuss the properties of matter. They are required to creatively discuss these concepts. It helps to grow their understanding of concepts and reinforces their creative writing skills.
- Incorporate physical activity – vocabulary relay races are a tonne of fun. Choose different words then have students work in teams to race back and forth matching adjectives with the specific words. If any of your students are kinesthetic learners this kind of activity will certainly help them to learn new words. Try to connect these words with other activities as well. Each lesson you complete should connect to prior learning.
- The battle for the best adjective – pick out different nouns that might apply to your current unit of study and use these for a whiteboard battle in which teams of students try to use the best descriptive words. Perhaps you are studying different types of precipitation. See who can come up with the best words to describe hail or sleet. Let them be creative. Also, let them use dictionaries. They will be exposed to more words if they can start to search through lists. They will come up with descriptions you would never have thought of.
There are numerous ways to help your students learn vocabulary. It might require a little creativity on your part but you can design something that will engage your students in a fun and meaningful activity. Give it a try and then let us know how it went. We would love to hear some of the ideas you might have for making learning fun!