If I have learned one thing from my students, it’s that any activity, no matter how fun or engaging, quickly turns into drudgery if it is overused. I especially find this to be the case with vocabulary activities. After about the third time students fill out vocabulary squares, I usually begin to hear groans. Drudgery does not often result in great learning outcomes, so here are some ways I try to keep vocabulary tedium from creeping into my classroom.
Charades and Speech Bubbles
My Advanced Placement Literature students study a list of tone words biweekly. Since tone words express character and attitude, this charades game was a great way to reinforce and review the words. Students were each given a random word from our list and had to come up with a saying that would represent that tone. I had found some speech bubble cards at my local teacher supply store, so students wrote their sayings on those. When the students presented the speech bubbles, they also had to assume a pose that represented the tone they were portraying.
Faith is shown here portraying the word apathetic. The “So anyways . . .” quote and rolled eyes helped us figure out that she was feeling uninterested and indifferent.
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but Lily is on her knees, saying, “It’d be my pleasure to serve you” to portray the word obsequious, just as any overly submissive and servile person would.
Even my third-grade daughter got in on the fun when she was visiting my classroom. My students only had to tell her that haughty meant “arrogantly superior,” and she quickly came up with this pose and the saying “I win, you lose.”
The students found this review so helpful that they asked me to create a Google Doc with all the pictures in it so that they could refer to them as they studied the words. After we guessed each person’s word, we wrote the word on the speech bubble. I hung these on the wall, which provided a fun way to see and be reminded of our growing list of tone words.
What It Is/What It Isn’t
Any time students can make connections to a vocabulary word, they are more likely to remember it and make it a part of their lexicon. This activity requires students to make more personal connections to vocabulary words by considering the ways in which the word relates to them, as well as the ways in which it doesn’t. For example, for the word copious, students were asked to list three things they wished they had copious amounts of and three things that they did not wish to have copious amounts of. Or, for the word undermine, students thought of three things that tended to undermine their efforts to do well in school as well as three things that did not undermine their efforts. This activity helped them apply the vocabulary words to their own lives with personal connections, and it also tended to be a favorite to share aloud in class, because they liked to hear the different answers their classmates came up with.
Toward the end of the year, everything seems tedious to my students, and they are antsy to get up and out of their seats (and be on their cell phones!). This is the perfect time to throw in a vocabulary scavenger hunt. To begin, the students pair up and are given a handout with a list of 10 scavenger hunt tasks that correspond to vocabulary words that we are working on, as well as a whiteboard and marker. Groups must take a picture representing each item on the list, and the whiteboard with the vocabulary word written on it must appear in the picture. When students are finished, they email all of their picture submissions to me, and I award a point value for each correct submission. Students are allowed to go around the school with the knowledge that they must follow school rules and avoid disrupting other classes.
Here is Amber with the volleyball net to complete the task “Find the accoutrements of gym class.”
Shyloh used one of her Snapchat filters to show her volleyball skills and complete the task “Show something at which you are adroit.”
Kolton roped Josh into the picture to complete the task “Show someone in your group vexing someone else,” and he played right along with his facial expression.
It is fun to see what the students will come up with for this activity. I got a chuckle out of this submission from a senior for the task “Show something that gives you a sense of foreboding.”
After the scavenger hunt was completed, I printed out the best submissions and hung them on the wall as a review of the words. The students really enjoyed looking at their classmates’ submissions, and it made them try harder during the next scavenger hunt in order to make it onto the wall.
Any activity that is overdone loses its effect, so the strategies mentioned above are not ones I use on a weekly basis, but rather activities that can provide a break from the norm and a way to refresh students’ interest in vocabulary study. I hope your students will enjoy them as much as mine have!