10 Vocabulary Games for Kids That Help Build Language Skills

, Staff Editor
Updated March 15, 2022
Two kids playing with cards with letters on the table
    Two kids playing with cards with letters on the table
    Zinkevych / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

When kids hear that they get to play word games, they might not be all that excited — unless they’re as much of a word nerd as you (probably) are. But not to fear! We can help make learning new words fun and bring out the wordie in your kids with our original vocabulary games.

The Prefix/Suffix Game

Prefixes and suffixes are some of the building blocks used to create words. By understanding these word parts, students can begin to identify a word’s meaning, even if they don't fully understand the entire word.

Game Prep and Materials

You’ll need index cards, a list of prefixes and a list of suffixes to make the game. One set of 24 cards makes a game for 2-4 players. If you have more kids, create more game sets.

  1. Choose 12 prefixes. Write one prefix on the lined side of an index card. Repeat for all 12 prefixes.

  2. Choose 12 suffixes. Write one suffix on the lined side of an index card. Repeat for all 12 suffixes.

  3. Shuffle all 24 cards together.


Playing Instructions

This game is a simple matching game that’s best suited for kids in grades 1-4.

  1. Hold the deck of cards with the word sides facing down. Lay them out in a grid pattern in the center of the playing area.

  2. The youngest player goes first. Play continues in a clockwise direction.

  3. On a turn, a student will flip any two cards over.
    1. If both cards are prefixes or suffixes, the student can earn 1 point for every word that includes one of those affixes that they can write or say in one minute.

    2. If one card is a prefix and one is a suffix, the student can earn 10 points by saying or writing a word that uses both.

    3. For each affix the student successfully uses, they get to take and hold that card.

  4. Keep score and continue game play until the playing area is clear of all cards.

  5. The student with the highest score at the end wins.


Vocabulary Jeopardy

Vocabulary Jeopardy can help students master a word list. It’s a fun way to study before a vocabulary test or review vocabulary words from a book you’ve just read.

Game Prep and Materials

If you don’t have access to a customizable Jeopardy game, you’ll need to choose a DIY method for making your own Jeopardy game.

  1. Select five categories that encompass your vocabulary list. These will be your main Jeopardy categories.

  2. Within each category, choose five words from easiest to hardest. These will be your 100-point (easiest) through 500-point (hardest) questions for each category.

  3. Write a Jeopardy-style question that serves as a clue (or definition) for guessing each vocabulary word.

Playing Instructions

This game is ideal for upper elementary students and is played using standard Jeopardy rules.

  1. On a turn, a student picks a category and difficulty level.

  2. You read them the clue or definition that corresponds to their choice.

  3. The student has one minute to answer (in the form of a question just like the TV game show) with the correct vocabulary word. If they get it right, they earn points. If not, another player has the chance to steal the points by guessing the correct answer.

  4. Keep score and play until all point values in all categories have been selected.

  5. The student with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.


Text Twist Race

A modified word jumble is another great general vocabulary-building exercise. Kids of all ages can play this game, and you just need paper and pencils to play.

Game Prep and Materials

Each player will need a piece of paper and something to write with. You’ll also need a list of vocabulary words.

Playing Instructions

One child can play alone by trying to beat their highest score with each new vocabulary word.

  1. Give students a vocabulary word to write on their papers, and ask them to come up with as many words as possible made from the letters of that word in a specified time limit. Give younger kids more time and older kids less time.
    1. The longer the word, the more letters the students can come up with. For example, the word creative, students could list the words rat, tie, ate, rate and so on.

  2. To make this a bit more of a challenge, add one or more word requirements. You might require them to come up with four-letter words only, or have them try to come up with words within a certain category.

  3. At the end of the game, award one point for each new word the students wrote down. The student with the most points is the winner.


Guess the Word

Helping students understand how to derive the meaning of a word from the context is an invaluable lesson. Students can use this skill whenever they are reading to improve their vocabulary and to help discern meaning even if they do not know the word.

Game Prep and Materials

This game takes some time to create because you’ll need great sentences that include new words and context clues that hint toward their meanings. You’ll also need a timer.

  1. Make a list of sentences, each containing a word you believe the kids don’t know the meaning of. Include context clues in the sentences. You’ll want to have about three times as many sentences as players.

  2. Pre-write each sentence on a piece of paper, or you can put them up on the board with a way to cover all but the one you’re using on a turn.


Playing Instructions

Since this game is similar to a spelling bee, kids of all ages can play.

  1. Show the first sentence to the first player. Give them time to read the sentence. Then give them about 1-2 minutes to guess the definition of the highlighted word from the sentence.

  2. If the student guesses the definition, or gets close, they stay in the game.

  3. If the student guesses incorrectly, they sit out and look up the correct definition in a dictionary.

  4. Repeat these steps until each player has had a turn. Then, start over with the remaining players.

  5. The last player standing wins. Everyone who is out then shares the actual definitions of their words.

Define That Word

This adaptation of the board game Balderdash is a fun way to introduce new vocabulary words to any age group. Kids will use their creativity and current vocabulary knowledge to guess the definitions of your new vocabulary words.

