Vocabulary Word Games for Primary Children

Updated April 17, 2017

Developing the literacy of primary level children is a key concern for most parents and teachers. The National Children's Literacy website notes that reading enhances intellectual and educational development, as well as social skills. Reading well, however, stipulates broadening usage and knowledge of vocabulary. Word games playfully challenge a child's linguistic capacity to introduce and contextualise new words. They can be used to expand a specific set of words, or improve a general vocabulary.


Hangman is an interactive word game that exposes children to new words and reinforces existing vocabulary, by challenging them to recall the words they know. In essence, children are presented with a line of dashes representing a word. The objective is to spell the word by taking turns guessing the missing letters. Correctly guessed letters replace respective blank spaces, while incorrect guesses cause parts of the hangman, such as a limb or gallows, to be drawn. If the image is complete before you guess the word, you lose the game. Despite sounding macabre, hangman improves logic and understanding of spelling patterns. You can play it with a pen and sheet of paper, on a blackboard or online.

Crosswords and Word Searches

Crosswords and word searches build critical vocabulary. Puzzles focusing on colours or seasons, for example, are available for download from educational websites to introduce new word groups or develop interests. Differing in style, each buries interlinked words in rows of horizontal and vertical lines of letters. Once words are discovered, it becomes easier to identify those which are missing. Crossword puzzles prompt children to find words through a set of clues and descriptions, while word searches specify words to find within the chaos. Playing with vocabulary in this way not only improves a child's dictionary skills, but it actively increases reasoning and problem-solving. Crosswords can be used to teach facts and expand general knowledge, while word searches enhance recognition and spelling.

Word Association Games

You can build word association games around the alphabet, rhyming or with a particular focus, such as emphasising antonyms and synonyms. A simple approach is to group children into a circle and encourage them to take turns saying an word associated with the one previously mentioned. Word association games are effective in tackling word retrieval problems for children.

Picture And Word Cards

Matching picture and word cards is a visually focused approach, which helps to contextualise new vocabulary. Games commonly involve matching two different sets of cards, either of words and images or letters and images. Using pictures adds shape and character to words, which may have previously only been seen in text. Games such as "ABC Match" develop a child's understanding of phonics, the relationship between letters and sounds.

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About the Author

Based in London, Ann Duncan has been writing online since October 2009. Her monthly articles in entertainment, culture and politics are published on PonderBoxes, a social-commentary blog. She has a Bachelor of Science (with honors) in sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science.