Friday, April 26, 2019

Pictionary and Charades to Learn Vocabulary

We are continuing our series of posts by Beth Guadagni, who shares the strategies she uses in her Colorado classroom. Today, she writes about ways to help learn vocabulary.

To help students learn vocabulary words, in English or in other languages.


  • words to be studied, each written on a slip of paper
  • list of words’ definitions
  • something to draw with, and on
Students take turns picking words at random by drawing slips of paper. They must get the other players to guess the word by drawing it, or by acting it out. The first one to guess the word correctly gets to select the next word and draw it/act it out.

Why This Works:
My students can’t get enough of this game, so one of the primary reasons it works is that it keeps them engaged. Even my most introverted student thinks it’s great fun because I allow him to choose who will go next if he guesses the word correctly. The game allows the students to move around, as well, and research indicates that movement helps some kids learn faster and stay engaged longer.

People remember information more reliably when concepts are stored in their memories in multiple formats. Memorizing a list of words and their definitions gives students only one format in which to interact with, and remember, material. Having a mental image to associate with a word—whether it comes from a classmate’s drawing or the memory of a classmate performing an action—seems to help my students remember new words more quickly than any other exercise we’ve tried. Further, as they guess which word is being presented, they pore over the list of definitions with more vigor than they would to complete any worksheet or test I could give them. And in a surprisingly short time, they don’t need to reference the list at all.

My students’ memories for vocabulary have improved, and I’ve found that the Pictionary/charades approach helps my students to understand the new words more deeply as well. Even seeing vocabulary words in the context of sentences—a valuable learning experience, to be sure—pales in comparison to playing with the words. When deciding how to portray a word’s meaning to their classmates, my students have taken to connecting personally with the words. For example, one of my students hates to sit still. He loves nothing more than working up a good sweat. His drawing for the word “laborious” showed a stick figure mowing a lawn and smiling. My whole class now remembers that word easily because they connect it to this young man, who has developed a reputation for enthusiasm about chores the rest of them hate to be assigned at home. Charades and Pictionary have helped my students see how to use these words in their lives to express information about themselves or people they know. The information feels relevant because they’ve given it a context.

Although this activity really works only in a group setting, a student studying independently could use it as well. Spending a few minutes imagining how one would draw or act out vocabulary words on a list will still help a student to translate concept from one format (verbal) to another (visual or kinesthetic), leading to deeper and more lasting memories of the words’ meanings.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

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