The Word Wheel Vocabulary Game


Vocabulary games can add so much to vocabulary instruction, and the Word Wheel game is perfect!

Once it’s created, it’s totally low-prep and can be used in centers or in small groups.

To play, students spin the wheel and follow the instructions in the segment of the wheel the arrow points to.

Like so many other things, the directions are simple, but there’s a lot more to it. Let’s dig in!

🌺 Details for How to Play the Word Wheel Game

First, let’s find out the details on playing the game. It’s super easy – spin and play! – but there are a few things to know.

Choosing Words

Teachers need to come up with a list of words with which students will play. You can use any list of words that you want.

If you’re using this in a center, it’s a great way to practice words you’ve been working on.

You can write the words on popsicle sticks, having them draw random words out of a container. You can write the words on cards they draw. It’s fine to reuse word lists from other activities.

There’s no limit or restriction on how you do this part.

🌺 Playing the Word Wheel Game

You can have students play at centers, either alone or with partners. It’s perfect for small groups. I find that groups of three are optimal. If there are more than that, the students have to wait too long between turns.

When it is their turn, students draw a word. Then they spin the wheel and respond to the task indicated by the arrow. After they’ve done their prompt, the next student takes a turn.

Decide ahead of time what you will do when students can’t come up with a response.

You can have them:

  • Spin again (sometimes they can do one task but not another)
  • Draw a different word
  • Ask for help
  • Look up the word in a dictionary

Play continues until time is up, the words are all used, or all of the players have had a certain numbers of turns.

🌺 Where the Idea for the Word Wheel Came From

I came across the idea for this game on the EisforExploreOpens in a new tab. website, and I just loved it.

I wrote to the author, the generous Erin Bittman, and she gave me permission to use the idea and riff off of it here.

The reason I decided to write more about it was that so many people in the comments on Erin’s site wanted more. They loved her idea and wanted to try it. They needed exact instructions and printables. Boy, do I know how that feels!

So here you go!

🌺 How to Create the Vocabulary Word Wheel

I made a free printable for you that has the word wheel in four colors.

cover of word wheel freebie download

I didn’t use Erin’s exact design, but you can absolutely go get Erin’s designOpens in a new tab. and use that with the rest of these instructions. I added in an arrow, so you’ll need to figure that out if you use that design (she has a link to an idea).

First, I print out the wheel in the color I want on cardstock.

black and white word wheel on table with scissors and pliers

Then, I cut out the wheel and the arrow.

I run them through my handy-dandy laminator.

(As a side note, why don’t they teach you cool laminating tricks and tips in college? I mean, they taught me all this stuff that I didn’t need to know, but not how to laminate. How popular would Laminating Hacks 101 be? Super popular, for sure. Priorities, people.)

I tried cutting them out after the lamination, but it works best if you cut the arrow and wheel out first and then again after laminating. You’re welcome. Sorry for the extra step, but it really does give you a stronger wheel and arrow.

Next I take a large paper clip and some needle-nosed pliers. You can leave the paper clip the length it is, or you can cut it shorter.

pliers cutting paper clip on back of word wheel

The black wheel has a full-length paper clip, and the purple wheel has a shortened one. You can decide which you like better.

black and purple word wheels with pliers, scissors and tape

Friends, if you know me you know that I became a teacher because I like office supplies. That means that I don’t have regular paper clips. #pinkpaperclips

Twist one end of the paper clip into a circle. Where the natural bend of the paper clip is, straighten that into a 90-degree angle. Take a hole punch and punch a hole near the end of the arrow.

Poke a hole in the center of the wheel. I just used the pointed end of my scissors on a cutting board to do this. The hole punch won’t work, which is annoying.

Slip the arrow onto the paperclip and slide the paperclip through the hole in the center of the wheel with the length of the clip under the wheel. Tape that down.

You’re done!

I listed it as lots of steps, but it takes just a few minutes.

When you’re in the groove of it with your laminator all heated up and your pliers out, knock out a bunch of them so you have a class set of 10 or so.

🌺 Options for Playing the Word Wheel Game

Although I’m a big fan of tally marks (I even wrote an entire article about using them in vocabularyOpens in a new tab.), I don’t use the tally strategy Erin does.

I like to keep it just as a game. However, you may wish to have students track their response’s success. I find it a little tricky to tell what a “correct” response looks like for some of them, like “draw” or “act out.”

But if you want to do that, go for it! I’ve included it in the freebie you can get, so if you want to do it, it’s ready for you.

I retyped Erin’s so you could print it in a document. And also so I could use that super cute font. It’s a free Google font called “Mouse Memoirs.” I just love fonts.

eight section chart with titles for tally marks

After playing, you can have students share out words that fit these descriptions:

  • Hard words to act out
  • Difficult words to draw
  • Best synonym
  • Weirdest antonym
  • Best definition
  • Funniest rhyme
  • Longest sentence

These are both optional, but it’s nice to have variety.

🌺 Wrapping Up

I love the Word Wheel strategy, and I’m so grateful to Erin BittmanOpens in a new tab. for sharing it on her site and letting me adapt it here for you.

Word games help students enjoy words, which is key to effective vocabulary instruction.

Our students who enjoy playing with words will be more likely to remember those words and have positive feelings about vocabulary in general.

It takes some time to set it up the first time (Pliers? Lamination?), but once it’s done, you’ll have a very low-prep game to use for years and years.

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Lisa Van Gemert

Lisa loves words & helping kids love words, too. Her grandparents were deaf, and she loves words made with hands as much as words made with pens and typewriters and voices. Lisa lives in Arlington, Texas, with her Aussie husband, Steve.

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