Word Building Games for Kids

Instructor: Ellen Woods-Vaughter

Ellen has a bachelor's degree in in elementary education and a master's degree in reading education. Ellen has taught kindergarten for the past 6 years.

In this lesson you will learn several fun games designed to help increase children's' vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Increasing vocabulary will improve their reading ability and help children understand more of what they read.

The Importance of Vocabulary Development

Why is it important to encourage vocabulary development in elementary children? A child's vocabulary development is directly related to their reading comprehension ability; students that have a larger working vocabulary have higher reading comprehension skills as well. There are many fun games children can play to help increase their vocabulary and reading comprehension. Some games help children learn about the roots and origin of words while other games are designed to teach them about the definition and synonyms of words. As children's vocabulary increase, so will their reading ability.

Word Ladder

In this game, students start with one word and change one letter at a time to create new words. C-a-t becomes h-a-t, h-a-t becomes h-i-t. Players see how far they can get before they run out of words. Single players, partners , or teams can enjoy this game. For a slightly easier version, try changing two letters at a time. Start out with three letter words; once you are ready for more of a challenge, move on to four, five, and six letter words.

Word ladder
Word ladder

Root Words

In this game, players start with a word and see how many other words they can make by adding onto the original word. For example, with a root word of 'fight' one might make fighting, fighter, bullfight, etc. Players could also start with a prefix (such as 'un' 'tri' or 'micro') and see how many words they can make that start with that prefix. What does the prefix mean? How does it change the meaning of the words added it to? As players learn more about the origins and meaning of words (and word parts like prefixes and suffixes) they will be able to decipher - or figure out - word meanings you do not know.


In this fun game for a large or small group, players try to figure out which definition is the real one. The person that starts the game chooses a real word from the dictionary, writes it down, and then writes down the definition. Once this step is done, that person will say & spell the real word for everyone else (but do NOT tell them the real definition). The other players all have to make up a definition that sounds believable and write it down. After everyone has written down their made up definition the first player (who chose the word and knows the real definition) collects all the other definitions and mixes them up along with the real definition. One at a time that player will read each definition and the other players have to decide which one they think is the 'real' definition. If a player guesses the real definition, they get a point. If someone tricks another player and convinces them that their made-up definition is the real one, they also get a point. Let a different player choose a new word and continue playing until each player has had a turn to select a word.



In this classic board game, the stranger the word, the more points you will get. After the first player starts the game by creating the first word in the middle of the board game, each player adds letters to create new words. Participants have to know the definition and spelling of the word, because if another player thinks they are making up a word they can issue a challenge. If the word is not spelled correctly (or is not a real word), the player that put that word down will lose a turn. Players do not always have to make a new word - adding a suffix or prefix to an existing word can also create a new word and earn you major points (this is where the game 'Root Words - from above - will give you an advantage).


Rewriting the Classics

Another fun way to expand vocabulary and learn about synonyms (words that mean the same thing), is to rewrite a classic song or poem to make it more 'exciting'. For instance, players can take the song The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and try changing some of the words without changing the meaning. The Itsy-Bitsy Spider might become 'The Incredibly Tiny Arachnid' - since tiny is a synonym for itsy-bitsy, and arachnid is a synonym for spider. For more of a challenge, a player might not tell their partner about the original song or story in order to see if they can guess.

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