Game Prep and Materials

Each player will need small slips of paper and something to write with. You’ll also need your list of vocabulary words and a timer.

Playing Instructions

You’ll need at least four players to make this game work.

  1. Show all players the first vocabulary word.

  2. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes.

  3. During this time, you will write the actual definition of the vocabulary word on a slip of paper. The other players will write what they think the definition might be on their slip of paper.

  4. Everyone should fold their paper when done and give it to you.

  5. You will read each definition out loud. Each student will get to vote for the one definition they think is the correct one.

  6. Each player who votes for the correct definition gets 1 point. The player with the most points after you’ve gone through all the vocabulary words is the winner.

Hide and Go Find the Definition

Turn a standard game of Hide and Seek into a vocabulary lesson for kids in Pre-K through first grade.

Game Prep and Materials

You’ll need to create a set of cards for this game.

  1. You’ll need one index card or slip of paper for each of your vocabulary words. Write one word per card.

  2. You’ll need one index card or slip of paper for each vocabulary word definition. Write one definition per card.

Playing Instructions

This non-competitive game is best for larger groups or classroom settings. To start each round, you’ll need to choose someone to be “It.”

  1. Give “It” one card with a vocabulary word on it.

  2. Give each other player one card with a definition on it. Be sure one person has the correct definition for the word you gave “It.”

  3. Play by standard Hide and Seek rules.

  4. When “It” finds another player, they must decide if that person’s definition is the correct definition of the word they were given at the start of the round.

  5. When “It” finds the person with what they believe is the correct definition, they tag that person and the round ends. Discuss whether the definition is correct or not.

  6. Start a new round with a new vocabulary word.

  7. Play until all vocabulary words have been used.

Build a Word

Older elementary kids will need to work together to spell out their vocabulary words in this group game.

Game Prep and Materials

You’ll need a set of alphabet cards and a stopwatch for this game, you can buy the set or make one. Each card should have one letter on it, and you’ll need duplicates of any letters that appear multiple times within one vocabulary word.

Playing Instructions

For this game, you’ll need to have as many players as there are letters in your longest vocabulary word. This is a timed team game.

  1. To start a round, you’ll need to select only cards with the letters needed to spell out your first vocabulary word. Do not tell players what the word is. Place these letters in a pile face-down.

  2. On “Go,” start a stopwatch and tell the players to each pick up one of the letter cards from the pile.

  3. As a group, they’ll need to stand in a line holding up their letters to spell out what they think the first vocabulary word is. If they are correct, stop the time. If they are incorrect, they keep trying out words until they get the correct word.

Vocabulary Telephone

An old-fashioned game of Telephone can be adapted to almost any lesson. This game is especially fun for younger kids or when you have vocabulary words that are really hard to pronounce.

Playing Instructions

This game works best with larger groups (more chances to mispronounce the word!).

  1. Have players sit in a circle.

  2. Whisper the first vocabulary word to the first player.

  3. Each player then whispers the word to the next person.

  4. Once the last person has heard the word, they say it out loud. The group gets a point if the word is said correctly.

  5. For the next rounds, take turns with who starts. Show the starting person the vocabulary word instead of saying it to them.

  6. Play until all the vocabulary words have been used.

  7. Tally up the points to see the group score.

Vocabulary Password

The game show Password is made for vocabulary lessons because it’s all about understanding the meaning of a word.

Playing Instructions

The difficulty level of this game makes it better suited for older kids. You can play with as little as two players, or make as many teams of two as you can.

  1. Each pair of players should choose one person to be the “Clue Giver,” the other person will be the “Guesser.”

  2. Give the Clue Giver a list of half of your vocabulary words.

  3. Starting with the first word, the Clue Giver has to try to get the Guesser to guess the word by giving only one-word clues. The Clue Giver can give up to five one-word clues for each vocabulary word. After each clue, the Guesser must guess the word.

  4. If the guesser gets a word correct with the first clue, they get five points. Point values decrease by one with each clue.

  5. Once this list is completed, the players swap roles and play with the second half of the vocabulary list.

  6. The player or team with the most points wins.

Vocabulary Rhyme Time

You won’t need anything but your imagination for this quick and silly game. Kids of all ages can play, and some of the fun rhymes might work as mnemonic devices to help them remember the words.

Playing Instructions

You’ll need at least two players for this speaking game that helps introduce or practice vocabulary words.

  1. Choose one person to be the “Rhymer.” All other players will be “Guessers.”

  2. Show or tell the Rhymer the first vocabulary word.

  3. The Rhymer then needs to shout out words (real or made-up) that rhyme with that vocabulary word.

  4. The Guessers try to figure out what the actual vocabulary word is.

  5. The Guesser who gets it right becomes the Rhymer for the next round with a new vocabulary word.

Have Fun With Words

Not all kids learn the same way or enjoy the same activities, so it’s a good idea to have a variety of vocabulary games available to suit your crowd. Help kids get stimulated by words with fun games and activities.