Practice Eight – Vocabulary Strategies

All of these are written as group strategies, but may be adapted for individual work.

Strategy #1:

Challenging Vocabulary Challenge!
A Great Game after a test or at the end of a grading period.

Object: To win points for your team by creating definitions for little known words and fooling the other team into believing your definition is the correct one.

Materials: Vocabulary Strips, blank strips


  1. Prepare individual vocabulary strips of little known words and their definitions from the dictionary appropriate for the grade level. I.e. loquacious - full of excessive talk : WORDY’  There will need to be enough words for 3 complete rounds or 6 words per # of teams
  2. Cut 20 blank paper strips the same size as the one with the word on it.
  3. Fold all strips in half keeping the vocabulary strips separate from the blank ones.


  1. Create teams of 4-5 and have them select a team spokesperson. (Teams may select names or just be Team 1, Team 2, etc. )Two teams will play against each other each round. The team that wins plays the new team.
  2. Determine which team will go first by some method such as ‘Pick a number  between 1 & 20 and the closest goes first.”
  3. Each round will consist of 6+ word definitions.((your discretion but needs to be  an even number)
  4. The winner of each word definition will receive 10 points. The winning team of  Each round plays the new team. Scoring begins at ‘0’ with each round.
  5. For each round: 
    1. To the team presenting the word definition, hand out the folded strips- one with a word definition and the others are blank.
    2. Announce the word to the whole group.
    3. Give the presenting team members 1 minute to come up with their ‘dummy definitions’.
    4. When told to begin, the presenting team members will each present their definition of the word.
    5. The opposing team members will be given 30 seconds to decide on which definition is the correct one.
    6. The team’s spokesperson will announce the group’s choice.
    7. If it is the correct one, the team receives the 10 points. If it is incorrect, the presenting team receives the 10 points.
    8. Play now goes to the other team
    9. The winning team plays the new team.
      ***** If there is enough time, play can continue until all the teams have played  each other.

Strategy #2: Vocabulary Drawn from Literature/Quotes/Content

Using the example below, create an activity or strategy in which challenging or enriched vocabulary is drawn from literature or other written material. As a group, demonstrate/share with the class the strategy you have created and the intended grade level for the strategy.

Example—“I Have a Dream” (More Classics To Read Aloud To Your Children by William F. Russell) pgs. 219 – 224. Excerpt taken from top of page 222

“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro   community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people,   for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence   here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up   with our destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom  is inextricably (in-EX-trick-uh-blee) tied to our freedom. This   offense we share, mounted to storm the battlements of injustice,   must be carried forth by a biracial army. We cannot walk alone.”

Resource Examples:

Literature Lessons for Self-Discipline

Elementary Fable Myth

MS/HS Fable Myth

Classic Literature Resources - a variety of books, websites with audio and lesson plans, activities, etc.

Strategy #3: Word Wall

Your group will work together to create an example/prototype of a word wall which includes enriched vocabulary. You will describe/show what your word wall would look like, and the process by which it is built (how the words are chosen and the procedure by which they end up on the wall):

1. Please include the sources from which your vocabulary may be drawn.

2. Please describe what your word wall may look like.

3. Please explain the procedure by which the words are learned & placed on the wall.

4. Please inform the class the intended grade level for your word wall.

Be prepared for your group to demonstrate/share with the class the strategy you have created and the intended grade level for the strategy.

Resource: Great Expectations Word Wall - multiple ideas and strategies

Strategy #4: Use of Correct Terminology

As you facilitate learning, it is important to avoid diluting the words you use in your dialogue with students. Here are some examples:

Non-preferred Preferred
Today we will begin a study of plants. Today we will begin a study of horticulture.
action words predicates
times multiply
take away subtract
fall* autumn

Strategy #5: Word Day

Celebrate words with a “WORD DAY”. Everyone selects and dresses up to symbolize the meaning of a word they have selected. Approval by teacher is required.

  1. Have paper and yarn/string for making Word - definition cards for everyone to wear.
  2. When possible, include all staff i.e. cafeteria workers, maintenance, etc.
  3. Have the students write the Word, syllabication, and pronunciation along with definitions on the card. Add synonyms, antonyms, etc. if desired.

