Stack the Words

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6

What You Need: Paper or plastic cups

What To Do: Alyssa Roetheli’s fourth-grade students at Tobias Elementary in Kyle, Texas, love playing a game called “Stacks.” (An added bonus for teachers: The game requires minimal materials and setup.) To start, Roetheli passes out a list of current vocabulary words with definitions and examples of the words used in context. She then writes each word on a paper or plastic cup and divides students into groups of two or three, giving each group a container with a selection of cups inside. “The first student pulls a cup out of the container, reads the word, and defines it,” Roetheli says. The other students in the group check the definition against their list. If the student gave a correct definition, he or she gets to keep the cup. With each correct answer, students add to their collection and can begin stacking the cups. Group members take turns repeating this process as time permits or until all cups have been used. The student with the highest tower wins.

For a twist on this game, students can supply a synonym or antonym, or use the word in context instead of giving the definition.

Relay Runners

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6

What You Need: 50 index cards with a vocabulary word written on each

What To Do: Roetheli’s students also enjoy playing a relay game using recently studied vocabulary words.

After splitting students into five teams, Roetheli lines up the teams at one end of the playing space. (“This game is best played in a large indoor area or an outside space,” says Roetheli, who blogs at Teaching in the Fast Lane.) At the other end, she scatters index cards with vocabulary words written on them. She reads the definition of one of the words; teams quickly discuss which word has been defined. The first person in each line runs to find the word and bring it back. (Remind students what it means to play fair and not fight over the same card. Alternately, you can make sure there are enough copies of each word that each group can get the correct card.) When students return to the starting point, they go to the end of their respective lines and the class reviews the word and definition. Roetheli repeats the process until she completes her vocabulary list. The team that collects the most correct
                                                              words is the winner.

Word Detectives

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

What You Need: One sentence strip per student with a vocabulary word written on each; clipboards; recording sheets that include space to write a word’s synonym, antonym, definition, an example of the word, an example of what the word is not, and a space to write the word

What to Do: When Tanya Lewis, a teacher at Oakland Township Elementary in Butler, Pennsylvania, reviews vocabulary with her students, she turns each word into a mystery that needs to be solved.

Lewis writes a vocabulary word on each sentence strip and staples it to make a “crown.” She then places a crown on each student’s head. Students aren’t allowed to see their word or share words. Next, Lewis has them walk around the room and ask a classmate a question from their recording sheet. One student might ask, “Scott, what is a synonym for my word?” The student would write down Scott’s answer on the recording sheet. Scott could then ask a question about his word. The students then move around the room to ask another question of a different classmate. Play continues until students have answered all of the questions on the recording sheet. When they are done, they use the clues to figure out their word. 

“This activity helps to expose my students to many different vocabulary words and not just the one that is ‘theirs,’ ” says Lewis. “They have to help the other students come up with examples, synonyms, and so on.”

Picture It!

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6

What You Need: Dry-erase boards, markers, erasers, timer or clock with a second hand

What To Do: At Wilderness Elemen-tary in Spotsylvania, Virginia, teacher Doris Young has her students participate in a game similar to Pictionary. To begin, she assigns each student a partner, gives each pair a dry-erase board, marker, and eraser, and has students sit face-to-face. One student will be the illustrator, while the other will attempt to guess the word based on the illustrator’s drawing.

Young shows the illustrators a vocabulary word; they have one minute to draw an example of the word on their boards. When time is up, their partner has one minute to guess the word. Illustrators may not say or write the word; they may only draw pictures as clues. Partners earn points for each word correctly guessed. To continue play, partners switch roles with each new word. “Connecting words with pictorial representations helps students retain information,” Young says. “I use this game as a means of informal assessment. I can easily gauge students’ understanding of the terms from watching them play.” 


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