Vocabulary Activities for High School

Instructor: Maryalice Leister

Maryalice has taught secondary and college English and trained new online teachers, and has a master's degree in Online Teaching and Learning.

No matter the curricular area or grade level in which an educator specializes, he or she knows the value of improving each student's vocabulary. High school students can be especially distracted and resistant to traditional methods of vocabulary instruction; this lesson focuses on techniques for increasing engagement and achievement.

A New Approach to Vocabulary

The class bell rings as students slide into their seats. Several students pull out notebooks, ready to copy vocabulary words from the board, while others hurriedly get in one last text message or stare into space, waiting for the teacher to give directions.

Similar weekly word activities happen in thousands of high schools across the United States. Could this look different if teachers varied activities by incorporating tools teenagers find most engaging and providing platforms to support creative involvement? Let's take a look at that type of classroom.

Instead of word lists, the students are greeted with instructions for a new activity. The instructions are to claim a tablet for each group, assign a scribe and a group leader, and check the teacher's online class site for each team's list of words and directions. Teams will use online sources to develop a short presentation around their list and present it by the end of the class period.

The teacher has now integrated technology, team work, and that all-important element of fun into a vocabulary activity.

Got Game?

Traditional vocabulary content can form the basis for any game. The teacher seeks to embed spelling, definition, synonyms and antonyms, context clues for use in sentences, as well as appropriate usage (varied parts of speech and alternate word forms). It is no surprise that combining games with technology is popular with high school students. Most students enjoy the variety and short burst delivery style of computer and online games. These games can be adapted to every grade level, but they easily draw in the higher level, critical thinking needed to interest older students. Online and computer gams also focus on right-brain (pictures, movies, symbols, animations, drawings) as well as left-brain needs (scripting sentences, fill-in-the-blanks, active conversation such as 'what it is versus what it is not').

Templates for well-known games are common. Most use Microsoft Software Suite, specifically PowerPoint and Excel. Think game grids for television's popular Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (complete with Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak avatars). Add in Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Weakest Link, Password, and Hollywood Squares, and learner interest in vocabulary rises.

Want something a little less tech-driven for variety? Don't overlook Bingo grids, matching Memory games, and any variety of trivia-type constructs. While these can be delivered via whiteboard, these are also easily printed and passed out for the kinesthetic/tactile learners.

Notebooks Transformed

Paper notebooks have been a school standard for compiling word lists and additional vocabulary information. Some teachers explain the categories to students and then have them create the grids and use their notebooks daily. Think left page for written information and right page for the creative picture or symbol to connect to the word. Still a best practice concept, high school students would thrive on using tablets or laptops if available for use.

Moving the time-honored technique online opens the door for the tech-driven students and saves many trees as well. Programs such as Evernote or the art-driven Ink are just a few of the ones which can be used most easily with Microsoft Office Suite applications now available on smaller devices as well. Develop a simple teacher webpage, post your grid or template, and students can copy or download and use. Add in colors, brush tools, dictionary search capability and the 'new notebook' emerges. And of course, turning high school students loose to create videos and games both engages them more fully and allows them to teach peers, doubling the learning.

Powerhouse of Pinterest

A discussion of vocabulary activities would not be complete without talking about Pinterest, the gold mine of potential. What started as a site mostly attributed to women's interests, it now has outreach into every career, teaching discipline, creative arena, and topic, no longer reserved for one demographic.

Pinterest is an online bulletin board where anyone can create topical boards. People can follow the boards which interest them, and pin 'found' items onto their own boards in addition to leaving comments and creating new pins. If you haven't already searched for high school vocabulary activities, you are missing an unlimited list, most of which come with the necessary templates, instructions, and feedback comments about proven success strategies. No time-wasters here!

Pinterest Vocabulary Activities Search
Pinterest vocabulary search

One quick trip through and the vocabulary topics such as Word Walls, Whiteboard Walls, Word Calendars, Vocabulary Baseball (or other sports), Slap the Word, Citation Hunts, and Vocabulary Flipboards rise out of the thousands of education-related postings.

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