Vocabulary is the basis of communication, and since vocabulary is a crucial aspect of reading comprehension, it forms the foundation for students’ academic success.
In order to understand what they’re reading, readers have to understand what most of the words mean or be able to decipher them quickly and accurately.
Research indicates that students who have a larger vocabulary tend to achieve more academically than peers with a smaller vocabulary, so it makes sense to focus on helping your students build their vocabulary words to set them up for future success.
Beyond their grades, vocabulary also improves language development, communication skills, students’ abilities to express themselves in writing and is a predictor of occupational success as adults.
Everyone learns vocabulary both indirectly and directly. Indirect learning is passive learning that students engage in just by existing in the world. Engaging in conversation, listening to other people and reading independently are all examples of indirect learning.
Direct learning involves specific instruction being given with active participation from the students. Memorizing specific vocabulary words and using word-learning strategies like analyzing word roots are examples of direct learning.
The following language arts activities are designed to help 4th graders build their vocabulary and develop their writing and speaking skills.
Take a book or story that’s been assigned to the class and choose a list of vocabulary words from the text.
Provide a sentence or paragraph containing the word and have students guess what the word means based on context clues. These include surrounding words, how the vocabulary word is used and what other words it sounds similar to.
Have students write down their guesses for each word, then have a class discussion to review the different definitions and how students got there.
End each discussion by providing the dictionary definition for students to write down and memorize. This will help them in their future reading and writing endeavors.
Task your students with finding new words in their daily life. The words can come from anywhere. Books, movies, tv shows and conversations with adults are all valid places to pull words from.
Students should write down the word, define it and use it in a sentence. This activity can easily be repeated throughout the year. For example, on a number of occasions, assign your students to learn one new word over the weekend.
Once this process has been repeated around five to ten times, your students can incorporate these words into a writing assignment like a poem or a short story.
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For a lengthier project, assign each of your students a word and have them study their words in-depth. They can begin with the etymology of the word. Have each of your students look at things like where their word originated and whether its definition has changed over time.
Similarly, they can study the usage of the word, and whether it can be used in multiple ways or is relatively unambiguous. The project can be completed by having students write papers, give presentations or make posters about their words.
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Illustrated vocabulary encyclopedia
Using an abbreviated version of the above activity, students will choose or be assigned several words from a vocabulary word list. They will find the definition of each word and a few facts about their history.
Then, they will create sample sentences containing each of the words. Additionally, they will draw a picture to symbolize each word. Giving students something to do with their hands aside from writing will give them another way to process the information.
Including a simple art project alongside their writing will help them associate more information with their vocabulary words.
Once each student has completed their assigned word pages, these pages can all be combined into a single illustrated vocabulary encyclopedia. These encyclopedias can then be studied by future students for years to come!
Choose a theme (like ‘spring,’ ‘vacation’ or ‘weather’), give students a time limit, and have them write down as many words as they can think of that fit the chosen theme.
Students should be given a few examples to start them off, including both obvious ideas (like “flowers” for spring) and more abstract connections (like “happy” for the weather because sunny days can make you happy).
Students should count the words they have written down and see who has the most words. You can also have the student with the most words read them to the class and then ask if anyone has words that weren’t on that student’s list.
The purpose of this activity is to group words together but also to think outside the box about which words belong to a particular group.
You can easily build this activity off of the previous one by using the master list of words that your class came up with. Or, you can provide a completely different list of words for your students to use.
Each student will write down a word on a piece of paper and then write down another word, showing how it connects to the first. Students should be encouraged to use different shapes, colors, lines and symbols to illustrate how words relate to each other.
This activity is more intuitive than literal. Encouraging students to embrace their unique and creative way of expressing the relationship between words will lead to a better outcome than trying to standardize the results.
Sort it out
Similar to the above activity, have students sort a list of vocabulary words into different categories (the categories can be assigned or made up by the students). This activity helps to develop your students’ abilities to use logic and reasoning.
You can get some very interesting results by encouraging them to get creative with their reasoning. Give them categories that are more abstract to sort words into
For example, have them associate vocabulary words with daytime or nighttime, warm or cold and the ocean or outer space. The important part is that there are no wrong answers. The effectiveness of this activity is measured by how they think through their choices.
