5 Easy vocabulary activities for developing learners

In today’s blog, learn the 5 vocabulary activities and methods we use to support our students within and beyond the classroom.

Vocabulary is a key skill that is developed within our tuition programmes. We focus on it within all subjects that we teach, not just in English.

Educational research shows that a child’s vocabulary will impact their comprehension (1), their ability to decipher word problems (2), and even how they communicate their own feelings(3).

So, how do we build their vocabulary?

How do we keep students engaged in learning vocabulary?

What can we do to help them become vocabulary ninjas who will thrive academically and beyond?

Easy: Use our 5 vocabulary activities and methods to boost communication for all learners.

Quick Guide:

  1. Word webs
  2. Teaching Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes
  3. Modelled writing
  4. Structured up-leveling
  5. Games

1. Vocabulary Word Webs

Independent work:
Encourage your child to create their own thesaurus. This is especially appealing for students who are creative and enjoy making things/organisation.

As your child reads, every time they come across a new word or synonym that they enjoyed, they can write it in their thesaurus.

Organise their words into word maps:
– Create spider diagrams to group similar word classes.
– Build sentence examples using their words
– Annotate an image of a body to show where emotions are felt

*Sami making a word web for excited
*Sami annotating where someone feels excitement

2. Teach Latin and Greek

Independent work:
Look at word problems (in any subject!) and identify the key word.

Teach the Latin and Greek origins of these words and use knowledge of root words, suffixes and prefixes to determine the meaning.

Year 8 English student practises decoding words using etymology.

Learning what roots and suffixes and prefixes mean helps to decode

3. Model writing

How can we expect our students to know what we’re looking for if we don’t explicitly show them?

Have a boring paragraph with simple sentences.
Read it out loud.
Reflect aloud what you feel confident that you could uplevel.
Annotate where there could be room for adding more detail.
Discuss changing the sentence structure (starting with a verb, an adjective, speech, etc)
Talk about key elements of writing and language devices.
Re-write the piece talking through your decisions

Review your newly edited piece and talk about the effect it has on the reader.
Is there room for further improvements?

4. Structured Upleveling

Scaffold your child’s progress by providing them a levelled approach to independent writing.

Plan outloud together
Create a check list for success
Talk through examples

Start small (work on the opening lines of a descriptive piece rather than the whole introduction.)
Allow your child to use their vocabulary activities and word webs that they made.
Give a time frame so they don’t overthink it. (We use between 4-7 minutes)
Give them a few extra minutes for self-editing (we like 2-4 minutes).

Review the work and see what positives have occurred and what might still need revision.

Year 4 student writing the opening lines of his recount as Theseus. His initial attempt included the use of ‘door’ five times! The lack of vocabulary holds his writing back as it takes away from his other good ideas.

Year 4 English: Focusing on synonyms for ‘door’
Year 4 English: The use of synonyms for ‘door’

5. Games to boost Vocabulary

In another blog that focuses on supporting 11+ vocabulary, I shared 14 vocabulary games and activities to help words stick.

Here are three of my all-time favourites:

Roll the Dice

This one is full of laughter and great for reviewing words already practised. Your child will choose a word and roll a dice. The number on the dice tells them to do one of the following:

1= Define the word.
2= Use it in a sentence.
3= Say a synonym for the word.
4= Say an antonym for the word.
5= Draw a picture example
6=Act it out

Who/What Am I?

This is great for reviewing topic vocabulary words in groups.
Start by assigning each child a word. They are to write a description that is written in the first person.

Example: The word is Photosynthesis
I am the process a plant is able to convert solar energy into “food”.

Once written, students are put into small groups. Each one reads their description while the others guess who/what they are.

Guess the Word

Fly Swatter

I played this during one of my teaching placements while I worked on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada… That was nearly a decade ago and it still ranks as one of my top favourite activities!

Place vocabulary words on the floor. Divide students into two teams. The first person from each team goes first. Give a clue, definition, or example for one of the words. The first person to swat at the correct word wins a point for his/her team, and then the next two students take a turn.

*Pro Tip: Purchase new Fly Swatters for this game…
**Pro Pro Tip: Go over safety rules before playing so there are no ‘well I didn’t know’

Vocabulary Activities Conclusion:

In conclusion, there are countless ways to introduce and build students’ vocabulary. My best advice is to try out a few of these suggestions and see which your students gravitate towards. These have been our top activities for this academic year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t revisit and reflect upon them with our new group of Tuition students.

At the end of the day, exposure is key.
Build a culture for reading. (Support students who are reluctant readers)
Explicitly teach comprehension skills. (Check out our guide covering the 7 comprehension skills)
Expose children to a variety of synonyms and writing stems they can use to uplevel their writing


  1. Lawrence, J.F., Knoph, R., McIlraith, A., Kulesz, P.A., & Francis, D.J. (2022). Reading Comprehension and Academic Vocabulary: Exploring Relations of Item Features and Reading Proficiency. Read Res Q, 57( 2), 669– 690. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.434
  2. Clement, JaLena J., “Does Decoding Increase Word Problem Solving Skills?” (2008). Action ResearchProjects. 32. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/mathmidactionresearch/32
  3. Intepe-Tingir, Seyma, and Kelly Whalon. “Teaching Emotion Vocabulary to Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” The Journal of Special Education, Apr. 2022, doi:10.1177/00224669221083341.

Sarah English Tutor

Have you met Sarah?

Creative writing and English Tutor for KS2-GCSE

Passionate about bringing English literature and language to life!

A phenomenal support for neurodiverse students who have exceptional learning needs and the LGBTQ+ community

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Everything that we do at Bettering Youth is backed by evidence, which is why we wanted to share with
you the research for which we have based our highly successful programmes on.

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