Short vocabulary activities are great for getting your students the vocabulary repetition they need to help those words sink in and become part of their permanent lexicons. Here are a few activities that are quick enough to use every day in your classroom.

1. Awesome Adjectival Assessment

In this activity, give your students a list of a few adjectives. These adjectives can come from your current vocabulary unit, but if your current unit doesn't have enough adjectives you may want to use words from previous units as well.

Then, have students write down two synonyms for each word: one that is more intense, and one that is less intense.

For example: Let's say one of your students' vocabulary words is irate. They may list angry as a less intense word. They may list apoplectic as a more intense word.

Students may need to use a thesaurus for this activity — they may simply not know synonyms for their vocabulary word. Of course, they should be encouraged to complete the exercise without the help of a thesaurus.

This activity will help them differentiate between words with different shades of meaning and teach them how to select the best word for each purpose.

2. Speedy Short Story Swap

Give your students 5 minutes to write a short story using as many of their vocabulary words from the current unit as they can.

When the 5 minutes are up, split the class into pairs of students. Have each student pair swap stories and peer review them for correct word use. If a student finds an incorrect word use, have them explain to the other student why the word was incorrect.

3. Pyramid

This game is based on Pyramid, a television game show. In this game, your students work together in pairs, one student giving out clues and the other student responding with the vocabulary words those clues refer to.

Here's what you do:

  1. Divide your class into pairs of students.
  2. Explain how the game works:
    • In this game, there's a clue-giver and a guesser. The clue-giver has a list of six vocabulary words and must give clues to the guesser, who must attempt to guess the vocabulary word.
    • If you're the clue giver, you can't use the vocabulary word as part of the clue (that should be obvious). No gestures, either — this game is played with words only. You can, however, tell the guesser if he or she is on the right track.
    • If you're the guesser and you get stuck on a word, you can say "pass" to move on to the next word.
    • Your team gets one point for each word the guesser gets correct.
    • The time limit is 60 seconds, so work fast!
  3. Set a timer for 60 seconds.
  4. Begin the game by saying "go," and start the timer.

Playing this game will help both students; the clue-giver will have to come up with different ways to explain the target word (showing they know what it means), while the guesser will have to use their knowledge of the word to guess correctly.

Why give the clue-giver, but not also the guesser, the word list? Mostly to prevent the guesser from just yelling out the vocabulary words at random.

To further mitigate this possibility, you may want to create a word list that comprises only some of the words your class is currently studying — fill the rest of the list with vocab words from earlier in the year or words you think they already know.

​This is a very quick activity; you could do this one every day as a warmup if you wished. If you do it frequently, however, make sure you vary the student teams, as students may start using the same clues over and over, diminishing the effectiveness of the activity.

4. Drawing pictograms

Linguistic and nonlinguistic strategies are both important for learning vocabulary, but we often focus wholly on the linguistic side. Nonlinguistic strategies can help students remember words; let's not neglect them!

This activity is simple: have students draw a simple representation of a vocabulary word. A pictogram is an image that refers to a physical object in order to convey its meaning. For example, an image of a human figure in mid-stride and at the center of a red circle with a slash through it: this image means "no walking" or "do not enter."

In drawing their pictograms, students should strive to convey their idea as simply as possible. This can be very hard to do with difficult vocabulary words!

5. Charades

You know how to play Charades — one person acts out a word, and everyone else tries to guess the word.

Charades vocabulary-style is basically the same, but with one change: after the round ends, the performer has to explain why they were performing the actions they were. This should further the performer's understanding.

This is an activity you could do every day; it won't take long at all. Choose a different volunteer each day to play the performer.