It is important for students to know a wide variety of words to be successful in reading. But learning new words shouldn’t be about flash cards and rote memorization. We must consider ways to actively engage students to learn new words and manipulate language. Here are 5 activities you can try right away:

1. Shades of Meaning

Select words that have similar meanings, such as huge and large; asked and questioned. Pass the word cards out to students and have them find their buddy with a similar meaning. Ask them to create sentences using the word pair.

2. Plus or Minus Endings

Make word cards using words with -ing and -ed. Ask students to use scissors to cut the endings off. Does the base word need a letter (e) or does it have an extra letter (a double consonant)? Talk about the changes for adding endings. Search for more examples in the books they are reading.

3. Syllable Sort

Make word cards using a set of selected words. (Consider science, social studies, or math words to double up on vocabulary development.) Find fun containers, such as beach pails, pumpkins, rain boots, or mixing bowls, and label them with numbers for the syllables in the words you select. Have students sort the word cards according to syllables.

4. Pair the Pears

On pear-shaped paper write homophones (e.g., tale/tail, here/hear, bear/bare). Shuffle the cards and distribute a card to each student. Have students walk around the room to find their matching homophone. Then have pairs create a sentence that uses both words, showing correct usage. (e.g., The bear scratched his back on the trunk of the bare tree.)

5. Hoop It Up

Draw two basketball hoops on two separate sheets of chart paper and put them up in two different places around the room. Choose two sounds for students to compare (long a/short a; hard g/soft g). On basketball shape paper write words that fit the sound patterns (bake/bag; goat/giant). Distribute a word to each student. Have students walk around the room to place their basketballs under the correct hoop.

These are just a few ideas to get your started on active, hands-on word learning!