Middle School Vocabulary Activities

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A large vocabulary, an asset in all areas of communication, helps students throughout their educational career and beyond. Educators play an important role in helping middle school students build their vocabulary, which in turn improves students’ confidence as well as their academic performance. When teachers find ways to fully engage students in the learning process, vocabulary learning becomes more enjoyable.

1 Three Questions

Rather than just asking students to look words up in a dictionary, help them to understand the word on a deeper level by asking them to answer three questions about each new word: What is it? What is it like? What are some examples? By coming up with analogies and examples, students can see the word in a broader context and demonstrate whether they have a good grasp of the word. As learners think more deeply about a word and make connections between familiar and unfamiliar terms, they solidify their learning.

Vocabulary Builder

2 Vocabulary Bingo

Games like bingo provide an interesting and motivating way to review and reinforce vocabulary words. Provide students with a blank bingo card, with a five-square by five-square grid. Ask each student to fill in the spaces with vocabulary words he has recently studied (from a provided list of 25 or more words). Once each student has a prepared game card, the teacher calls out a definition of one of the words. Students mark the corresponding word on their bingo card or place a square of colored paper on it. When one player has a row of five words down or across, she calls out, “Bingo.”

3 Password

This fast-paced motivating game offers a competitive (or cooperative) way to review vocabulary. Divide the class into two teams, and explain that they need to help their classmates identify a specific vocabulary word without saying the word or any part of it. One student from the first team stands facing the front of the class as the teacher writes a vocabulary word on the board. Students on that team take turns providing a definition or explanation of the word in an effort to have the student guess the word within one minute. Then, the second team gets a turn. Teams alternate having a player at the front of the room until the class has reviewed all words or time is up.

4 Reading

“Drop Everything and Read” is an example of what can be a school-wide initiative to provide students and teachers alike with time for sustained silent reading. With such a program, educators can add more reading to the school day, providing children a chance to gain new vocabulary through reading. The International Reading Association confirms that readers develop knowledge of new words through incidental contact. Thus, the more new words students encounter in their reading of texts rich in new words, the more their vocabulary increases. (Of course, texts need to be comprehensible and not too far above the reader’s level.)

Ann Wolters has been a writer, consultant and writing coach since 2008. Her work has appeared in "The Saint Paul Almanac" and in magazines such as "Inventing Tomorrow" and "Frontiers." She earned a Master of Arts in English as a second language from the University of Minnesota.