Send your students off on a scavenger hunt to discover vocabulary words with my free worksheets. The Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt Activity challenges students to take the time to discover words by looking and listening in their everyday life, and finding them in a variety of contexts! In this article, you'll discover how to set up the parameters, offer incentives, begin the activity, and ways students (and educators) can share their discoveries on both social media platforms and traditional pen and paper responses.
One of the reasons I am enthusiastic about vocabulary in my classroom is because of what I innately knew, and what Harvard Researcher Dr. Vicki Jacobs proved: “Developing ‘word consciousness’ can boost vocabulary learning. Word consciousness learning activities stimulate an awareness and interest in words, their meanings, and their power.”
When I help to open my students’ eyes to the plethora of words surrounding them, they start to recognize how much of the vocabulary we are studying appears in their everyday lives. From the reporter on the nightly news to the math worksheet they are given, from the advertisement on the back of the cereal box to the avatar’s name on their video game, these words are EVERYWHERE!
Here are a couple vocabulary words I've discovered the last week by simply looking and listening as I go about my everyday life...
Word Discovered: Respite
I got excited just last Thursday when I found the word “respite” being used in the Missouri History Museum exhibit about the legacy of African Americans. While reading about the evolution of African American worship and churches, my eyes were immediately drawn to the word "respite" despite it being typed in small print.
Word Discovered: Brobdingnagian
Just last night, we were re-watching the The Big Bang Theory Season 4, episode 4, and the word “brobdingnagian” was used several times by Sheldon in a conversation about Raj’s oversized desk. Due to copyright issues, I can’t show you the clip, but you can easily find this clip on YouTube. Although "brobdingnangian" isn't part of my students vocabulary curriculum, but it is one of my favorite words!
Word Discovered: Infallible
While reading a magazine in a waiting room I discovered the word "infallible" in a L'Oréal makeup advertisement. Online ads and print ads are one of the easiest ways to find vocabulary words in the world around you. Whether a company is naming a product, describing a product, or enticing people to buy a product, advertisements are riddled with vocabulary words!
The Importance of Vocabulary Activities That Stimulate Awareness and Interest in Words
Spotting vocabulary words in my everyday life is what inspired me to create the Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt activity for my students. Creating vocabulary activities that will get students excited to participate and will also help them realize vocabulary words do exist outside the English Language Arts classroom is key.
Considering college-bound students need to have 75,000–120,000 words in their vocabularies and can acquire 300–500 new words annually through direct instruction, the more they take the time to recognize and practice new vocabulary words, the better it is for their academic success. (source)
Furthermore, students need to readily access their vocabulary knowledge, not just memorize words for a one-day assessment. When students can acknowledge and then recall the meaning of vocabulary words, they then also are cementing those words into their long-term memory. The more encounters they have with a word, researchers say between 7 and 11 encounters with a word is ideal, the further the word is solidified in one’s lexicon. Hopefully, with multiple encounters, students not only come to fully know words, but also utilize them in their own writing and speaking.
Furthermore, recognizing a word also pairs with understanding how a word is being used, and therefore encourages students’ use of context clue strategies.
Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt Activity
Send your students off on a scavenger hunt to discover vocabulary words! Below educators will find everything they need to implement this fun activity in the classroom.
Students will go on a mission to collect a total of 15 vocabulary words in their everyday surroundings. As students discover words, they will record them on a Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt chart. When they spot a vocabulary word, students will either collect evidence or an adult's signature to verify they found the word.
How to Get Started
The first step is to download the Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt worksheets. My free download includes an instruction sheet for students, examples, and a Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt chart.
Next, decide how you want students to participate in the Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt. There are two ways students can complete the activity.
If you decide to let students pair up to look for vocabulary words, they will work together to complete one Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt chart. If students work individually, they will complete an entire Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt chart on their own.
Give each student (or team of students) a Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt instruction sheet and chart. The chart outlines what information needs to be recorded when a word is found. The instruction sheets are available in various grade ranges and include directions, suggested sources, examples, and a space for assigning due dates.
Once students have their worksheets, assign students a deadline to collect their 15 words. As indicated on the instruction sheet, students will collect their words in intervals. Teachers will assign students a date to collect the first 5 words, a due date for collecting the next 5 vocabulary words, and a date to collect the remaining 5 words. By having deadlines in 5 word increments, students are less likely to procrastinate and then not be able to find all the words they needed.
Remind students that searching words on the internet is acceptable for some harder to find vocabulary, but at least five of the words must be found organically in their lives.
Review what evidence should be collected when a vocabulary word is discovered. This will vary by grade level and can be as detailed as teachers want to make it. In addition to filling out the Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt chart, teachers can require students to take a picture, screenshot, get an adult signature, or share socially.
For example, I require my high school students to take a picture or screenshot of their findings and then either insert it into a PowerPoint (that they will submit at the very end) or share it on Twitter/Instagram with a classroom hashtag. If you don't have a class hashtag feel free to use mine, #VocabGalWordHunt.
Finally, make it clear that all evidence collected needs to be school appropriate!
Providing incentives including stickers, certificates and buttons gets students to pay attention and share their newfound recognition of words. This in turn allows your classroom to become a positive space for learning vocabulary.
Although a point system is not outlined in detail on my free worksheets, words found organically should be "awarded" more than those searched for on the internet. I suggest making words searched for on the internet worth 1 point and words found from everyday sources/connections worth 2 points.
Furthermore, give students added points for going to museums (or virtual museums) and finding vocabulary on the descriptive placards-I always walk away with at least 2–3 examples every time I head there.
Ideas to Differentiate the Activity for Students
If you worry this activity may be challenging for ELL learners or some of your less word savvy students, you can secretly have colleagues plant vocabulary words in assignments or oral directions and see how many students record them.
Challenge the students who need a bit of a stretch by suggesting book title, speeches, or advanced pieces of work to read. In addition, require them to find all 15 words organically in their everyday life.
Ultimately, having students take the time to discover words by looking and listening in their everyday life, and finding them in a variety of contexts is exciting and challenging. Giving students the opportunity to observe the world around them for interesting vocabulary words, students can reflect on why a robust vocabulary is an important, real-world skill to acquire in order to be successful in this bigger world.
Source: Blachowicz et al., (2006); Bravo & Cervetti, (2008); Bromley, (2007); Curtis & Longo, (2001); Graves, (2008); Nagy, (1988)