Vocabulary Review Game

Students would much prefer a vocabulary review game instead of being told to “go study your vocabulary words” by their teacher. Since I don’t like using the same review game every week, I always try to add a twist if I can. One review activity my students really enjoyed this year (before we switched to distance learning) was a spin on the Heads Up! game that Ellen DeGeneres introduced on her TV show. In my vocabulary version, students hold notecards with vocabulary words up to their foreheads. A partner describes the word using synonyms, definitions, or situations where the word would occur. Once a correct guess is made, students trade cards and move to a new partner. Since students are describing the word in a variety of ways, it helps learners relate to the word in different ways. The kids had much higher success recalling words after we played a few rounds of this review game.

Vocabulary Review Game

Vocabulary Game Directions

  1. Give students 3-5 notecards.
  2. Students write a single vocabulary word from your class list on the front of the notecard. My weekly list has about 12 words, so the student notecards will be a mix of the whole group of words.
  3. Students write the word’s definition on the back of the notecard. Or, they can write different situations where the word would be used. And finally, they can write any known roots or word parts and the matching meanings. In my class, our vocabulary curriculum is centered around classical roots, so I encourage the students to define the word parts.
  4. After each student has at least 3 completed cards, he/she begins to circulate around the room. The student finds a buddy and holds one card to his/her forehead. The partner begins describing the word. The first student identifies the word then lets the partner have a turn holding a card to the forehead. The pair takes turns until all cards have been used.
  5. Once a pair has used all the notecards, they trade a few cards with each other and move to new partners.
  6. By trading cards, the students do not continue to practice the exact same cards each time they trade partners. In addition, since students do not just write the definition on the back of the card, there will be different ways to explain the words to each new person they face.

Game Benefits

  1. The students describe words in multiple ways. They are encouraged to consider the context for each word, so it is not a memorization game. It is an application game too.
  2. If your vocabulary lists focus on a few common roots and/or prefixes, students are building a word bank of connected words. When they see unfamiliar words with known roots in their textbooks or reading books, they will be able to make a prediction about the definition and have stronger comprehension. For example, if a student knows a tripod is a stand with 3 feet, they could guess that a podiatrist is a person who does something with feet.
  3. The game builds in a movement break. Students are up walking around the room. Of course, with COVID restrictions my Heads Up! game is going to look a little different this year. I thought we might put on our face masks and play outside when we need a break from being strapped to our 6-feet-apart-desks.

Vocabulary Review Games

Other Review Game Ideas

  1. My students really like the website Memrise.com. I used this one a lot during distance learning. It’s an online flashcard type site. I have a free account and set up student accounts at the beginning of each year. The foreign language teachers at my school use the site too, so we have a standardized system for setting up the student usernames and passwords, so the account will move with the student year to year. To see a sample of one of my lessons for practicing individual roots, CLICK HERE (you need to have an account and be logged in to access).
  2. I like foldables too. My students make “fortune tellers” that we organize with our weekly roots and prefixes. To read more about how to build your own fortune tellers, CLICK HERE.
  3. If your students know many roots, prefixes, and suffixes, try this free WORD TRAINS printable activity.


CLICK HERE to see all of my vocabulary products for studying common prefixes, roots, and suffixes in my TeachersPayTeachers store. They even have links to a Google Slides digital option!

Roots vocabulary activities


Ranking Words Vocabulary Activity

I have several pet projects in my fourth grade class and expanding vocabulary is one of them. To me, acquiring new words can be like a puzzle. If students learn some Greek and Latin roots and prefixes, they can begin to mix and match and gain access to a whole cluster of words rather than memorizing one definition. If students play with synonyms and antonyms, they can have a mental thesaurus, so they avoid “boring” words like said or nice.

ranking words shades of meaning vocabulary activity #vocabulary

I am trying a new activity where students rank or qualify words from mild to extreme.

How can students rank vocabulary words?

Word Clusters: I created lists of related words, printed them on cardstock, and cut the words into strips. Visit my TeachersPayTeachers store to download the free activity plans.

Word Envelopes: I used white coin envelopes and wrote the common theme or topic on the front. Some topic suggestions are light, heat, cold, hunger, anger, and happiness.

Sorting: My local Lowe’s unknowingly donated a class set of paint chips to me. Students worked in pairs to rank the words in the coin envelopes from mildest to most extreme. Once they finished ranking, they copied their words onto the paint chips in order. They started with the most mild word on the light end of the paint chip and ended with the most extreme word on the darkest portion of the paint chip. The paint chip allowed for six words. Some coin envelopes contained more than six words, so students were supposed to decide which words were less effective and eliminate the extras. WARNING: Some students simply eliminate the unfamiliar words, so they do not have to reach for a dictionary.

The paint chips will be displayed in the classroom, so students can use these while writing.  Parents, if you are working with your child on a writing assignment at home and notice overused words, create a word rank chart. This is particularly helpful with said. Create a list of variations for said and rank them– whispered, murmured, squeaked, announced, screeched, screamed… Try it with very too!

Extensions: This activity can be used to build analogies. You can also skip the step where you provide the main topic on the front of the envelope and ask students to create a heading for the words in the envelope. All of these activities require critical thinking on the part of the child.

ranking words ring