3rd Grade Vocabulary Games

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching students vocabulary is a great way to help them with reading comprehension and critical thinking. This lesson gives you some ideas for great vocabulary games to move your third graders along.

Why Play Vocabulary Games?

Third graders are often at a crucial point in their literacy development. Many of them may already be independent readers, so your role as a teacher might no longer be as obvious. Yet there is still so much for them to learn; for instance, vocabulary, or the incorporation of new, more sophisticated and more diverse words into their spoken and written language. Games can be a great way to extend third graders' vocabulary. By keeping students engaged and motivated at the same time, games can help teach and give opportunities to practice new words. The activities in this lesson will help your third graders become more sophisticated speakers, thinkers, readers and writers.

Synonym Garden

An essential part of expanding students' vocabulary is teaching synonyms, or words that share the same or similar definitions. Dedicate one of your bulletin boards to creating a 'synonym garden'. Put brown index cards at the bottom of your board to represent soil, and write one simple word on each card. Supply green, blue, purple and pink index cards; explain to students that each time they learn a synonym to the soil words, they can write it on a green or flower-colored card and tack it up, 'growing' the flowers as they add words. At the end of the week, review the words in your synonym garden and reward students who have participated.

Vocabulary Bingo

A simple game of bingo can be a great way to help students grow their vocabulary. Give students bingo cards filled with vocabulary words, or have them create their own from a list of words. Then read out definitions or, alternatively, sentences where these particular words would make sense. Students can cover the relevant words on their bingo cards. To add an element of challenge, when students read winning cards back out to you, ask them to use their words in an original sentence.

Word Hunters

Remind your students that the best way to learn new vocabulary words is to be attentive readers and listeners in the world around them. Each morning at your morning meeting or opening circle, ask for students to share a new word they saw or heard the night before. Write the word on the board, teach students its meaning, and call positive attention to any student who is able to use that word appropriately in a sentence for the rest of the day or week.


Divide students in groups of four or five, and supply each group with a dictionary. One student chooses a word at random from the dictionary; it should be a word that others are highly unlikely to know. The word selector writes the definition on a notecard, then shares the word, but not the definition, with the rest of the group. The other players invent potential definitions for the word and write them on cards. Players should try to make their definitions believable. Next, the word selector collects the cards, shuffles the pretend definitions along with the real one, then reads them all out loud. Players must try to guess which definition is the right one.

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