Associated Activities:

  1. Tie in with curriculum requiring the words to be from what the specific area of study - science, math, etc.
  2. Have them classify themselves into groups such as the ones listed below. In a class have them stand if they meet the criteria. Let other students check and decide if the criteria is met. Encourage the students to create other groups.
    1. parts of speech
    2. words with at least one long vowel or short vowel, etc.
    3. words that can be more than one part of speech i.e. rain, jump, level, etc.
    4. words that can have a suffix or prefix added
    5. words that have ____# of syllables
    6. words that contain other smaller words.
    7. For lower grade levels, have the students get in a line and put themselves in alphabetical order. (without talking)
  3. Students can have their words cards turned so no one can see the word. Others may ask yes/no questions to try to guess what the word is based on the dress of the student.
    1. Variation: Have each student carry around a blank sheet and pencil. While doing a mill-to-music, students walk around and ask yes/no questions to each other trying to figure out the word represented. At a signal they write their guess for the word on that student’s paper along with their name and then go to another person. After a period of time stop to see if anyone has correctly guessed any of the words.
    2. Lead a discussion of what types of questions can be asked to gain the most information. See Question Resources below:
  4. MIss Alaineus by Debra Frasier - 11:12 min. video and Lesson Plan: Learning to Learn with Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster ...Debra Frasier website about MIss Alaineus
  5. HOST A VOCABULARY PARADE! - Debra Frasier - Complete plans for a vocabulary parade

Strategy #6: Word Games

Word games can be interesting and fun way to build vocabulary. Some traditional word games include Hangman, Boggle, Scrabble, Pictionary, Match Game, and crossword puzzles, just to name a few. These games can be structured and/or modified to be used with various content areas, such as learning academic vocabulary terms.

Your group will describe/demonstrate a word game that you propose can be used to build vocabulary. Games may be designed for any grade level. Please explain how it might be used across curriculum areas. (How would you use that activity in science? Math? Etc. ) Please tell us the intended grade level for your strategy.


  • Alphabet Math Game - a great vocabulary game that encourages creating your own word puzzles and practicing math skills at the same time.
  • Mind Games - Resource for a wide variety of online word games
  • Word Puzzles - 4 Online Resources with hundreds of puzzles
  • Stories with Holes by Nathan Levy - The famous logic stories that make kids and adults think! Each book contains new stories for children ages 7-77. Stimulate pupil critical and creative thinking skills.

Strategy #7: Morphological Connection

A morpheme is defined as a meaningful language unit consisting of a word, such as man, or a word element, such as –ed in walked, that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts. Morphology, the study of the patterns of word formation and combination of morphemes, is highly beneficial to students in their development of an enriched vocabulary. Making morphological connections is something that can be done within the structure of any given content lesson. It can be viewed as a “mini lesson” within a lesson, or a “teachable moment.”

The following is an example of making morphological connections using the vocabulary word torture, drawn from a piece of literature:

Literature used—“The Story of Thesues: Part One.” from:

Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children: Selections from Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, O.Henry… by William F. Russell - A perennially popular collection of short stories, poems, legends, and myths from great works of literature that are especially appropriate for parents to read aloud to their children aged five to twelve.

Sample teacher dialogue—

“We can see in the word torture, the Latin word tortus, which meant “to twist or bend,” reminding us of the earliest methods of torturing human being. But the idea of “twisting” is also apparent in many other common words as well. A blackmailer might try to extort (ex-meaning “from”) money by twisting it from his victim; faces or figures may be distorted (dis-meaning “away”) or contorted (con- meaning “with”) when they are twisted out of their normal shape; a clever retort (re- meaning “back”) twists a remark back upon the opponent. Even the tortoise, which we saw as a man-eater in this myth, bears the tort root in its name because of the “twisted” appearance of its feet.

Create two examples of the use of morphology or morphological connection. Be prepared for your group to demonstrate/share with the class the strategy you have created and the intended grade level for the strategy. You have ____ minutes in which to create your strategy.”

