3 Fun Activities for Building Academic Vocabulary

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What Are the Benefits of Using Academic Vocabulary?

Academic vocabulary empowers students and educators to communicate with each other accurately and efficiently. Using more specific, relevant, precise, or informative terminology or communicating more effectively with these kinds of vocabulary enables students to learn new things, accomplish more, gain skills, share knowledge with others, and reach new levels of comprehension and achievement. Academic vocabulary is a kind of code, allowing growth and development for those who learn it. Knowing and being able to use academic vocabulary positions students for future success.

So What Is Academic Vocabulary Anyway?

It depends! In some ways, academic vocabulary is defined by its environment, because it refers to words used in a certain context. Academic vocabulary is basically a term that encompasses a huge set of words traditionally used in academic content and conversation.

Why Is Academic Vocabulary Important?

Academic vocabulary words allow students to comprehend texts in many different subjects, along with directions and instructions in various settings.

Vocabulary for academic contexts can be categorized into three “tiers” or types:

  • Tier 1: Basic academic vocabulary includes high-frequency words and many common academic words most children already know.
  • Tier 2: General academic words may be unfamiliar but can be widely useful in academic speech or writing. These precise terms may highlight subtle nuance of meaning or clarify a relevant difference. Their flexibility allows them to be used across a range of domains.
  • Tier 3: Unfamiliar words tend to be low-frequency and specific to an academic area, domain, or field of study. These words can include technical words or other terms students must understand to grasp a concept, and often occur in specialized content and academic contexts, like math and science terminology.

Note: Students at all levels require explicit, direct instruction to learn many Tier 2 and most Tier 3 words. This requirement is especially true for English Language Learners, struggling readers, and any other at-risk students.

Can Activities Strengthen Academic Vocabulary?

If you spend time listening carefully, you’ll notice that both students and teachers speak differently during school than they do in casual conversation. For students building literacy skills, these dramatic differences in vocabulary can impact their writing and reading comprehension. Students who are encouraged to use academic vocabulary with in-class activities tend to use these words and concepts more easily, benefiting their ability to express themselves through accurate language.

We’ve pulled together three helpful, fun activities to encourage students to utilize academic language. Try these vocabulary activities with your students today!

What Are Some Effective Activities for Teaching Academic Vocabulary?

The best activities for teaching vocabulary involve students in the leadership and direction of the activities themselves. These kinds of student-led vocabulary activities are especially useful for academic vocabulary because students are helping each other learn to communicate effectively in appropriate contexts, a powerful and healthy social reinforcement of these crucial skills.

  • Word of the Week
    • Go through your new academic vocabulary words with the class on Monday and have students vote to choose a “word of the week.”
    • Write the word on the board or somewhere visible, along with its definition.
    • All week long, students earn a point for using the word correctly in an assignment or when answering a question in class.
    • Students can get an extra point for finding a way to accurately compliment someone else using the word, or make art using the word, or write a song or poem with a rhyme for the word, or some other entertaining or positive rule students come up with – always with the requirement that the word is used correctly.
    • At the end of each week or month, the top few students with the most points get to choose a fun activity for the whole class.
  • Guess That Vocabulary Word
    • Have students read quickly over their academic vocabulary list.
    • Then students take turns presenting one of the new vocabulary words in some obscured way, like:
      • Looking up and saying or showing the word in another language
      • Jumbling up the word’s letters on the board
      • Reading or performing the word’s definition
      • Writing a sentence with the word missing
    • See who can guess the word first!
    • Keep score individually or in teams.
    • Assign prizes chosen by students that benefit the whole class.
    • Watch vocabulary skills improve.
  • Songs, Poems, and Pictures
    • Allow students to decide on their own what they’d like to create.
    • Ask them to focus on accurately showing or explaining the meaning of a new academic vocabulary word or set of words.
    • When they finish their song, poem, or picture, students can write or talk about their understanding of the word and how they used it in a presentation to the teacher, a small group, or the whole class.
    • Encourage students to display their creative work or share it in a variety of ways.
    • Creating meaningful connections around vocabulary words helps students remember what they’ve learned.
    • This multisensory activity is also easy to personalize for a wide range of different levels and learning styles.
Are There Benefits to Student-Led Academic Vocabulary Practice?

Allowing students to take charge of their vocabulary lessons can be an incredibly successful approach. Participating in student-led activities like these three above gives kids a sense of ownership and rewards them for using academic language, motivating them to truly grasp and remember the meanings and uses of new vocabulary words.

How Can Teachers Reach More Students?

When teachers can effectively deliver differentiated materials and customized instruction, they can reach students at any level. Whether they’re struggling or advanced, every student benefits from personalized differentiated instruction.

How Can Students Get the Most Out of Academic Vocabulary Instruction?

Learning new academic vocabulary words leads to improved reading comprehension and writing skills. “Turn and talk” activities get students to discuss or act out the new academic words they’re learning. Games and activities like those above encourage students to creatively use their new academic vocabulary, thereby strengthening the words.

Direct academic vocabulary instruction gives students practical, engaging activities supported by both the teacher and technology, enabling students to better develop lasting academic vocabulary. Peer sharing and interaction motivates students to apply and extend their learning. Engaging research-based activities align with current state and national standards and assessments.

What’s the Best Way to Teach Academic Vocabulary?

Students come to the classroom at varying stages in their literacy acquisition, so some will learn academic vocabulary faster than others. School leaders tend to opt for direct vocabulary instruction programs like the Wordly Wise 3000® program because it helps instructors build strong connections between academic vocabulary and reading comprehension. Research-based activities and reading passages match each student with content at their reading level.

Wordly Wise 3000® found a great way for students to practice, reinforce, and master academic vocabulary with Quizlet. It’s a fun learning app students can use to build academic vocabulary anywhere, anytime. Engaging study and game activities help students learn, understand, and remember new academic vocabulary words.

Why Choose a Direct Academic Vocabulary Instruction Program?

Wordly Wise i3000® links academic vocabulary with reading comprehension and enables motivating engagement through social sharing and interaction. All practice activities and assessments are scored and recorded in real time and are self-paced. Helpful feedback shows students where they need more practice and offers valuable insights to teachers.

Find out more about Wordly Wise 3000 direct vocabulary instruction programs from School Specialty Curriculum!

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