PSLE English 2016 | 3 Fun Ways to Practise & Retain Vocabulary

Previously, we have talked about how new vocabulary can be recorded and remembered using vocabulary frames, word webs and analogies to make links. Essentially, a word needs to be encountered as many times as possible for it to be retained. Today, I would like to share about 3 fun ways for children to retain the new vocabulary they have learnt. These games can be easily adapted to be used both in the classroom or at home so educators and parents (Yes, join your children in revising their vocabulary although your role is more of a facilitator or game master), do try them with your kids!

1. Zap it!

I had seen this game originally on another website where the teacher had used it with her 2nd graders (Primary 2 in local context) to revise sight vocabulary and Mathematics. As we stepped up on getting the children to learn their vocabulary this term, we figured that a fun game would help in retention of these new words and it sure did! "Zap it!" (or originally known as "Kaboom!" on the website above) is flexible, good for individual or small group setting and most importantly, motivates the children to make an effort to remember the meanings and ways to use the new vocabulary. 

What you will need:

Class and home use:
1. Ice-cream sticks (or tongue depressors which are like a bigger version of ice-cream sticks for class use so that every one can see the words clearly)
2. markers
3. a cup

Making the game:

1. Write a word on an ice cream stick. 
2. Write the words "Zap it!" on a few ice cream sticks. (I placed 4 Zap-it sticks with a list of about 15 words. You can choose to put in more or less.)

How it can be used (in class):
1. Each child picks up a stick, read the word and has to say something related to it. It can be
- the word class
- the meaning
- a synonym (word with the same meaning) 
- antonym (a word with the opposite meaning)
- how it is used in a sentence
- words that often go along with it (e.g. regained >>> regained her vision, regained his composure)
If the child reads it correctly and does any one of the above, he/she gets to keep the stick.
2. If a child picks a Zap-it stick, he/she will have to put all the sticks back in! This is a game changing move! 
3. The winner is the child with the most sticks at the end of the game (i.e. when all the sticks are used or when time's up!).

My P3 to P6 kids ALL enjoyed this game tremendously and I can see how they put in the effort to remember the words and their meanings as the game goes on! I made a variation to the game by having the person on their right pick the stick for them. Another variation to create more excitement is for the person who gets the Zap-it stick to choose another player to throw all their sticks back in the cup. Ms Nora's twist for the game is to get each child to throw a die and the task assigned to each number will be what the child needs to do e.g. 1 - word class, 2 - meaning etc. 

How it can be used (at home):
For younger children (P1 to P4), parents can work with them to write out the vocabulary or spelling words on the sticks. Fill up a cup with the sticks and whenever there are pockets of time, get the child to pick 3 to 5 sticks and revise the spelling or meaning of the words. They can do this before their television time or if they are just waiting in the car or even before they can use the mobile phone/ iPad for games. A friend of mine tried it with her P2 child and she highlighted how it is a quick and effective way of revision. 

For Primary 5 and 6 children or learners who are more motivated, they can bring the sticks around with them and practise on the go. Parents who are on the ball can always volunteer to challenge them to a game and I am sure it will be fun and encouraging for them to see you learn with them.

2. Vocabulary Tally

What you will need:

Class use
1. Whiteboard

Home use
1. A vocabulary list OR a notebook

Making the game:

The idea is to have a column or sufficient space beside each word so that a tally can be kept. 

How it can be used (in class):

1. On the whiteboard, write down the list of words which we have learnt.
2. As the lesson goes on, each time that the new word is used by anyone (including the teacher) in the classroom, or spotted by anyone e.g. in their worksheet, in a video used etc. a stroke will be added beside the word.
3. When a word has been used/ spotted 3 times, the entire class gets a point!

I usually have a vocabulary list of 15 words and I will display about 5 on the whiteboard each time with a mix of simpler and harder words. When a word has been used 3 times, I will remove it and add another word.

A tip for teachers is this: we can direct our children to using a particular word by using it first. For instance, I chose to use the word "scrutinise" in a sentence in class and I added a stroke to it since it has been used. When the children see that they only need to use the word 2 more times, it motivates them to use or spot it so that they can earn that point for everyone! 

How it can be used (at home):

1. Draw a column beside the words in the vocabulary list or if there is insufficient space on the word list, write the words in a notebook with a column beside it.
2. If there is a whiteboard or wall for you to paste the list on, that will be even better as it will serve as a visual reminder. This will be more useful for younger children as well.

The idea follows for a stroke to be added in the column beside the word each time it is used or spotted. I encourage my children to make an effort to explain the definition to those around them or just to tell them something about the word. It does not matter that their friend or parent does not understand what they might have said but the important thing is that the word is deliberately being used. Parents may come up with a reward system (a small treat if 2 words have been spotted or used three times each day) or check with children about the tally at the end of the day by asking them how each stroke had been earned for a particular word. The child should be able to give you explanations on the strokes like how they had used it in a sentence or that they had heard their teacher use it in school.

3. Vocabulary Tic-tac-toe

What you will need:

Class and home use:

1. Word cards (name card size. Teachers can display the cards using the visualiser so that the class can see them clearly)

OR

Class use
1. laminated construction paper so that the words can be erased and a new word can be written on it in the following week.

Making the game:

Paul is trying to have a go at the vocabulary tic-tac-toe. 

Paul is trying to have a go at the vocabulary tic-tac-toe. 

For the word cards, write the word on one side and definition on the other side. This is good for home or class use if the teacher wishes to place the cards in the classroom for the children to carry out revision as and when on their own. Children can help with the writing or typing if you wish to print out the definitions for neater presentation. 

For the laminated construction paper, I personally find it better for class use. The plus is that it is big enough for the class to see on the whiteboard and you can reuse the cards each time since the words can be erased. However, it will be a waste to write the definition as the cards are not being kept. Hence, it will be better for teachers to use it to test the definitions with given words

How it can be used (in class):

1. Arrange the cards in a 3-by-3 manner like a tic-tac-toe grid.
2. The class may be divided into two teams or teachers can let groups take turns to pit against each other.
3. Similar to "Zap it!", the team must be able to give the definition or use the word in a sentence (teachers can set the task) in order to "own" the box.
4. If a team "owns" the words, the card can be taken down with the name or symbol of the team written in the box. If the word is not used correctly, then it remains on the whiteboard for the other team to have a go at. The first team to form a line with the 3 boxes will win the game. 

To avoid having the same children answering, set rules that it must be a different member of the group each time to answer. Even for weaker pupils, they will be able to pick up some words as their peers remind them about the meanings before they give their answers.

How it can be used (at home):

Parents can pick the 9 cards to form the 3-by-3 grid for their child. The child does not need to play against the parent but simply form a line in order to win the game. If the child got a word wrong, that word will not be allowed to be claimed anymore and he/she will need to use another word. If the game cannot be won, the child will start over with the words rearranged. The child can have some time to revise the words, especially the one he/she made a mistake in before starting again. 

This can be a very quick game especially when the child has become more familiar with the words. 


Ultimately, we hope that children will be able to retain the new vocabulary with plenty of chances to use them and see them being used. Sometimes, it is hard for children to see the words being used in the materials they come across and hence, a deliberate effort is put in here for the children to use and remember the vocabulary through the fun games above. Do keep encouraging your children to read as seeing the words used meaningfully in a context will help in retention of the vocabulary even more! 

Let us know if you have tried any of these games or if you have any other interesting ways to retain vocabulary! 

Lily Chew

An English tutor on a mission to educate children; a blogger with a passion to share and grow the love of English with the world.