Strategy #8: Journaling

Using reflective learning journals (Journaling Tips) to improve individual and team comprehension brings connections across the curriculum. Writing about a subject requires a high level of understanding. Writing in a reflective form offers students a chance to think about their thinking, or metacognition. This process can solidify concepts and define misconceptions. How could you use journaling to develop better neurological pathways and to develop vocabulary?

Create a procedure that includes the use of a learning journal in a classroom setting.

i.e. At the end of a math lesson learners will write in their math journal what they learned that day.

Be able to answer these questions:

  1. What is the objective of the exercise?
  2. What do you hope to accomplish?
  3. How will it happen?

Resource: Self-reflection Strategies - includes reflection writing stems, poster, a One-Minute Feedback strategy, etc.

Strategy #9: Realization of the Power of the Spoken Word

The objective of your group is to explain/demonstrate how using more robust words in place of common words has the potential of expanding students’ vocabulary. The particular structure you will use is “synonym brainstorming. You have 5 minutes in which to practice your structure.

Step 1—Decide who will be your group leader. The leader of your group will say a commonly used simple word, such as big or pretty.

Step 2—After the leader states the commonly used simple word, the others in your group will each list on paper all of the synonyms for that word that they can produce in 30 seconds.

Step 3—The leader will ask each person to share the words they wrote on their list. What unique words were produced? Common words?

Step 4—Your group will collaboratively decide upon a “common” word to use with the Class. Your group leader will facilitate this structure with the class.

Step 5—Your group leader will facilitate the “synonym brainstorming” structure with the Class. Your leader will instruct the participants in the class to each list on paper all of the synonyms he/she can produce in 30 seconds. Have participants share their words. See Personal Pocket Thesaurus as one way to keep a lexicon of the synonyms for these common words.

Step 6—Share with the class that “The objective of this structure is to explain/demonstrate how using more robust words in place of common words has the potential of expanding students’ vocabulary.”


We often call them $100 Words!



Strategy #7 Option: “TIRED WORDS”

Learners create an ongoing Word Wall with synonyms for overused words.

1. Brainstorm commonly overused words such as good, bad, said, happy, pretty, saw, big, nice, little, etc.

2. Make a display with pockets for each word. Have learners find and write synonyms on slips provided that may be put in the appropriate pocket. This is ongoing and words may be added throughout the year.

3. Direct learners to use the Word Wall to find synonyms that fit into their writing or speaking.

4. Option: Create Personal Pocket Thesaurus – learner creates an individual thesaurus for these words. Click on link for printable documents. This creates a booklet that learners create as a resource.




Strategy #10: Word of the Day/Week 

Your group will describe/demonstrate how you will integrate the use of the word of the day into your daily vocabulary.

Suggestion: Use Minute Mania Verbal Fluency as a verbal processing strategy before writing.

  1. Determine its part of speech - noun, adjective, etc. and how it might be used in a sentence.
  2. Write 2-3 sentences using the word.
  3. Describe situations when using the word would be appropriate.
  4. You should include how you will use the word of the day in a valuable way. (How it will be connected in to your daily living?)
  5. You should include how you will determine (or select) what the word of the day will be. What is your process or criteria for selecting the word of the day?

Resources websites:

Great Expectations Word-of-the-Week

A Years Worth of Words - A Pop-Up Lexicon

You have ____ minutes in which to create your strategy.

Strategy # 11: ‘Hand’y Curriculum Connections

 Page One - poster; Page Two - Instructions on Use - Strategies for use in all curriculum areas 

** Digital Download available

This strategy integrates the Eight Expectations, Life Principles and five literary elements in the analyzation of any piece of literature or video story.

Strategy #12: Novel Study

Your group will demonstrate/create a strategy for developing enriched vocabulary using novels, stories, basals, poems, or other writings. This strategy can be used whether or not you are required to utilize a reading series prescribed by your district. The basic idea behind this strategy is that you enrich whatever reading material you decide to use by expanding upon vocabulary pulled from the material (or vocabulary you attach to the material).

