7 Innovative Manipulatives For Building Vocabulary

Last Updated on October 9, 2023 by Editorial Team

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Language is the primal mode of expressing ideas. A person is said to be eloquent if he is able to make good and correct choices of words while writing or speaking. This eloquence emerges from the extensively built vocabulary. The lexical expertise tells a good communicator or an orator apart from the average peers. That is why schools in the formative years of students emphasize building vocabulary.

But, what can drive a young learner to put the best effort into building vocabulary? Researchers have different viewpoints on this question. The common premise is to choose the teaching style that complements the learning style[1] to ensure the effectiveness of instructions.

Learning styles and ways to teach vocabulary

Expecting a child to soak up the whole dictionary is beyond realism. Teachers need to understand the learning needs and mold the methods to make the process easier, playful[2], and captivating. I personally feel that forcing the kid to dig into the dictionary and learn meanings does not help much. The process only tests the memory power and the learning is quite likely to fade away. While working with little toddlers trying to mouth different words, I found that:

  • Relatable concepts are more likely to stay with the learners for long: Instead of memorizing ‘d a i r y’ as dairy, when the kids are introduced to milk and yogurt and told those to be dairy products. Doesn’t this remind us of visual learning too? So, the visual learning style requires teachers to show how to disseminate the concept.
  • Multisensory approach broadens horizons: We all know very well by now that reading and writing difficulties exist. Hence, using more than one channel of taking inputs (tactile, aural, visual) may make teaching vocabulary more accommodating.
  • Kinesthetic teaching approach drives motivation: Engage learners in play-based learning and you can see them putting in extra effort. It works quite well because vocabulary-building requires attention, motivation, and zeal to achieve a higher level of learning. Play methods replace boredom with intellectual curiosity and make the learning atmosphere more inviting for one and all.

That is why manipulatives fit the teaching process like a glove!

Let’s take a look at some of the engaging manipulatives that can make vocabulary learning fun and sustainable for little learners.

Engaging manipulatives to teach vocabulary

Manipulatives help discern concepts with a playful approach and complement various learning styles as well. The purpose is to keep the little learners pulled through the learning process and emerge more confident than before. Play method that helps make education more accommodating and truly inclusive becomes possible to design with manipulatives. Research[3] on vocabulary manipulatives hints at their effectiveness in enhancing proficiency levels too. Here are a few must-try options.

1. Vocabulary Builder Flash Cards

Vocabulary Builder Flash Cards

Picture-word association is the basic skill as well as the stepping stone to building a sound vocabulary. Kids at the early learning stage can converse better if they know the names of the things of daily use. Vocabulary building is a process that involves phonics learning, spelling learning as well and cognition development. These picture-word flashcards prove instrumental in building all of these basic skills. Using flashcards, the kids can be given the practice of words at home and at school.

Working as multisensory didactical support, these flashcards employ the kids’ visual learning abilities. The use of daily use items in the flashcards allows kids to be fluent in everyday conversations. With regular practice, little munchkins can enrich their repertoire of newly learned words. It offers a truly engaging tool for young learners to enhance their vocabulary; works as a fun-hour activity tool too!

2. Sight Words Bingo 

 Sight Words Bingo 

The knowledge of sight words acts as a primer for building vocabulary skills. Kids need to learn sight words first to enrich their writing and speaking skills. Bingo offers a learning-focused tool for young learners as well as ESL students. Mugging up sight words from books to build vocabulary skills can be stressful and monotonous. This gamified manipulative offers a pretext to think, strategize, and use words too.

The challenge of scoring high and a sense of competition drives kids to concentrate better. That is why the outcomes of putting effort into learning words become quite conspicuous. Designed to offer the parents and guardians an activity time with kids, this manipulative combines learning with fun. If searching for a practice tool to build vocabulary, you may bank on this game and bring more learning to the activity time with kids.

3. Discussion Cards

Discussion Cards

Why does anybody need to develop vocabulary? Mostly, the answer will be, to develop writing and speaking skills. Hence, when you feel you have lots of words added to your repertoire, it is time to test your knowledge. The discussion cards offer that much-needed testing tool and prepare you for real-life conversations. Vocabulary building is also required to be fluent in the expression of thoughts and feelings. It may also prove beneficial in being a confident speaker.

