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A quick, fun and engaging activity to have students learn and practice using vocabulary is a game called Flash Vocabulary. In this game students are paired up. Using a document camera or overhead projector, teacher places a vocabulary words down, showing the words on a screen or wall. Teacher can also just write the words and cover them up as well. One student has their back to the vocabulary and one student is facing the vocabulary (the direction of the screen). As the teacher flashes the vocabulary, the students facing the screen have to describe the vocabulary word or define it WITHOUT using the vocabulary word. As you can guess, students with their backs to the screen have to guess the vocabulary word.

To step it up, teachers may throw down a list of words. The goal then is to be the first pair to identify all the vocabulary words.

This game can be spur-of-the-moment, part of an anticipatory set, or break-up a long day of instruction.


Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Resourceful Book for Student Teachers and Job Seekers


Make vocabulary fun and the students will be more likely to learn it.  A great way to deliver this fun is through Jeopardy.  Please see the link below for grade-level and subject area Jeopardy games.  If none of the listed pre-made jeopardy games meet your needs, then they have a template to create your own.

What do you use in your classroom?  Send links, suggestions, ideas on how to best teach vocabulary to  We will then share it with other teachers.  Love to hear your thoughts!

Allowing students to use descriptions composed of everyday language is important in effective vocabulary comprehension and retention.  One way to do this is through a vocabulary self-awareness chart.  Teachers then can revisit this chart throughout the unit of study, creating multiple opportunities for students to monitor their learning of the vocabulary.

Here are the steps to completing this chart:

Student Directions:

  1. Examine the list of words you have written in the first column
  2. Put a “+” next to each word you know well, and give an accurate example and definition of the word.  Your definition and example must relate to the unit of study.
  3. Place a “check” next to any words for which you can write only a definition or an example, but not both.
  4. Place a “?“ next to words that are new to you.

You will use this chart throughout the unit.  By the end of the unit should have the entire chart completed.  Because you will be revising this chart, write in pencil.  


Vocabulary self-awareness chart (PDF)

Vocabulary self-awareness chart (WORD)

Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Another way I have my students interact with vocabulary is creating crossword puzzles.  This can be done by hand or computer-generated.  Students write the definitions and construct their very own crossword puzzles.  Typically, I ask students to include prior vocabulary to continually build their vocabulary comprehension.

Then, I collect the students crosswords, without the answers, and re-distribute them to the students at random.  Students are required to complete the crosswords, again, interacting with and learning the vocabulary.

Finally, once the students have completed the crossword puzzles I have the students pair up with student that originally made the crossword puzzle, allowing them to discuss their answers.


Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page

Create a Crossword Puzzle On-Line

Learning games can be another venue to increase students’ vocabulary comprehension.  I have used this learning game with 5th graders and, currently, with seniors in high school.  The benefits of this game are that it’s hands-on, engaging, and everyone is learning.

Here’s how it works:

1) Teacher has a list of the key vocabulary words posted in the room (word wall).

2) Teacher explains the instructions and rules.  Instructions are each student is required to make 2-3 paper airplanes, and then write the definition of their vocabulary word on each airplane.  The class will be divided into 2-4 groups.


3) The aim of the game is to knock out members from other groups by flying their airplane over to that group.  The students that receives the airplane, reads the definition out loud, then answers it.  If the student doesn’t answer it correctly, then the person that flew the plan needs to give the correct answer.  The student that is knocked out has one last chance to fly one of his/her airplanes to another group.

4)  If a student flies their airplane and it comes back to the original group, this is called friendly-fire.  Someone, at the teacher’s choosing, has to answer that question.  If their answer is incorrect, then they are knocked out.

5)  Teacher is ultimate decision-maker.  Students can not argue with the teacher, or they will lose a chance to go.

This is a fun, silly activity, but highly effective in engaging even the hardest to reach students in thinking about vocabulary.


Improving Student Learning through Effective Vocabulary Instruction page