Teaching Vocabulary with Creativity

Teach Vocabulary Creatively (and Other Engaging Activities)

Are you looking for a better way to introduce or review vocabulary words? Here's an activity you can use with any unit that is quick and effective, versatile, and encourages creativity in your students.

I call it "Vocabulary Scattergories," which is a play on the game Scattergories®. If you're familiar with the game, you know that you have lists of categories, such as "Things found in the kitchen," then you roll an alphabet die to choose the letter. Finally, you have a set amount of time to write down as many words that begin with that letter for each category.

Vocabulary Scattergories is slightly different. Students have their set vocabulary lists. Then, they choose a category and must find some connection to the word. This allows the student to think creatively (or "outside the box") and have some fun with words.  The categories are random but include things students can relate to, such as "Something you find in a teenager's locker" or "Something you find under a child's bed" and even "Character from the novel Twilight." Sometimes it is hard to find a connection and they must stretch for one. But that process really pushes their creativity and thinking skills–something they (we) all need to do more often.

To help them form their comparisons, I usually give them a prompt, such as:
____________ [insert vocabulary word] is/are like _____________________[insert category] because ______________________.

For chapter 1 in The Hunger Games, I would assign each student (or for larger classes, pairs of students) one vocabulary word. Next, they draw a category from the bucket. I give them a few minutes (the older the student, the less time they need) to complete the task in writing, then ask that they share their sentence with the class.

An example sentence may be:
Entrails are like cold leftover spaghetti [item you find in a refrigerator] because both are long, stringy, gooey, and not very appetizing.

Allow students to ask one another why they made that connection. In this case, the student clarified to the class that entrails refer to human or animal intestines that have been removed and/or exposed. (Insert groans and "Gross!" from the crowd here.)

This activity shouldn't be used for every chapter or even every unit.  I try to use it sparingly so it remains a "fun" activity rather than a chore. If you need Common Core vocabulary lessons, I have two packets for Common Core Vocabulary Graphic Organizers by grade levels (they are editable):
Common Core Vocabulary Activities/Organizers for Grades 6-12
Common Core Vocabulary Activities/Organizers for Grades 2-5

I have used the categories in other ways, though. You can use the same prompt but instead of vocabulary words, use character names. (I created "character tags" that uses this same concept, except instead of categories I use pictures.) This is a great way to review characters before a test.

Teach Vocabulary With CreativityAn example for character review is:
_______________[character name] is like a/an ________________[category] because __________________.

Katniss is like a grapefruit [type of fruit] because even though she looks like a sweet orange, she can be sour.

Other ways to use "Vocabulary Scattergories":
Daily Bell-ringer for Word of the Day: To add some fun to your word of the day activities, have a student draw a category for the entire class. Each student writes a sentence comparing that word to something from the category. (The students would still need to look up the word of the day for the definition, but instead of writing out the definition, they would form a comparison instead.)

Word Game: Have five-ten minutes left of class? Have students use scratch paper and draw a category. Say it out loud and give them one minute to write as many words they can think of that fit that category. Make it harder by choosing a letter the words must start with (like Scattergories®). For large groups, allow teams of students to work together. 

Poetry writing: Have students draw a category and write a poem based on that topic OR each line of a poem must be a new category.

Story Starters: Are students stumped writing short stories? Have them draw a category for inspiration.

Longest Word Contest: Draw a category and see who can come up with the longest word relating to that category.

8 Simple Ways to Inspire Creativity in your ClassroomScrabble® with a Twist: Leave all the letter tiles face up. Each player takes a turn by drawing a category and forming a word relating to that category. They can draw tiles for each turn and only pick the amount of tiles they need for their word (blank tiles can be distributed to each player first or could be "purchased" with points). This encourages them to choose longer words, but also to think about words that relate to that category. It's a little bit easier for kids, yet encourages some creativity. When all the tiles are gone, the player with the most points wins.  For a real challenge, play Scrabble® the traditional way, but with the categories.

There are so many ways to use this activity. I copied mine onto colored paper and laminated them. I had a student office helper cut them with a paper cutter and I store them in plastic baggies. I usually dump them into a recycled bucket (laundry detergent, whipped cream, or margarine spread bowls work well) and have students draw from there so they can't see the categories as they choose.

Download the free preview or the separate FREE product link to try it out & see if you like it.
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