6 Creative Vocabulary Activities For High School (Blog Image)

6 Creative vocabulary activities for high school

Vocabulary acquisition has always been a crucial indicator for school achievement, specifically in younger grade levels, but it’s also just as important in high school. Vocabulary is one of the ten components of literacy according to the Science of Reading (SOR). SOR underscores that reading comprehension is a product of decoding and language comprehension: RC = D x LC (Gough and Tunmer 1986). And vocabulary learning continues far beyond the emergent reader years. Continued vocabulary development, whether through listening, speaking, reading, or writing, supports reading comprehension and increases achievement throughout the grades. So how could and should secondary teachers focus on vocabulary for their high schoolers?

Without vocabulary learning across key content areas, students are at risk of entering college and the workforce ill-prepared. When it comes to vocabulary activities for high schoolers, students need multiple instances of practice to hear, speak, read, and write words in a variety of contexts in order to expand their breadth and depth of understanding. As standards become more robust and classes become more rigorous, one’s vocabulary is often the lynchpin to having meaningful discourse, which helps to illustrate how well content has been processed and understood. Both reading-to-learn and writing-to-learn are ways to help students make or construct meaning long into their high school years.

“There’s a strong, statistical link between a person’s vocabulary knowledge and students’ comprehension ability; and there’s a very strong link between these two and academic success.”

Nancy Padak, Kent State University professor emeritus

Flocabulary is rooted in comprehension and vocabulary. Flocabulary’s hip-hop videos present a high volume of words through rhyme, making them a perfect format to teach academic vocabulary. Hip-hop has a more extensive vocabulary and more unique words than any other genre and the rhythm and rhyme make those words memorable and “sticky.” Students are exposed to vocabulary terms multiple times in context within a genre that promotes recall. Plus, there’s more than just a video; each lesson offers extended practice through the corresponding activities. These rigorous and intentional learning experiences are designed to engage students through quality music and rich visuals, creating an emotional connection—and this approach is an ideal way to foster an optimal learning environment for high school vocabulary activities.

New to Flocabulary? Teachers can sign up for a trial to access our lesson videos and assessment activities. Administrators can get in touch with us to learn more about unlocking the full power of Flocabulary through Flocabulary Plus.

Some educators believe that pre-teaching or previewing vocabulary before reading provides the “velcro” or stickiness for students to better build meaning by activating prior knowledge and scaffolding concepts. Although previewing allows for repetition, others argue that such vocabulary strategies for high school students are too isolating—they believe that vocab words are best discussed after reading, when students have had the opportunity to make inferences and analyze words within context.

One strategy to help cement new high school vocabulary before and after reading involves using the Frayer Model, also referred to as the Four-Square Strategy. This graphic organizer method provides multiple ways to analyze and concept-map a new word. Students write the vocab term in the center circle, and then they add a basic definition, key characteristics, examples, and non-examples.

Vocab Cards activity on Flocabulary following the Frayer Model
Frayer Model example

Flocabulary’s Vocab Cards are modeled off the Frayer model for effective vocabulary instruction. Therefore, students can use this activity to make connections to their prior knowledge, dissect new learnings into digestible chunks, and think critically about the application of this vocabulary word. Multiple instances of exposure is key!

Using a vocabulary-rich video like Flocabulary’s Shakespeare Is Hip-Hop, for example, you can challenge students to examine the accompanying lyrics and identify which words they are likely to encounter on the SATs or ACTs—words such as forage, goad, gregarious, hiatus, incessant, ingenious, pervasive, profuse, and more! Assign students Flocabulary’s Vocab Cards—which are modeled on the Frayer Model. They can read the definition and part of speech and then practice writing and drawing the word on their own.   Then, turn to the grades 9-12 SAT Word Up collection, containing 12 video lessons, for more vocabulary test prep.

One of the more challenging parts of ELA testing for students is the vocabulary section. Vocabulary tests can be taxing due to the way questions are asked and responses are presented—often in isolation and without the contextual cues that help us when we encounter new words. High school students commonly refer to such difficult or foreign words as “SAT words.” (In recent years, the SAT stopped testing vocabulary via analogies and sentence completions). There are many strategies and high school vocabulary activities to help support your students during standardized test-taking periods.

In Flocabulary’s Test-Taking Strategies lesson, students learn how to implement their own test-taking strategies for success. This lesson is perfect to use during test prep season.

