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Easy Tech Tricks to Get Kids Vocabulary Crazy

By Christy Crawford on December 16, 2010

Forget silly memorization techniques or weekly vocabulary tests. The best way to teach vocabulary is to get kids to use it in funny, repetitive ways throughout the year. Read on for painless digital strategies to get your students buzzing about new words in class, during recess, at home, and online! 


Word Wiz Movies

My 5th grade students write, shoot, and edit their own vocabulary movies. We call these simple Flip camera videos "Word Wiz Movies." My older students jump at the chance to entertain and educate themselves and their school in this very unique way. Check out two Word Wiz favorites below starring the words "AWOL" and "catastrophic." 





Do the popsicle sticks look familiar?  We used PBS's The Electric Company videos as our mentor movies! Take a look at their redundant episode recaps.  


You'll Need . . .

A) Construction paper, glue sticks, and markers for sets and props.

    Or keep the packaging from Elmo dolls, Barbies, or any small toys. The colorful background scenes make great sets.

    Or check out images under Flickr's Creative Commons. Your students will find thousands of great FREE photos for sets. Simply cite each photo in the credits of your movie. Using vocabulary words that pertain to certain historical time periods? Find and download the perfect historical photos for sets from the National Archives on Flickr or the National Archives on Footnote.

B) Popsicle sticks for puppets and word signs.

C) A digital camera and color printer for student images.

    Or are you interested in using Electric Company character puppets? PBS has educator's guides with colorful images of each actor. Need a puppet of President Lincoln or some other historical figure? Again, check out the National Archives on Footnote.

D) Heavy card stock to strengthen all paper images. (Glue the heavy card stock to the paper and carefully cut out the images. Attach the popsicle sticks to the card stock.)

E) A Flip or any kid-friendly camera, tripod and a computer for editing your movie.

F) Storyboard templates. (Download a FREE storyboard of any size at Printable Paper. Just add lines and copy for your students.)

The Process

1. I have five Flip cameras; therefore, I split 25 students into teams of five.  (Three to four students per group is ideal.) Each production team is assigned a word and expected to create a script and/or storyboard for their Word Wiz movie.  

Popsicle Puppets! 2. Ask students to be redundant!  Ask students to paraphrase the meaning of the star vocabulary word in many different ways and at different times. Ask them if their script or storyboard has a clear beginning, middle, and end?  Is the script or storyboard interesting?  Is it focused? Would they want to upload it and watch it again and again? 

3. After the script or storyboard is completed, allow a rehearsal or run-through to see what changes are necessary.  Once script or storyboard edits are completed, students are assigned rolesactors/puppeteers, cinematographer, editor, gaffer or lighting technician, props master, and set designer. "Writer" is not a position that I assign.  All students are considered writers and expected to take part in the drafting process. 

4. When your set designers are happy and several rehearsals have taken place, let shooting commence. Puppeteers/actors will be squished together beneath a table or makeshift stage. They will laugh and bump into each other but it will make their vocabulary movie-making experience even more memorable. 

5. Complete vocabulary skits in one continuous shot or in as few shots as possible to limit tedious digital cuts for first-time student editors. Any movie that requires zero editing on your part and more hands-on work for students is a winner. The FREE Flip camera editing software will help young movie makers to independently and easily make basic transitions or dissolves between frames; create a title page and abbreviated credits and allow them to add music to their movie. Fancy chyrons, chroma key/green screens, and other special effects can be achieved by purchasing editing software for $45 and up.  

6. Ready to wrap up production? Screen your movies for final critiques. Allow students to talk about what they learned, what worked well, and what they would change.  Remind each critic to offer positive comments and constructive criticism.   

2009 Word Wiz Survey!

7. Then start a PR campaign for vocabulary. Post your Word Wiz movies on your school Web site, SchoolTube  or any video sharing site for every school member to view.  Then tie in a survey to track the success of the Word Wiz Movies. Click on the adjacent screenshot to see how my students used eChalk's survey tool. If your school Web site does not have a survey tool, use SurveyMonkey 


8. Present your movies at an all-school vocabulary meeting for students. Give each Word Wiz team time to complete a short introduction for their movie.  Last year's Word Wizards created comical three-sentence raps, mini-sketches about the importance of learning vocabulary and over-the-top game show introductions for their words.  All groups urged students (kindergarten to 4th grade) to vote for their vocabulary word and the movie that did the best job of educating students. Some groups even urged students to carry around their new vocabulary word in their pocket and get "caught" using it. 


The winning production team! Last year's Word Wiz Movie champion was "Super Fly 8's AWOL." They "won" our Word Wizard survey with 643 votes — my school has only 270 students!

Kids of all grade levels used their new vocabulary words in class discourse, their writing notebooks, and incessantly with their friends. Showing off their new word knowledge and voting for their favorite words at home became almost obsessive! 

Do you have a great digital way to get kids nuts about vocabulary? Have you thought of another fun way to use popsicle sticks and simple editing software? Please share!


