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Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt


Today's Snack: To "scavenge" means to hunt and find something that others might have overlooked, or that might even be thrown away. Now, we would never, EVER, eat anything that had been thrown away - but what snack food could you find in cupboards or the refrigerator that would make a delicious and surprising snack? Scavenge yourself something to drink, too - maybe there's a Kool-Aid packet in your favorite flavor 'way at the back of the cupboard calling out your name!




Notebook or notepaper

Pen or pencil

Post-It notes or scrap paper


Whistle (optional)


Gather about 30 small items from around the house. Examples:




Toilet-paper tube


Pine cone

Shiny fabric scrap



Toy car


Spray perfume

Rubber band

Pipe cleaner



Here's a fun way to help you build up your ability to make rapid associations and create lots of words quickly. It's important to be able to generate vocabulary words if you want to write fluently and well.


The more practice you have at listing vocabulary words, the better and faster you will be able to come up with more varied vocabulary for your school assignments.


If you're doing this with more than two or three students, you might want to give each one a number with a Post-It note.


Put the above-listed items that you've "scavenged" all over the room, and if this is a group activity, put a Post-It number next to each item.


Have the students number a piece of paper from 1 to 30 along the left-hand column, skipping five lines between each number to give them room to write five or 10 or more words after each number. They should end up with fix or six sheets of paper with numbers every five lines.


Have the students choose an item and stand in front of it. You're going to give them 30 seconds to write down as many words, expressions or phrases as they can when they look at or handle that object.


They should write down the words or phrases next to the number in their notebook. They should shoot for at least five or six words.


How do you make associations with an object that can produce words or phrases for your list? You just think about the item and how it fits in various categories.


Each student might think of the five senses in coming up with vocabulary words to associate with the item: touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, smelling . . .


. . . or actions that the item suggests . . .


. . . or animals or machines that "go" with it . . .


. . . or book or movie titles . . .


. . . or historical events . . .


. . . or common, everyday expressions . . .


The options really are limitless. But many kids just need a chance to make the "fluency" of their ideas really flow. This is a perfect example of "priming the pump" to get more words to come to the surface.


Let's take the first item, the feather.


First, you would write down "feathe.". Then you might write down the color. Then you might write down other words you associate with it. Your list, in 30 seconds, might look like this:





Native American



Quill pen

Light as a feather

Feather in your cap

Feather your nest


After the 30 seconds are up, either blow a whistle or, for a less intrusive signal, flip the lightswitch.


That's the students' cue to move on to the next numbered item. They should move on to that number in their list, and start writing down new vocabulary words that go with that item.


Keep on with this process until all the students have done all the objects.


Now, if you're doing this alone, go ahead and circle one word or phrase that you thought up for each object. Choose the most creative, interesting one.


If you're in a group, you could go around the room and have the kids take turns reading their lists. That way, if you hear a neat word for an object that you didn't think of, you can add it to your list at that time.


Once that process is completed, then choose one object that you thought of a lot of words and phrases for, and write a story, using as many of those words and phrases as you can.


Look at the words and start making associations between them. Then think up a story that you could tell that could work in the words on your list.


Finally, start writing your story. You can cross off words from your list once you've used them.


When you are done, if you're in a group, read your story aloud.


At the end, you can compare stories and see if there are some words that a lot of students chose to use in their stories, and some that only one person used.


You can do this exercise over and over. It's a great way to build "fluency" - the ability to think of a lot of words quickly.


It's an important skill to help you come up with words and choose between them when you are writing. And writing, after all, is nothing more than a scavenger hunt . . . with words!



By Susan Darst Williams Writing 2010


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