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Create a vocabulary list, then make the list into a series of word pairs. For each pair, students will need to determine whether the two words are the same, opposite, similar or unrelated.
Students should write down the word pair and write two to four sentences justifying their decision. This can be done as a larger project, or it can be a daily or weekly writing exercise focusing on one pair at a time.
You can either pair up the words in advance or randomly draw two words when it’s time to do the activity.
Choose several vocabulary words from your students’ assigned reading. Have your students define the words and use them in sentences. Remind them that the sentences should be similar to what they expect to find in the text they’ll be reading.
If they’ve used any words incorrectly, have them correct the sentence, so the words are used correctly before proceeding.
Have your students read the text and compare the sentences they wrote with the sentences they found in the text they read. Ask them whether or not their sentences were close to what they found in the text. If not, then why?
Choose several vocabulary words from your students’ assigned reading. Have your students define the vocabulary words and then write a story that incorporates all the words into the text.
It can be a literal narrative or something more abstract, as long as the finished writing uses all the vocabulary words and the words are used correctly. This activity is easier if the words share something in common, but it also works if the words are a mix of nouns, verbs and adjectives.
When you choose the words, consider whether or not they seem like words that would be found in the same piece of writing. If not, modify them—or lean into the chaos and pull the words randomly at the same time as when you explain the assignment.
Turn Twenty Questions into a writing activity by having students write 20 questions about selected vocabulary words.
It can be anything about the words that they’re curious about, as long as they come up with 20 questions (the questions don’t have to be the same for each word, they can have different questions for different words).
“Who invented this word?” “How is this word used?” “Does this word have more than one definition?” After your students have written down all 20 of their questions, have them perform research to learn the answers to their questions.
By learning things about the words that they are curious about and forming their own mental connections to the words, students will form a more complete understanding of the word and will be more likely to commit it to memory.
It’s okay if not all the questions have answers. The point is that they think of unique and interesting questions and practice trying to find the answers to them using various resources.
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Write the ending
Read a short story to your students up to the very end and then have them write the ending. Or if you’ve been reading a book aloud to them for an extended period of time, have them write the last chapter.
They’ll need to incorporate several assigned vocabulary words into their chapter, along with using everything they’ve learned in the story up to that point about the characters, setting, plot and narrative to make up a satisfying conclusion.
After they’ve written their endings, they can either turn them in for grading or you can have an optional sharing time where students read their ending aloud to the class and the class votes on which ending will be most similar to the actual ending of the story.
Once all the endings have been shared, read the real one to the class and see how they react to it. There should be a follow-up discussion about whether they preferred the author’s ending or one of the classroom endings.
Tie it all back to the vocabulary words by comparing the way the author used the vocabulary words with the way the students used the vocabulary words in their endings. This writing project is an excellent candidate for a classbook.
Combine all of your students’ made-up endings into a single classbook and have them provide illustrations to go alongside their endings. This book will be something they can treasure for years to come!
Use a wall or bulletin board to collect high-frequency words displayed in large visible letters. This can be done by printing out words on paper or handwriting them.
The words should be chosen by both you and your students. They need to be commonly-used words that are from the curriculum materials rather than randomly chosen.
Make sure to use the word wall for multiple activities so that they become read and spelled automatically and make sure that the words from the wall are always spelled correctly in your students’ writing. Add words gradually as they come up in the curriculum.
Turn your students into published authors with help from Studentreasures!
Every teacher understands the importance of building vocabulary for his or her students’ future success, and a great way to motivate your students to put more effort into their work is by giving them the opportunity to publish it.
Many writing activities can easily be combined and turned into a themed classbook for your students to have a collaborative resource to refer back to during the year—and to hang onto as a keepsake once the year is over.
Just pick several activities, choose the student work that you want to use in the classbook, and get started with one of our easy-to-use classbook publishing kits.
For more lesson plans, classroom activities, and resources, check out our online Teacher’s Lounge. In addition, you can also refer to our blog for teaching strategies, writing activities and writing prompts for your young students.