Test-Taking Strategies lesson on Flocabulary

Flocabulary even has video lessons to review Tier 2 words which are used generally in academic settings across all subject areas. They are critical for students to master. Instead of leaning on stacks of flashcards, consider ways that these vocabulary words can be presented and shared through media-rich methods. Both native English speakers and second-language learners can benefit from methodologies that appeal to various learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Flocabulary harnesses the sounds, rhythms, melodies, and tones of rap songs along with the visual art, storytelling, humor, drama, and poetry of the videos to create emotional connections. The high-quality videos authentically engage and captivate students by making the learning experiences memorable and interesting.

Often, high school curricula are laden with specific academic vocabulary that may not be used commonly in social settings or across subject areas. These subject-specific words are called Tier 3 words. Within subject-specific areas, consider how you can reinforce such key vocabulary for high school students by using core concepts or strategies. For instance, in math, how can you encourage students to weave in math vocabulary in an authentic manner? Repetition of use is important, so try to use math talk. Empower your students to “speak math” and become more familiar with using technical language. Learning such academic vocabulary will help to level the playing field, challenge higher-thinking skills, and push students to think outside of the box.

When it comes to subject-specific concepts, immerse students in high school vocabulary words. For instance, in math, consider those keywords that will be used repeatedly in directions or in the problems themselves with the video Math Terms. Then level up by sharing videos like Congruence & Similarity, which is rich in concepts such as translation, rotation, and reflection on a coordinate plane. Don’t forget that with any and every Flocabulary video, you can emphasize vocabulary with the visually rich Vocab Cards and by building the beat with the accompanying Vocab Game.

When exploring vocabulary activities for high school, challenge students to take their decoding skills to the next level by using their critical thinking skills to deconstruct words into Greek and Latin roots. These common roots provide clues to the meaning of many abstract vocabulary words. Morphology speaks to the study of the forms of words, and a morpheme is the smallest meaningful part of the word, usually a base word or root. Encourage your high school students to dissect and analyze by adopting the mantra, “New, new, review!” to introduce and review roots in a three-week cycle.

“More than 60 percent of academic words have word parts  (also called morphemes or roots) that always carry the same meaning. Knowing that words can be broken down into meaning units is a powerful strategy for vocabulary development.”

Authors Padak, Rasinki, Newton, and Bromley

High school is a crucial time to expose and introduce your students to a variety of careers so they can begin to think of their next step. Many careers have their own vernacular (hello, education with our acronyms!) and field-specific speak. As students begin to consider college majors and career pursuits, showcase the different opportunities that are in reach. Help prepare them for job exploration and interviews by introducing them to language that is socially expected within the professional world as well as that which is core to a future industry.

Flocabulary offers Life Skills videos, including a collection on Financial Literacy. The video lesson Banking familiarizes high schoolers with key terms like rate, balance, and principal, while illustrating the fundamentals of how banks function and are insured. Furthermore, teachers can use Flocab’s career lessons about Dietitian and Architect career paths.

Financial literacy lessons
Architect Alisa career lesson

James Paul Gee outlines 16 principles for Good Video Games and Good Learning. As the godfather of game-based learning (GBL), Gee emphasizes the importance of agency, challenge, and performance in learning. There are many such active learning strategies to make vocabulary learning more participatory and more engaging. Remember, repeated exposure is critical, so giving students the opportunity to play with words learned is key.

A More Perfect Unit lesson Lyric Lab activity

Flocabulary has several instances of word play in the form of high school vocabulary activities: 

  1. In the Lyrics Lab, students create and weave vocabulary words into original songs. They can turn to the word bank or rhyming dictionary for support. The Lyrics Lab promotes student voice.
  2. Each February, in honor of Black History Month, Flocabulary holds a national contest encouraging students to be researchers, lyricists, and rappers. In September, students can also enter the Hispanic Heritage Month Rap Contest.

While the rapid development of vocabulary can be exciting, vocabulary learning is truly a lifelong pursuit. Many learning activities can be reinforced across the high school curriculum so that students are constantly stretching their vocabulary prowess. Work collaboratively with colleagues in a cross-curricular manner to strategize about how best to teach vocabulary in high school. Engaging high school students in vocabulary learning activities will prepare them personally and professionally for life beyond their diplomas.

New to Flocabulary? Teachers can sign up for a trial to access our lesson videos and assessment activities. Administrators can get in touch with us to learn more about unlocking the full power of Flocabulary through Flocabulary Plus.

Darri Stephens

Darri Stephens is a dedicated LX (learning experience) designer, passionate about creating quality content and programs for kids, families, and educators. With MAs in Education from both Harvard and Stanford, and work experience at best-in-class ed tech organizations including Wonder Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Common Sense Education, she is steeped in the design thinking process and committed to agile and iterative project management, which has resulted in multi-award-winning programs and products.