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Vocabulary Learning Made Simple Mark as Favorite (4 Favorites)

ACTIVITY in Review. Last updated December 14, 2021.


In this activity, students write definitions for vocabulary words using only the 1000 most common English words. Then students interact with the simplified definitions to try to guess the vocabulary words correctly.

Grade Level

Middle School and High School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • Define new vocabulary words.
  • Understand given scientific terms.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Scientific vocabulary
  • Reviewing concepts


Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes
Lesson: 20-30 minutes


  • Index cards (1 per student)
  • Vocabulary words (1 per student)
  • Electronic device to access the internet


  • There are no safety considerations for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • Teachers can use this vocabulary game for any chapter or unit review. To begin the teacher should choose vocabulary words and write them each on a separate index card.
  • Give one card to each student. Students should be given 5-10 minutes to create a definition for the given vocabulary word using this website: https://splasho.com/upgoer5/.
    • Note: Students shouldn’t share their word or definition with any other students!
  • The website limits students to create a definition using only the 1000 most common English words. Instruct students to type a definition into the text box on the website and simplify it until they have a definition using only these select words. The first-time students do this, students will be challenged by this step. They may even say it’s impossible!
  • Teachers can provide encouragement and offer an example, such as:
    • Endothermic means “noting or pertaining to a chemical change that is accompanied by an absorption of heat” (definition from dictionary.com, accessed 10/31/2021) but when you simplify it, it could become “hot stuff goes in.”
  • When all students have completed their vocabulary definition, the teacher should collect all the cards.
  • Next, it will take 10-15 minutes to play the review game. The teacher will begin by reading a definition and asking students to guess the word. You can provide a word bank if desired. Alternatively, you could use all the cards on one day or a few cards each day as a warm-up activity. Students could call out their guesses or write their answers on small whiteboards during the game. To be fair, you may need to instruct students not to participate when their own definition is read.
  • Another option would be to make the game digital by entering the words and definitions into a tool like Kahoot or Quizziz for a class competition.
  • You can differentiate the activity by choosing specific words for specific students, or extra challenging words for students who are ready for extensions, and easier words for students who need reinforcement.
  • Additionally, you can assign more than one vocabulary term to each student or have students work in teams to create the definitions.
  • Below are several sets of example lists of vocabulary terms that I use for my AP Chemistry and general chemistry students:
AP Chemistry vocabulary
General chemistry vocabulary
  • Calorie
  • Calorimeter
  • Calorimetry
  • Endothermic
  • Energy
  • Exothermic
  • Heat
  • Joule
  • Kinetic energy
  • Potential energy
  • Specific heat capacity
  • Surroundings
  • System
  • Temperature
  • Thermal equilibrium
  • Thermochemistry
  • Atomic number
  • Mass number
  • Atomic mass
  • Nucleus
  • Proton
  • Neutron
  • Electron
  • Isotope
  • Orbital
  • Electron configuration
  • Atomic radius
  • Electronegativity
  • Ionization energy
  • Valence electrons
  • Period
  • Group
  • Periodic
  • Periodicity