4 Games to Increase Vocabulary Success - Saddle up for Second Grade

4 Games to Increase Vocabulary Success

Hey Ya'll! Do your kids love to learn by playing games? What if I told you that you could increase your students vocabulary by playing games that take 20 minutes or less? Vocabulary is something that is highly stressed in my district. It seems like each year, more and more pressure is put on us to increase students vocabulary. Today I'm here to share with you 4 easy games that you can implement into your class to increase vocabulary and make learning fun AND engaging! 

4 Games to Increase Vocabulary Success By Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

Kids should get excited about learning. Implementing games into our daily routine helps increase their learning when they don't even know it. All of these activities that I'm about to share can be used in a whole or small group setting. 

First up is Heads Down, Vocab Up

Heads Down, Vocabulary Up by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

This is a game I like to have my kids play when I have a few minutes to kill before moving onto the next subject or when their little brains just need a break. It's super simple. Does your class like to play "heads down, thumbs up" or some call it "heads up, 7 up"? Mine do! Heads Down, Vocab Up! is just like that only using word cards. You can use any type of vocabulary cards you'd like. We play using sight words, compound words, contractions, academic vocabulary and more. Here is how to play:
  1. Pick 3-4 students to be it.
  2. Give each student picked a vocabulary card.
  3. Turn off the lights and the rest of the class puts their head down (NO PEEKING!) and their thumb up. 
  4. The students chosen go around the room and pick someone by touching their thumb. 
  5. When the teacher turns the lights on, those picked stand up and try to guess who picked them. 
  6. Rather than calling out the students name, they must call out the vocabulary word that student is holding. 
  7. If they get it right, they get to trade places and be it. If they get it wrong, they sit back down.
  8. Then the next round begins. 

Heads Down, Vocabulary Up by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

You can also have your students tell the meaning of the word, use it in a sentence or give a synonym. This way it can be easily differentiated for various learners. When using academic vocabulary cards, I like have them say the word and their own meaning of the word. This is a simple review that can be done in 5 minutes or stretched out into a whole group lesson. 

Heads Down, Vocabulary Up by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

Up next is a little game I like to call Word Speed

Word Speed! A Vocabulary Game by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

Word Speed is quick game that we play daily throughout the week. I do this with vocabulary and grammar skills mostly. All you need is some chart paper and makers. You could easily laminate chart paper and use dry erase markers to make it reusable. What you'll see below is bulletin paper from our workroom. Here is how you play...

Word Speed! A Vocabulary Game by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

1. Split your class up into 2 teams. (You can do more if you'd like)
2. Tape a piece of chart paper on opposite sides of the room for each team. You want them far enough apart where the other team can't see the others paper. 
3. Write the topic you are covering at the top of the chart paper. 
4. Time them for 1-2 minutes (sometimes this will be longer such as 3-4 minutes until everyone has a turn, but they think they only have one minute). 
5. Each person write a vocabulary word and passes the marker to the next person. They are not allowed to talk while doing this. (The picture above, they had to write a pair of synonyms. They cannot write something that has already been written.)
6. They have 1-2 minutes to write as many words as they can. 
7. When the time is up, the person holding the marker brings it to you. 
8. I give each team one point for having the correct words. They race every day. On Monday-Wednesday, I do not count off for spelling. On Thursday and Friday, if a word is misspelled, I do not count it. This helps with preventing tie-breakers. 
9. At the end of the week, the team with most points is the Word Speed Champ for the week! 

Word Speed! A Vocabulary Game by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

 We play with a new piece of paper everyday so that they are able to use the same words. On Tuesday, I use the back of the page that they wrote on, on Monday. I kept a tally of the points on the board. I found that they loved this game so much, that they would go home and ask their families for words to use. Once the kids got into the routine of playing for various concepts, they would always ask if it was Word Speed time! 

Now lets talk about a class favorite that I use for multiple concepts. This little game is a BIG DEAL! It's called KABOOM! I blogged about this concept awhile back. You can read about it here. I'll do a quick recap. 