The discussion cards help English language art beginners learn how to emote, express ideas, and talk like a native speaker. These practice materials also help the students vent out emotional outbursts, identify their feelings in various situations, and be comfortable with the use of vocabulary. Thus, this manipulative serves as the right support to learn how to apply vocabulary skills in practical situations.

4. Bananagrams Word-building Game

Bananagram Word-building Game

Vocabulary skill comprises spelling skills too. A well-learned speaker and writer of English words reaches the mastery level by taking baby steps. Bananagrams is an engaging manipulative that brings the Scrabble game from the board to the tabletop and offers a flexible way of learning new words. The kids may be given hints at the start about word families or corrected if they choose meaningless words. However, with regular practice, they can fit in the right words in their memory and become eloquent with spellings.

Driving kids to learn new words does become challenging as they get distracted easily. The gamified appeal of this game keeps the kids on the path of learning. This manipulative works as a word-building and vocabulary-testing support allowing parents or teachers to gauge progress and take appropriate courses.

5. Wordplay Game for Kids

Wordplay Game for Kids

Searching for a manipulative that stimulates the minds of young Vocabulary learners? Wordplay games can help you find the most fitting option. This game is all about testing the knowledge of word families, spelling, and understanding clues. The added feel of board games brings more fun to the learning process and vocabulary learning does not seem to be a task anymore.

The learners take clues from the slot they reach by rolling dice and filling the word cards accordingly. The gameplay supports the learning process and boosts memory retrieval. The spinning wheel offers two letters, which can be starting and ending sounds or may appear anywhere in the spelling. The very act of writing words with the given set of letters brings fluency in words’ formation and ultimately, helps add newer words to the vocabulary list. By offering the challenge of writing more words than the competitors, the students can be encouraged to think and apply the learning faster.

6. Word Families Flash Cards

Word Families Flash Cards

Learning about word families is an important milestone in the vocabulary-building process. The knowledge of starting, middle, and ending sounds is applied in building word families. Kids find flashcards having the words quite intriguing and they feel driven to practice daily. Since the focus is entirely on the words to be learned as flashcards don’t contain anything else, it enhances memorizing abilities.

Teachers can find these flashcards a supplementing alternative to lexicon or books and can give an interesting twist to the learning process. By utilizing the plus points of flashcards such as faster learning, better memory retention, and easier retrieval, the vocabulary-teaching process can be made more effective with this manipulative.

7. Position Words Activity Cards

 Position Words Activity Cards

Positional word vocabulary is an essential concept that can make kids fluent writers or speakers. Many times, this skill remains underdeveloped and leads to errors in written work when kids grow up. Hence, early intervention and ample practice at the right age is a must. This activity card is strategically designed to befriend kids with various objects having rhyming sounds along with the position words’ usage.

Using this manipulative as a learning tool, the teachers or parents can guide kids through the process of following step-by-step instructions. Hence, better cognition, conforming to rules, and correct usage of words help build social skills too. This manipulative takes the effort out of the learning process and makes it interesting and retention-oriented.

Summing up,

Vocabulary is not a standalone skill. It wraps up several other skills such as reading, writing, spelling, and using words in the correct context. Our list of manipulatives to learn vocabulary doesn’t stop at enriching the word collection only.

In fact, several other related skills become easier to acquire with these learning tools. Assess the requirements and pick the ones that meet the learning needs most appropriately. With these manipulatives around, you can keep children consistent in their learning endeavors and have fabulous outcomes to boast.


  1. Li, Y., Medwell, J., Wray, D., Wang, L., & Liu, X. (2016). Learning Styles: A review of Validity and Usefulness. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(10). https://doi.org/10.11114/jets.v4i10.1680
  2. Rea, Dan & Millican, Kelly & Watson, Sandy. (2000). The Serious Benefits of Fun in the Classroom. Middle School Journal. 31. 10.1080/00940771.2000.11494635.
  3. Alavi, Gholamreza & Pourhosein Gilakjani, Abbas. (2019). The Effectiveness of Games in Enhancing Vocabulary Learning among Iranian Third Grade High School Students. 16. 1.

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