Get UNLIMITED PRINTABLES with our Premium Membership    

4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary

October 22, 2015 by Emily

 4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary


Guest post by Rachael from The Classroom Game Nook Blog.

4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary

We all want our students to build a strong vocabulary, right? We are diligent about introducing new words, along with their definitions, at the beginning of a lesson, chapter, or new unit. We require our students to write these new words and their definitions in their notes. We create beautiful word walls and we might even have them play a quick game of Memory where they match word cards to their meanings. These are all good strategies, and they certainly have their place, but we become discouraged when students forget these words later down the road.

One of the most effective ways that I have found to help students commit new words to memory is to have them make real-world connections and experiences to the words themselves. This not only allows them to remember the words better, but it helps them to make meaningful connections that have a more lasting impression. Check out these 4 fun games that you can play in your classrooms to help your students do more than just memorize a definition, but rather connect to the words to real life.

What's My Word

4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary

I’m a big fan of active games that allow students to get up and move around. This game (adapted from here) does just that! Students are each given a vocabulary word that they have already had some experience with. You can write that word on sentence strips (as shown above) or post-it notes.

Provide students with the “What’s My Word” activity sheet (see below) and a clip board for easy recording on the move. Students don’t know what word has been assigned to them, so they must use the front of their activity sheet to record clues about their word before making a guess. The will ask other students for synonyms, antonyms, places their word would be found in…etc. Once they have filled out the front, students make a guess of what their work may be.

What's My Word

Once students have collected their clues, students will complete the back of the activity sheet:

By the end of the activity, students have thought about their word in multiple ways in addition to the definition. You can snag this activity sheet for free here.


I love how this next game really gets students to think about what their word IS and what it ISN’T. I was inspired by this YouTube video and love how easily it is adaptable to the classroom. With a little preparation, this game could be played as a whole class, or even a small group setting. Prepare a set of vocabulary word cards, and a separate set of descriptor cards (color words, texture words, other adjectives…etc). On a SMARTBoard, white board, chart paper or even a paper sorting mat (if playing in small group), create three columns like shown below.

4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary

The students are given a category that they word would belong in to help guide their thinking. Students then take turns choosing a vocabulary word card and trying to get their teammates to guess their word by choosing descriptor cards (examples seen above) that would best describe their word and then placing the descriptor cards in the “Definitely…” “Definitely Not…” and “Kind of…” categories. You can even provide blank cards for students to insert their own descriptors (or have them write directly under the columns). For example, to have students guess the word banana, you would tell the students that the category is “food.” Some of the descriptor cards that could be placed under “Definitely…” would be yellow, white, and smooth. Descriptor cards for “Definitely Not…” could be jagged and orange. For the “Kind of” category students could choose soft.

When designing this game, you will want to keep in mind what words you choose for your descriptor cards. If you wanted to use this idea for a review game on an Animal unit, your descriptor cards may include scaly skin , webbed feet, or furry to help students guess words like “mammal” or “amphibian.”

What's In a Word

Another great way to get students to make connections with words is to have them sort the words into categories. In a novel unit I wrote on Donavan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross (I highly recommend this book to help increase students’ awareness of words around them in every day life!), I focused greatly on vocabulary awareness. This activity can be duplicated for any set of vocabulary words. Simply choose categories 4-5 that fit your vocabulary words and create word cards to fit into each category. You wouldn’t have to have them sort into “jars.” This game shows jars because it went along with the theme of the book. You could have your students sort into library pockets instead.

4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary

Don't Say It

Finally, another game that can be used for any topic or skill is a game inspired by Taboo. In this classic game, a word is given at the top of the playing card. Underneath that word are 4-5 other words that students CAN NOT say in order to get their team to guess their word. This requires them to think even harder about their vocabulary word.

Below is a picture of cards from the real game of Taboo:


I’ve created a blank template for you to type in your own words according to your vocabulary list! Take a look:

Don't Say It Template

You will find this template in an editable PowerPoint file with editable text boxes! Use it over and over again with different topics! Click here to download!

Thanks so much for checking out these fun games for your classroom! If you liked what you saw, then I hope to see you over on the Classroom Game Nook Blog for even more tips, goodies, and freebies!

Rachael Parlett from Classroom Game Nook

Rachael Parlett is the teacher-author behind the Classroom Game Nook Blog. She is blessed to be a stay-at-home to her 1-year old daughter while still maintaining her Teachers Pay Teachers store and collaborating with other teachers. You can stay in touch with Rachael on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram!

4 Games to Help Kids Think Critically about Vocabulary