Differentiation, Planning & Instruction,ELA & Writing

3 Engaging Ways to Teach Vocabulary While Having Fun

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a student(s) in your class that does not speak the language. Having one or in some cases up to 75% (dare I say 100%?) of your class be composed of second language learners can be daunting especially if they arrive halfway through the school year.  How do we help them?  How can we ensure that they gain some knowledge while in our classroom? One of the most important things we can do is consider that these students have background knowledge that can facilitate learning.Do you want to teach vocabulary and have your students be engaged and having fun too? These 3 ways to teach vocabulary are effective and fun! Grab the free templates while you're at it!

We can never assume that because a student does not speak the language, they have nothing to bring to the table.

We can use what they know along with their experiences to further enhance their learning. Bear in mind that conversational language (what they call “playground conversations”) usually comes first and takes up to 2 years to acquire.  Academic language however, takes much longer.  Students can require between 7 and 10 years to acquire the appropriate academic vocabulary.  Does this mean that all is lost?  No!  We can teach both conversational and academic language and front load the proper vocabulary needed to understand concepts and fulfill academic tasks.  In order for students to be successful they must be exposed to English through listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Front loading and giving students access to varying tiers of vocabulary will allow for students to have some schema before new information is presented.

Here is a list of 3 engaging ways to teach vocabulary to your students.  Each activity involves 3-4 of the domains of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

1. Vocabulary Bingo

Vocabulary Bingo is fun because it feels like the students are playing a game (which they are), but they are also highly engaged in learning.  It is hands-on and can be used for any vocabulary tier.

How to play:

Have students fold a white piece of paper into 3×3 or 4×4 squares.  Display the vocabulary words that students will be working on.  Students can write the words on the squares in random order.  They will need “game pieces” to play. It can be small pieces of paper, math manipulatives such as the ones from a base ten set, counters, or dried beans….pretty much anything that would work for you. You would then call out the words by their definition. and students must identify the word on their paper and cover it with their game piece.

Grab this Vocabulary Bingo Template when you sign up for exclusive access to the resource library.

Differentiate: Instead of calling out the definition of the word, you can also try these variations…

    • Show a picture/image that represents the word.
    • Act out (if possible) the word.
    • Say the word and students draw a picture that matches the word.
    • Say the word and students write the definition.
    • Say the word and students write a synonym or antonym to match.

2. Uh Oh! What’s Missing?

Discussing word definitions is great, but students also need to be able to use the words in context and attempt to make connections to their world. Making connections allows for students to take “ownership” of the word so that they may have opportunities to begin using the word in conversations outside of the classroom.

How To Play:

Divide students into groups of four. Give each group a set of 5 vocabulary cards. In their groups, students must discuss the words and generate sentences in which they use the vocabulary words.  Give the students sentence frames so that they may write their sentences but leave the space where the vocabulary word would go-blank.  Once all students are done, gather them together to play a game of What’s Missing?

Display the sentence frames. Have students from opposing groups read the sentences and decide which vocabulary word matches in the blank spaces.  Every time a member of an opposing team identifies the correct word, the team gets a point.

Grab a template for sentence writing when you sign up for access to the free resource library.

Differentiate: Each group can get a different set of cards to increase exposure or you may have each group get the same cards. When they get the same cards, it’ll provide multiple opportunities for the students to see thesame words over and over again within different context.  This is especially helpful if some of the vocabulary words have multiple meanings.

3. I Have/Who Has?

This game is one of my favorites because I am a visual learner and so are many of my students.  In I Have/Who Has? The students get to associate a word with its image.  It can be used for basic word knowledge, specific phonetic skills, or varying tiers of vocabulary.

How to play:

Create a list of words that you will be pre-teaching/teaching and create I Have/Who Has cards.  Your cards must say “I have______. Who has ______?” You can fill in the blanks with the words you are using.  Hand out 1 or 2 cards to each student.  Students must read what is on the card and the person who has what they are looking for must answer by reading the corresponding card. Every card in the set should be connected to a card before it and a card after it. The game continues until the last card is read.

In the example below, we played I Have/Who Has to learn compound words.  The students understood the concept of compound words, they had to read words, and they also identified pictures with the corresponding words.

What fun way to learn compound words! I Have Who Has is one of my favorite activities to do with my students.

This compound word set is part of a Compound Words Interactive Activities Pack in my shop.

Differentiate: Reading the words on the card is great for students who are practicing phonics skills or reading strategies such as with the compound word cards above. To get student to go past just reading a word and understanding its meaning, you can alter the cards in different ways.

  • I have _____ (instead of a word, have a picture). Students must identify what is pictured. Great for ELs who are learning conversational vocabulary.
  • I have ___________. Who has________. (write the definition of the word). The person who has the card with the word that matches the definition must know the definition of the word in order to reply.
  • I have ___________. Who has the synonym/antonym for __________?
  • Another variation is to have the students use the word in a sentence. i.e. I have pollution. The pollution in the air makes it hard for some people to breathe. Who has_______?

I hope these strategies for teaching vocabulary can be helpful for you. I’d love to know what other fun and engaging strategies you use to teach vocabulary?  Tell me in the comments section below!

Don’t forget to grab the FREE templates to use with your students while playing these fun and engaging games.

Happy Teaching,

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