Comments (16)


This is one project which won't cost you a fortune! Check out the kids' latest Word Wiz Movie at http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2011/01/flip-movies-easy-enough-for-a-first-grader-to-complete.html I think it is the kids' most polished popsicle movie and they just used pics from Google images pasted onto cardboard!

Great ideas! Amazing what you can do with such simple supplies like construction paper and glue sticks !


Thank you!!!!! Happy New Year!


Great blog! Well-written!!


Thank you so much! My 5th graders will have a great time with your vocabulary flash cards.

Happy Holidays!


nice english words keep up the good work


Thanks for the kind words. You will have a great time making the movies. Yesterday, my kids wrapped their Justin Bieber sketch for the words colossal, enormous, and gigantic. We laughed through most of it! Your Word Wiz blooper reel will be enough to entice your current kids and your next class of kids to take vocabulary very seriously!

Happy Holidays! CC


Sorry you had problems viewing. Go to http://www.thebronxnewschool.org/site_res_view_folder.aspx?id=e317240b-dc56-4f20-878d-18504b2d34ab

If you have problems with the link, go to www.thebronxnewschool.org. Then scroll to the bottom of the Student Resource Section for Word Wiz Movies. AND PLEASE KEEP IN TOUCH. My kids would love to see Word Wiz Movies created by other kids. Who knows? Maybe we could have a Word Wiz film festival by the end of the year! :)


I love this idea! I am hoping to have a new Flip camera soon. Thanks for the inspiration! Very fun!

I love this and my kids are super excited to try this! :) I would love to show them your student examples but they are not playing here at school. Is there another way to view them? Thanks for you ideas! I am excited to read more and to see what my students come up with!


Thanks, thanks, thanks!!!!!!!

I know you all of people have a Flip Camera but did you see the Flip Cam deal for friends who may not own one? Go to theflip.com and enter "Flipthanks20" at the checkout for $20 off! (This is my no-fail Christmas gift for family!! I'm telling all my students' parents too. They are psyched.)

Happy Holidays! :) CC


Thanks! Word Wiz Movies and the surveys that go with them happen once or twice a year. It depends on the pace of the current group of kids I have and other projects that need to be wrapped up.

Isabel Beck, Margaret G. McKeown and Linda Kucan have written a fabulous vocab book, BRINGING WORDS TO LIFE! You have to check it out. I follow their weekly sched. The examples below are from them. Beck & McKeown is my vocab bible!!! :)

DAY 1: Intro new words using pictures that illustrate each word. Question kids to elicit meaning for the words and together come up with kid-friendly definitions. The kids write those definitions in their Word Wiz notebooks. (Imagine funny pics for words like gape, spectator or scrutinize.)

DAYS 2-4: Sentence Completion Activities (Students offer suggestions and copy into the WW notebook. We do this together so they have a STRONG example of a sentence for each word.)

They also chose between pairs of target words in responding questions, e.g. "What would you probably call every person watching a football game? (Inspectors or Spectators?) We do this game in teams. FUN!

Kids also select the target word that fits into a CLOSED sentence, e.g. "The accomplice wiped away the burglar's fingerprints before the police came, so the ______ couldn't find any clues to the crime."

We do activities to learn how words are alike or different. They choose words that fit descriptions e.g. "They're both people who use their eyes in special ways. One watches something for fun; the other one checks things for a living." And of course all this is physical... we do skits and make silly faces to act out differences.

Day 5: Kids are assessed with a multiple choice test. After all the games and hand-on activities, the test is a joke. It is actually just great for their little egos to take a test they know they will pass with flying colors. We often end up sticking with a set of words for as much as two weeks because we end up creating some sort of grand project for the words. (My amazing co-teacher KEVIN WON saw Angela's Bunyi's Vocabulary Parade and he decided to have a VOCABULARY RUNWAY SHOW. The kids dressed as "Colossal, Benevolent, etc" and they strutted their stuff down the runway complete with flashing cameras, blasting music and the rest of the school cheering them on. )

I realized that when I concentrated more on kids living and breathing the words, having a good time with them, they retained more info than if I pressed them to stick to some sort of vocabulary pacing calendar.

Hope this was helpful! :)



Thank you for the heads up! :)

Next week, I'll send you my kids' Justin Bieber Word Wiz movie so your kids have another student example.


Christy! This was sooo cute! The kids did a great job! All of the videos seem to be working just fine now. . . I was able to view them all. What a great way to have fun while learning to work together, use technology, read, write and understand new vocabulary words. I love it. I hope to try this out with my group of second graders and will share the idea with the teachers at my school. Thanks so much!

=) Danielle

Great idea! How often do you do these? I teach 5th grade and we all struggle to include vocabulary instruction in our tight schedules. Can you share more general information on your vocabulary instruction as a whole? Thanks in advance!

I love this idea. Thanks for sharing. For some reason I can't see your students' examples (I only see the electric company). I think it would be great to be able to show my students an example done by other students.

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