Academic Vocabulary

It is such a joy to teach a group of students that LOVE to read.  This year I am thrilled to have a class full of boys and girls who absolutely love reading and don’t read because they have to, but read for the pure joy of reading.  Just this morning I had a swarm of boys standing around me who couldn’t talk fast enough about The 39 Clues books.  We had the best discussion on what we would do if we were in a similar situation.  It was one of those moments that makes all of the work throughout the year worthwhile.  I also have a group of girls who love The Babysitter Club books, which thrills me, because that was my absolute favorite series when I was their age.  I have to give credit to my school’s amazing K-2 teachers who have built a solid reading foundation and instilled this enjoyment of reading in my students.

I feel like my next big hurdle is to expand that enjoyment and comprehension to nonfiction texts.  As a reader, I also prefer fiction books, but I realize that it is critical for my students to be able to read and comprehend nonfiction texts.  I love using my social studies and science curriculum to teach nonfiction reading strategies.  I have found that many of my students struggle with academic vocabulary, and I’ve spent a great deal of time researching ways to improve this area.

One of my students’ and my favorite ways to practice academic vocabulary is through a game called Mile-a-Minute.  One of
the best parts of the game is that there is very little preparation required.  All you need is a projector and
vocabulary slides (I use PowerPoint) and you’re ready to go! 

In the example below, Earth Science is the category and the words listed below are terms I want my
students to know.

This is an example of a social studies slide for Ancient Greece.

How to Play
game is very similar to the game “Taboo”.  You will need to assign each
student a partner (my students sit in groups of 4, so I just pair up
students who sit beside each other).  Tell one partner to face the
projector’s screen and one partner to face the opposite direction.  As
soon as students are ready, display a vocabulary slide and tell students
to begin.  The partner facing the screen should immediately tell their
partner the category and try to get their partner to say all of the
terms on the screen by providing clues such as definitions, synonyms,
and antonyms.  They cannot spell, give rhyming words, or say any of the
words on the list, and of course NO PEEKING.  You can either give
students a time limit to try to complete as many words as possible, or
you can play until someone says all the words on the list.

each round, discuss the terms and what clues could have been used for
each of the terms.  You can keep playing by having the partners switch
spots and repeating the steps with a different slide.

I love this
game, because it requires every student in the class to participate at
the same time, and I love that students get instant feedback on their
vocabulary knowledge.  It is fast-paced and exciting for students and is
an amazing review at the same time, and is a great game for when you
have a couple extra minutes before or after a transition.

I like
to introduce this game by using very simple words that don’t present
much of a challenge to students to allow them to understand how to play
the game.  Then I introduce the academic vocabulary into the game.  You can download some of the social studies and science slides I use with my students, so
hopefully they’ll give you some ideas of categories and terms that you
can use with your students.  Just click on the picture below for your copy!  I’m sorry, but I can only share as a PDF file and won’t be able to link the Power Point, but I feel that’s it’s important to closely follow the terms of use of all my favorite clipart sites!



  1. says

    question-if all the students are doing the same slide, how do you know when they have all have said the word and can change the slide and how can they try to get as many words as possible if you can't change the slide as soon as they say the word and are ready to go on? Does that make sense? I think its a great game and want to apply it in my classroom. Am I confused?

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