Playing the Vocabulary Game

This engaging game is a terrific way to reinforce important vocabulary words across the curriculum

By Greg Harrison


magnifying glass


Classroom games are fun, motivating, and educational. Many years ago, I came up with a way to reinforce importantvocabulary words with something I call The Vocabulary Game. All you need to play the game is a pocket chart, which you can find at your school, or at your local educational supply store, and some construction paper.

How to Play The Vocabulary Game - Round One

Let's say it is math time, and you want to reinforce some of the key vocabulary words associated with the concepts you have been teaching. Cut up construction paper into 4" by 12" rectangles, and write the following twelve words or short phrases on them:

Product, Quotient, Prime Number, Composite Number, Operations, Computation, Place Value, Divisor, Dividend, Decimal Point, Difference, and Sum.

Then, place the words in a pocket chart that is hung on a wall or whiteboard in front of the class.  Divide your class into three teams, and write the team names on the whiteboard next to the pocket chart.

To start the game, define one of the words: "This is what you get when you multiply two numbers together." Team one discusses to determine which word you have defined.

One of the team members comes up to the front and touches the word in the pocket chart his or her team has selected. If they are correct, they earn two tally marks for their team score.

If they are incorrect, you roll a die, and a member from one of the other teams comes up and identifies the word.

If you roll a two, someone from team two gets to come up. If you roll a three, someone from team three gets to come up.

If one of these team members correctly identifies the word, he/she earns one tally mark for the team.

After the first word has been correctly defined by one of the teams, or if no one gets it right, move to another word in the pocket chart. It is now team two's turn. Once all the words have been used, round one is over and it's time for round two.

Extending the Game to Round Two

Round two is more challenging and more fun. You begin this round by having a volunteer from team one stand with his/her back to you, facing the class.

Hold one of the words over his/her head so that the rest of the class can see it. Make sure to tell everyone that it is against the rules to "whisper" the word to their teammate. If you catch someone doing that, take two tally marks away from their team’s score.

The volunteer who is up front, selects someone from a different team to provide a definition that is good enough for him to determine which word you are holding up.

If the given definition is wrong, or weak, the teacher has the volunteer choose someone else from the other team to provide the definition. Note: Don't let the volunteer guess the word until he has received a good definition from someone in the class.

A correct answer will earn the volunteer's team two tally marks, and the person who gave the definition gets one tally mark for his team. Once all the words have been used in round two, add these tally marks to the marks earned from round one.

The team with the most tally marks wins!

Extending the Game to Other Curricular Areas

The wonderful thing about The Vocabulary Game is that it can be used across the curriculum. For example, if I'm teaching geographical landforms, I can play a game using the words: archipelago, glacier, delta, cape, tributary, isthmus, knoll, fjord, volcano, equator, hemisphere, and lagoon.

Likewise, this game could be used to practice important vocabulary words for units in science, language arts, history, health, etc.

I have found that including twelve words in each game is a good number, and that the game works best when there are three teams. The Vocabulary Game is engaging and fun because it promotes team building and communication among students. The game is easy to implement, and best of all, your class will learn the important vocabulary built into your curricular areas. Below are some other lessons which will help you reinforce important vocabulary with your pupils.

Vocabulary Lesson Plans:

Vocabulary Match for SMART Board

Here is a lesson is designed for first through third grade learners who have a SMART Board in their classroom. They use the SMART Board to match vocabulary words with their definitions. This is set up like a memory game. The vocabulary words are from popular books and provide a way to enrich individuals’ vocabulary.


Designed for third through fifth graders, this resource uses music to help pupils learn the vocabulary words associated with the four operations in mathematics. It has the vocabulary words and phrases embedded in a printable black-line master, and also has a black-line master which has the words to the “Operation Song.” This is a great way to help kids remember what they have learned about math operations.

Words to the Wise

Here is a high-level lesson where high schoolers discuss sources and reasons for the creation of new words and phrases. First, they focus on words and phrases that came about in 2004 in relation to events that took place during the year. Finally, they compile a dictionary of new words related to recent events and develop their own neologisms. This is a great way to get pupils thinking about language.