Games to Play with Children to Build Vocabulary

Helping children learn new vocabulary is one of the best things you can do to get the child off on the right foot. A strong vocabulary is helpful in every arena of life, from being able to write well to being able to do well on standardized tests including the SAT, ACT, GMAT or GRE. Fortunately, learning vocabulary can be fun and there are some great games you can play with children to help improve vocabulary.

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Fun Vocabulary Games

Children learn vocabulary best when a combination of approaches is taken. For example, repeated exposure to a word, coupled with building upon existing knowledge and providing a context for the word, are all great tips to build vocabulary. Therefore, games should incorporate all of these aspects when teaching vocabulary.

Furthermore, children tend to learn best when they are having fun and when a variety of different learning styles are used. Thus, games should encompass both audio and visual stimulation, as well as tactile components.

Prefix/Suffix Game

Prefixes and suffixes are parts of words that go before or after existing words. By understanding prefixes and suffixes, children can begin to identify the meaning of words, even if they don't fully understand the word.

Playing a prefix and suffix game is one great way to help children learn the importance of these building blocks of a strong vocabulary. Make a list of prefixes and suffixes on index cards. For example, common prefixes include:

  • an (as in anarchy)
  • aero (as an aerodynamic)
  • bi (as in bicycle)
  • dis (as in dissent)

Common suffixes include:

  • able (as in portable)
  • acious (as in audacious)
  • ary (as in dictionary)

Have the students turn over the index cards and make as many words as they can with each prefix and suffix. The student who is able to form the most correct words wins a prize.

Vocabulary Jeopardy

While the prefix and suffix game is a great way to build general vocabulary, you can also play games that help students to learn specific words. For example, Vocabulary Jeopardy can help students master a word list. Begin by selecting five categories of vocabulary words. These will be your main Jeopardy categories.

Within each category, choose 5 words from easiest to hardest. These will be your 100 point through 500 point questions for each category. You can assemble the Jeopardy board out of index cards or construction paper, writing the word on one side and the definition on the other.

The students pick a category and a difficulty level. Read them the definition and ask for the word, or read the word and ask for the definition. Students will learn these new words while having a great time.

Text Twist

A modified word jumble is another great general vocabulary building exercise. Give students a word and ask them to come up with as many words as possible made from the letters of that word. 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.

To make this a bit more of a challenge, require them to come up with four letter words only, or to try to come up with words within a certain category.

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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.

You can help kids practice this skill by making a list of sentences, each containing one word that they do not know. Have the students guess the definition form reading the sentence. The student who is closest to the correct definition wins. You can also have your students look up the word in the dictionary after guessing the definitions. This will help them develop dictionary skills, which is also an essential tool for vocabulary building.