Your group has been provided a copy of Aesop’s Fables. Aesop Fable Collection

  1. Quickly select one of the fables you wish to use. (Or, select another story of your choice.)
  2. From this fable your group will identify the enriched vocabulary terms.
  3. Collaborate on how you would expand or build on the enriched vocabulary, and prepare how you will share this information to the whole group.

Be prepared for your group to demonstrate/share with the class the strategy you have created and the intended grade level for the strategy. You have 5 minutes in which to create/prepare your strategy.

Helpful Example:

Aesop Fable of The Three Bulls

Strategy #13: Lexicon

A lexicon is a personal dictionary, often used to include enriched vocabulary.

The steps that a teacher decides to include in a class lexicon may be determined by the particular needs of the class. There are 5 factors to consider when deciding to utilize a class lexicon structure:

  1. What steps will be included in the class lexicon? There may be specific skills your students need to work on (from various content areas). With this in mind, specific steps can be created to include in the lexicon that will help students develop those skills.
  2. What will be the lexicon procedure? It is best for the teacher to lead the students through the steps, especially in the beginning.
  3. How often will a lexicon page be completed?
  4. What will be the preferred methods of binding the lexicon pages? 3 ring binder, index cards, spiral notebook, etc.
  5. How will the students utilize their lexicon? In order for the students to internalize the words they have included in their lexicon, they should refer back to it from time to time as they work in class. It should be integrated into their daily work.
  6. What words will be included in the lexicon? How will you determine which words will be used?

Resources: Lexicon Resource - 31 word tasks Lower Elementary Lexicon Dictionary - link to Merriam-Webster Dictionary to look up words

Group Directions:

  1. Select a group spokesperson (the person who will share your lexicon to the class and who will share the groups answers to the questions listed below)
  2. Select a scribe (the person who will be writing your lexicon illustration as dictated by the group)
  3. Your group will create the steps of a classroom lexicon and your scribe will illustrate those steps using a vocabulary word, such as the word lexicon.
  4. Your group will collaborate on your answer to these questions:

    1. What will be your preferred method of binding the lexicon pages?
    2. How will the students’ use of their lexicon be integrated into the curriculum?
    3. How will you determine/select which words to include in the lexicon?

Your group has ____ minutes total:

--to create your lexicon steps

--for your scribe to illustrate those steps using a vocabulary word

--to answer the three questions, which will be shared by the spokesperson

Resource for making books:

Strategy #14: Posters

Visuals or peripherals are a valuable teaching strategy. Eric Jensen, in his book, Brain Compatible Strategies, suggests that visuals are “Brain Activators. He also suggests that up to 90% of learning comes from peripheral input as opposed to direct instruction. The planting of visuals in various areas of the room or providing cooperative learning structures develops the brain to a greater degree and aids in recall of information from a greater number of pathways. Your group will create guidelines for incorporating visual/peripheral teaching into a lesson. How will you use this strategy, how will you include students in the development of this strategy in enriching vocabulary that is being studied?

Online Resources for Creating Word Posters:

These free online sites allow the creation of posters with your own vocabulary words offering wide choices of colors, patterns, etc.

  • Poster Example created

with Word Clouds

Strategy #15: Flash Cards/Dictionary Drill

Accessing resources is not only a tested objective; it is a foundational skill across the curriculum. Your group will create/demonstrate the use of flash cards/dictionary drill. An example of one use is as follows:

Using 3x5 cards, have all students create a set of words to be studied. Place the word, phonetic spelling, and syllabication on one side of the card. Place the definition, synonyms, antonyms, and part of speech on the reverse side.

As a sponge activity (an activity used to bridge a transition such as class changes, after lunch, when students need a change of pace during the day),

  1. Arrange students in pairs or groups.(3-4).
  2. One student will be captain. The captain’s job is to present the flash cards to the group, one student at a time.
  3. The captain can choose the response from the student from the following:
    1. Spell the word,
    2. Count the syllables, 3.
    3. Define the word,
    4. Give a synonym or antonym.
  4. This is repeated for a designated period of time, usually 2 or 3 minutes. Then, the role of captain is passed to another student.
  5. The entire group is responsible for maintaining the correctness of the answers, and giving support if the student requires help. “We will not let you fail” is the attitude developed.