Vocabulary KABOOM! By Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

All you need to create KABOOM is popsicle sticks, a permanent marker, and a cup. Here's how to play:
  1. Color one tip of each popsicle stick. This end sticks out of the cup. 
  2. Write a vocabulary word on each stick. 
  3. You also need 5-10 KABOOM sticks. (For my academic vocabulary sets, I put 2 sets of vocabulary words that are 8 words each, and then 5 Kaboom! sticks. For sight words, I do a full set and then 10 KABOOM sticks. 
  4. Place all the sticks in a  cup with the colored tip sticking up. 
  5. Students play rock, paper, scissors to see who goes first. 
  6. The first player draws a stick and reads the word.  For academic vocabulary they must read the word correctly and tell the meaning or use it in a sentence. This is good for differentiation in your groups. 
  7. If the student reads the word and uses it in correctly they get to keep their stick. 
  8. If they read it incorrectly or use it incorrectly, the stick must go back in the cup. 
  9. If they draw a stick that says KABOOM! They have to put all of their sticks back into the cup. This is a BIG DEAL ya'll! 
  10. The player with the most sticks at the end of the game wins! 
Vocabulary KABOOM! By Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

I like to play KABOOM with academic vocabulary at the beginning of each small group. I can easily differentiate each question I ask based on each student to fit their needs. We also play whole group using sight words, parts of speech, and for various math concepts. This is a favorite during stations as well. 

I keep all of my games set up in baskets and the kids can easily grab a cup when they have time. All the other games I have created are stored and labeled in ziploc bags. 

Vocabulary KABOOM! By Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

Last but most certainly not least is my personal favorite, Beach Ball Vocabulary! I originally started playing this game with math facts and learned that I could use it for all different subjects. You can read my math fact post here.

Beach Ball Vocabulary by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

All you need is a beach ball and a maker. Write vocabulary words all over the ball in a random order. 

Beach Ball Vocabulary by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

Here is how to play:
  1. Have students form a large circle around the room while you or another student stands in the middle. 
  2. GENTLY toss the beach ball to a student. 
  3. Whatever word their thumb (you can pick right or left) lands on, they must tell the definition, use it in a sentence, or give an example of. 
  4. Then they GENTLY toss the ball back to you and you throw it to another student. 
Beach Ball Vocabulary by Saddle Up For 2nd Grade

The example shown above was played with antonyms. Students had to say the antonym of the word one of their thumbs landed on. For academic vocabulary, I have all of unit 1 words written on a ball, all of unit 2 words written on a ball, etc. This way they are getting review of words we have already learned. 

All of the games show above can be used with multiple concepts such as academic vocabulary, synonyms/antonyms, prefixes/suffixes, compound words, contractions, parts of speech, sight words and so much more. Use them cross-curricular for math concepts or science and social studies. 

I hope you can incorporate at least one of these activities into your classroom! My kids love them and I hope yours do too! Have a great day! 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Such excellent ideas. I've played the first one in my class for years. My kiddos would happily play it all day long! Can't wait to try out the others. Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your blog.
    Always Primary

  3. Love all your ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing the game ideas!

  5. Thanks for sharing the game ideas!

  6. These ideas are awesome! What a way to keep old games fresh. Thank you for sharing!

  7. These ideas are awesome! What a way to keep old games fresh. Thank you for sharing!

  8. These ideas are awesome! What a way to keep old games fresh. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I like the Kaboom game-I teach 6th grade social studies. I think I will use this game for academic vocabulary. I'm going to put numbers at the end of my sticks rather than words, then I can make a word list on a bookmark sized paper for each student. This way I can reuse the sticks, but change the words. Do you think this will work?

    1. I've never thought of it that way. You could definitely do that. Good idea!

  10. What are the colors for on the ends of the stick? Different subject areas for you to keep straight or something like that? Love this idea but just trying to figure out the colors! :) Thank you!

  11. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I look forward to using these with my kiddos in 2016-2017!

  12. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing :)

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