Grades 3-5: Vocab Activities

Help students build vocabulary and deepen comprehension with engaging word activities.

  • Grades: 3–5

Free Vocabulary Apps

• Word Lens. This camera application translates pictures and words. iOS and Android.

• Word Warp. In this timed game, players use six letters to make words. iOS.

• Word Popper. Similar to Word Warp, this app challenges players to make words using 27 provided letters. iOS.

• Word Squares. Players must arrange 16 letters on a board to spell words both horizontally and vertically. iOS.

Book Jackdaw

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2, R.4

What You Need: 3-by-5-inch index cards, markers, container
What to Do: What’s a book jackdaw, you ask? A jackdaw is a bird that collects bright objects in its nest; a book jackdaw is a collection of items that reflects the content of a book.

Make a jackdaw for a book you plan to read with the class. For example, if you’re reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, you might include a shoelace (to represent running), a baseball or baseball cap (to represent an important sport in the story), and a bag of M&M’s (to represent Maniac’s initials). The objects could be contained in a shoebox (to represent Maniac’s penchant for running). Attach an index card to each object and write a short explanation of how it relates to the book. Share the book jackdaw with students, telling about each item and how it fits into the story—without giving too much away, of course.

Invite students to create a jackdaw for a book they have read and share it with the class. (It’s a great alternative to traditional book reports!) Display jackdaws on tables, windowsills, or any flat space so that students can examine them, learning new words and noting new books to read.

Word Wheel

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4

What You Need: Word Wheel printable, dictionary and/or thesaurus
What to Do: Take vocabulary words for a spin by making Word Wheels. Distribute copies of the printable to each student (click here to download Word Wheel). Model how to complete the wheel by writing a familiar vocabulary term in the center of the wheel. Then, fill in each wedge with synonyms, antonyms, etc. Discuss how thinking about the word deepens students’ understanding of its meaning and structure. Finish your example by writing a sentence that uses the word in a meaningful way.

Then, get students rolling on making their own wheels. Assign a word to explore with the Word Wheel, and remind students to use a dictionary to help them complete the wheel. Invite them to share their wheels with the class and, when they’re done, display them on a bulletin board.

Root Trees

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.3.3, 4.3, 5.3

What You Need: Drawing paper, markers or colored pencils
What to Do: These word trees will help vocabulary learning take root. Begin by drawing on a bulletin board a large tree with roots, a trunk, and branches. Write a root word, such as meta-, on the trunk of the tree. Have students generate words that contain the root and write them on the branches. For example, students might write metallic, metabolism, and metamorphosis. Next, draw  leaves on the branches where students can record other related words. For instance, if the branch says metaphor, you may add a leaf for metaphorical. Add more words as you discover them during lessons. 

Ten Important Words

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1, L.4

Adapted From: Yopp, R. H., & Yopp, H. K. (2007). “Ten important words plus: A strategy for building word knowledge.” The Reading Teacher, 61, 157–60.

What You Need: 10 sticky notes for each group, class reading assignment
What to Do: Use this group activity to help students put vocabulary words in context. Place students in teams of four and give each group 10 sticky notes. Have teams read an assigned text together and place sticky notes near the 10 words they think are the most important. Encourage students to move the notes around as they narrow down their choices, while
also discussing which words are most crucial to the text and why.

Ask teams to share their final 10 words with the class. Tally how many other groups selected each word. Then focus on the 10 words with the most tallies as you analyze the selected text; they are most likely key words students need to understand the content.

Interview a Word

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4

What You Need: Container, slips of paper, Interview a Word printable
What to Do: Put your vocabulary words in the hot seat! This activity will help students think deeply about a word’s meaning and relationship to other words. Begin by introducing the questions on the Interview a Word printable (click here to download printable), and then do the following:

• Select key words from a unit of study.

• Create small teams of students. Give each team a copy of the printable and one key word—without revealing the word to other teams.

• Have each team “become” the word and answer the questions on the printable. Encourage students to add humor or drama to their responses.

• Rejoin as a class. Serve as the interviewer and pose the questions to each team. Team members should take turns reading their answers from the word’s point of view. Have the other teams guess the word. 


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Karen Bromley is the author of The Next Step in Vocabulary Instruction. She is a distinguished teaching professor at Binghamton University (SUNY). She was previously a third-grade teacher and a reading specialist.

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  • Subjects:
    Curriculum Development, Reading Comprehension, Reading Fluency, Vocabulary, Word Origins and Usage, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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