5 Easy Ways to Rock Your Third Grade Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary instruction is crucial to helping our students increase their reading comprehension and become better writers. That’s why I think it’s so important to make time for vocabulary instruction every day. Here’s an easy-to-follow weekly schedule of ideas to help you fit quick, simple, and meaningful vocabulary instruction and practice into each day.

Monday – Introduce the Vocabulary Words

I introduce each word in three steps at the beginning of every week to make sure the students are really understanding their meanings.

  1. I start by showing the students the written word on a card/sentence strip and telling them the definition. I always word the definition in a “kid-friendly” way to make sure they understand it.
  2. I then use a picture to help them visually understand the word’s meaning. I usually do this by holding up two picture cards and asking the students which picture shows the meaning of the word. Then we discuss how/why that picture illustrates the meaning of the word. However, life happens and sometimes there isn’t enough time for this. Then I just show the correct picture and discuss how it shows the meaning. I was lucky enough to be at a school that had a vocabulary adoption that supplied picture cards for each vocabulary word. If you don’t have that you can use a quick Google image search (ahead of time) or a simple sketch. Keep your vocabulary words and their pictures displayed on the wall throughout the week.
  3. Then I use a “Mirrors with Words,” a Whole Brain Teaching strategy that has the students mirroring your gestures and words. I say, “Mirrors with Words” and put my hands up in front of my shoulders with my palms facing the students. They repeat my words and action. We then say the word and use a gesture to show the meaning of the word. For example, if the word is gentle, I might gesture as if I’m holding a rabbit or other small animal while I gently pet it. Kate Bowski has a great YouTube video that explains how “mirrors” work. You can also see them in action with students in this video.


Read alouds are amazing tools for teaching vocabulary words because they allow the students to hear the words in context. Before I read the story, I remind the students to listen for our vocabulary words and how they are used. While I read, the students show a small thumbs up when they hear a vocabulary word in context. After reading, we discuss how the words were used in the story.

Wednesday – USE Context Clues

I use fill-in-the-blank style sentences and have the students use the context clues to determine which of their vocabulary words best completes the sentence. This not only gets them thinking about and using their vocabulary words but also squeezes in more practice with context clues – which my students have always desperately needed. These sentences are usually just ones that I make up and show on the document camera. You don’t need anything fancy here.

Thursday – Questions about the words

By Thursday the students should have a good grasp of the vocabulary words. I like to “quiz” them by asking them questions that use the vocabulary words and require an understanding of their meaning. We then discuss the justifications of their answers in relation to the meaning of the vocabulary words.

Friday – Assessment

Assess the students on their understanding of the words by having them use the words in context. This is so much more meaningful than having the students match the word to its definition. Memorizing which word goes with which definition doesn’t show a deeper understanding of how to use the word, doesn’t truly expand our students’ vocabularies, and certainly won’t transfer to their future use of the words. This doesn’t need to be hard or time-consuming to create. You can create multiple-choice questions for each vocabulary word, true/false questions, or have the students write a sentence for each word that shows the meaning. While the last option there seems the easiest – keep in mind that you will have to grade these. lol

Transitions – Make every second count!

Fill those fleeting moments of silent space with vocabulary practice by having the students use the word in a sentence, list synonyms & antonyms, or give examples of the words as they line up or when the class is in line outside of the cafeteria, etc.

Third Grade Vocabulary Station

Vocabulary Station

A vocabulary station that provides fun and meaningful activities is an excellent way to get students practicing their words and involves such little work on your part to maintain. You don’t have to change the activities in it all year because the new word list will change it up for you. If you put vocabulary activities and games that can be used with any word list in the station you can just set it and forget it for the most part. Once you set it up, you’ll only need to refill the papers every now and then. The best part is that the station will be ready to go for next year as well! I’m all about working smarter, not harder.

Here are just a few of my favorite ideas to get you started.

Who Can Guess My Word - Vocabulary Dice Game

Vocabulary Dice Game – Students seriously love playing this “Who Can Guess My Word?” dice game as they practice their vocabulary words in a variety of fun ways. It’s simple, fun to play, and best of all, easy to set up.

"Super Vocabulary" Board Game for Stations

Board Game – Board games are great because the friendly competition adds some excitement to the station. This “Super Vocabulary” game is perfect for spiraling the vocabulary words throughout the year. Just keep adding word cards as they are introduced. Gameplay gets more and more fun as the deck grows.

Vocabulary Crossword Puzzle

Crossword PuzzleVocabulary crossword puzzles are exciting and challenging for students to create. The kids also love switching and completing each other’s crosswords. Double the practice, double the fun!

Are you ready to set and forget your fun and engaging vocabulary station? Find the vocabulary games and activities shown above and more in these 10 Vocabulary Activities for Any Word List to create a rocking vocabulary station.

How to Easily Fit Vocabulary Instruction into Each Day

I help upper elementary ELA and reading teachers like you create engaging and effective reading lessons without all the stress.



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