13 Activities to Expand Your Vocabulary

Updated on September 17, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

How does one expand their vocabulary? There are many ways to get that done. They don’t have to be boring either. Learning new words can be fun. Here are a few ideas to help you expand your vocabulary.

Activities to Grow Your Vocabulary

1. Read Classic Works of Literature
2. Learn a Word a Day
3. Keep a Notebook
4. Find Ways to Use New Words
5. Play Scrabble
6. Work Crossword Puzzles
7. Diary of Words
8. Reference the Dictionary
9. Look Up the Etymology of the Word
10. Make Up a Rhyme
11. Use a Thesaurus
12. Play Balderdash
13. Make up Stories

1. Read Classic Works of Literature

I know this sounds boring, but you’ll find a plethora of new words to learn. I keep a notebook nearby as I read a classic. When I find a word I’m not familiar with, I write it down. In most of these books, I can fill a few pages with words I don’t use often.

Classics were written in a time where slang was frowned upon. Proper word usage was used. That allows readers a chance to be exposed to a wider vocabulary. It’s not that the words aren’t used anymore. I’ve found them in many of the books written over the last ten years, but they are not used as much. This means fewer people know what they mean.

If you have an ereader, you might have a great tool right there to expand your vocabulary. As I read, I put my finger on words I’m not familiar with. My Kindle pulls up the meaning of the word for me. I’ve learned many new words doing that.

When you are choosing a classic work to read, try to pick one that has peaked your interest. I wouldn’t recommend Moby Dick unless you have been yearning for years to read it. Find one you have seen the movie of and liked it. That will help you understand the story as you go along.

2. Learn a Word a Day

This is a very popular way to expand your vocabulary. Several companies use this on their websites and even have developed apps for it. You can have the words emailed to you or pop up on your smartphone.

I’ve found many words that are fun and funny. I share them with family and friends. It’s a great way to expose yourself to new words and start using them each day.

You can create your own. Get a list of new words and put each word on an index card. Set a new card each day where you can see it. Include pronunciation and definition. Try to use it throughout the day.

To make it more fun and challenging, I try to write a short story or scene using the word. I also talk about the new word with friends, and we have fun with it.

3. Keep a Notebook

This can be a fun way to learn new words especially if you are a list person. I know I am. Lists keep my head straight. I also use them in my writing later.

Keeping a notebook as you read is a great way to note passages and unique words. I usually write a new and/or unfamiliar word down in my reading notebook and note the page number as well so I can reference it in context later. Sometimes I stop there and look up the word and note it in the notebook. Otherwise, I look up all the words later.

This is a great resource if you want to use the word a day method. Pull from these notebooks to really challenge yourself.

It’s also fun to look back over these notebooks and see what words you have acquired into your daily vocabulary.

4. Find Ways to Use New Words

Just reading a new word and its definition is not going to expand your vocabulary. You have to actually use them several times until they feel comfortable in your mind and on your tongue.

I’ve already mentioned how I use them in my writing. That makes them familiar even to my hands. The more I use the new words, the easier they are to use in everyday speech.

Have a post it note at work where you can reference a new word and maybe use in your professional communication.

Make up a song about it. Make a game of it with someone else. Just make sure you use the words.

5. Play Scrabble

This is one of the most ultimate in word games. I do not usually do so well as I never seem to remember words I know when I’m playing it. You have to come up with words based on the letters you have in your possession and from those already formed on the board.

Try to use your new words as you play this game. If you are wanting to play this game on a tournament level, the words you use have to be found in the official Scrabble dictionary, but if you are doing it for fun, try new words that both you and your playing partner can agree upon.

6. Work Crossword Puzzles

This might not be the most effective way to expand your vocabulary, but it will challenge you. Each puzzle will open your eyes to at least one new word or phrase.

If you’ve never done crossword puzzles, there are easy ones to get you accustomed to them. Then advance to harder ones. There are some that only the crossword experts can get, but even if you have to cheat a little bit, you are learning new words.

7. Diary of Words

Have you thought of keeping a diary of new words? I did it for a spell and it was great. What I did was keep a notebook with me as I read. Anytime I found a work I was unfamiliar with, I wrote it down. Looking up the definitions, I then wrote about it. I wrote about my feelings, how i could use, if I ever would use it. Some I found to sound too weird and others were very fun to use.

8. Reference the Dictionary

I know this sounds obvious, but the truth is that most people do not do this simple act. If you don’t know a word, look it up in the dictionary. This is really easy if you are reading from an ereader. I highlight the word I don’t know, and the definition pops up. If I’m reading a print book, I either look my edictionary or I pull out a print version and look up the word.

When you do this, you are expanding your vocabulary. If you really like the word, write it down. Make it part of your word diary.

9. Look Up the Etymology of the Word

I have a lot of fun looking up the etymology of a word. It helps you understand it and even remember how to use it. The etymology is the history of the word. It shows where the word originated, how it has changed over the years, and how it relates to other words. Think of it as the family tree of the word. You’d be surprised at what interesting facts you can discover.

10. Make Up a Rhyme

I don’t know about you, but when something is unique, silly, or funny, I remember it better. In my school days, I had to remember capitals and such. My mother would help me come up with rhymes and funny sayings to help me. I still use those same rhymes today. They worked!

Do the same thing with a new word you learn. Come up with a funny rhyme or even a song to it.

11. Use a Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a wonderful tool. I love to use this when I’m trying to find different ways to say the same thing. You look up a word especially a word you use over and over. The thesaurus offers suggestions on other words that might work better for the sentence you are constructing. Not every word you find during your search in the thesaurus will be right for what you are writing, but it will give you ideas and help you vary your vocabulary.

12. Play Balderdash

Have you ever played this game? It is so much fun and teaches you a lot. You are given a word that you probably have no idea even existed. Some are really strange. Then the players make up their definition with one person giving the right definition. A player then chooses what they think is the correct definition. It can be so funny what some people write. By playing this game you’ll so many new words. In fact, you’ll be looking them up because it will be hard to believe that they are real.

13. Make up Stories

Look at a word you don’t know. Make up a story about what it means. Maybe it is because it sounds like something funny. Then look up the definition and fit it into your story. Look at it as a writing prompt and let your creativity flow.

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