Try these words for vocabulary building to boost student engagement

vocabulary classroom games
These vocabulary classroom games will definitely build students’ vocabulary.

In our last post, we discussed vocabulary words for 1st grade. I shared how I use thematic approach to teaching and how much my students enjoyed learning vocabulary words for science as well as social studies. After teaching for 25 years, I discovered the miracle that is concept-based instruction, and it made a dramatic difference; not just in my students, but also in my teaching.

What is concept-based instruction? In a word, magic!

You may be asking, “What is concept-based instruction?” It is when your language arts curriculum is all connected together by a certain theme. Your words for vocabulary, reading, and writing are centered around your theme. I dabbled in this a bit in my earlier teaching, but it was when my themes and vocabulary words came from our content area units that I saw a real difference.

Concept-based instruction will provide your students with countless benefits. Here are just a few. Your students will: (Inspirational Teaching Using Limited Resources)

  • Have fun
  • Be more actively involved
  • Develop learning skills more quickly, as each one is connected to and reinforced by the other
  • Be more confident and better motivated
  • Present fewer discipline problems.

Think about it, you introduce your theme and your students know exactly what they will be learning for that time frame. Imagine asking your students “what are we learning class?” and every single one responds, “Abraham Lincoln!” or whatever you happen to be learning. Now, you begin the discussion on Abraham Lincoln, but instead of you talking, you ask them questions.

  • What have we learned so far?
  • Our word today is log cabin. How is “log cabin” related to Abraham Lincoln?
  • Are any of our other words connected to today’s word?
  • Can you make a personal connection?

Now hands are popping up right and left. The demand to share relevant connections is so high that you worry there won’t be enough time so you invite your students to turn and talk. You walk around the room and notice they are talking about how Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin and the Lincoln Memorial is in Washington, DC. One student says how Lincoln was a lawyer and his mommy is a lawyer too! Your students are fully engaged in the content and so they are learning, making connections, and building lasting foundations.

Now imagine someone took those themes, bundled them up, created the words for you, and added music! Well that’s precisely what Daily Concept Builders™ are. The core concept is a 5 or 6 word cluster that factors into a group of coordinating resources. What’s the result? More confident, more engaged, lifelong learners!

Vocabulary classroom games that will change the game

Now if you haven’t read my last post, go ahead and check it out here. In it, I discuss the essential element of our Daily Concept Builders™, our emergent readers. These hugely popular books are fantastic for building vocabulary and are ideal for building strong, capable early readers.

My students love playing these vocabulary classroom games! They can be used as easy literacy centers or early finisher activities. This memory game matching pairs includes the same real images that are in the emergent readers, so the students can make better connections. Easily differentiate with matching word to word, picture to picture, or word to picture.

memory game
There are 3 versions to this memory game with real photos.

Another game my kids love is Brain Bounce. These questions for vocabulary are a great way to assess what my students have learned about the words and my kids love being in teams. These cards are so versatile you will find a new way to use them each day. Print multiple copies for different purposes, like: Read Around the Room, Exit Tickets, and these genius ideas from other teachers:

“Great independent informational station with self check.”

“I include these slides n my morning meeting powerpoint each day. They are a fun way to work on vocabulary.”       
picture of vocabulary game
My kids love playing this vocabulary game.

Worksheets cut and paste to nurture stronger vocabulary

I wanted a worksheet that incorporated our thematic vocabulary and sight words as well as provide phonics practice. I couldn’t find one, so we created it! I provided my advanced students with a greater challenge using a critical thinking question at the bottom. They loved answering the questions on the backs of their papers and some even illustrated their thoughts.
I have seen tremendous growth in my students’ fine motor skills, reading and writing fluency, and just plain love of learning. It makes my heart so happy to see my babies’ smiles! It’s so unbelievably easy to print my sheets at the beginning of the week and that center is done. I spend a couple of weeks introducing the sheets and we complete the sheets together as a class. Then I use it as a center every day.
picture of vocabulary worksheets
These worksheets will build vocabulary as well as sight words.

These vocabulary classroom games and activities with vocabulary words have helped students build great content vocabulary as well as increased writing and phonics skills. The real photos are the best way for my English Language Learners to make the connections to the words. I believe introducing these thematic words and using these readers I shared in the last post as well as the resources I shared here have given me the success with my PALs scores. Read all about my story!


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student engagement with stronger vocabulary
Boost student engagement with these vocabulary classroom words.





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