How to make word banks about nature

Make topical word banks about nature, science, or geography that kids can use again and again when describing a place or writing reports and poems.

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word bank is a list of words related to a topic or theme. Kids collect subject-specific vocabulary, organize it in a word bank, and then use it to enhance their writing.

This activity will help students create any number of nature-themed portable word banks they can use again and again when describing a place or writing nature-centered reports and poems. Encourage them to make word banks about nature topics that interest them or that you’re studying about in science or geography.

Make a Portable Word Bank

For each word bank your child wants to make, you’ll need a manila file folder. On the folder tab, write the theme of that word bank, such as “Seasons.”

Some children will enjoy gluing related magazine pictures to the front of the folder (showing sun, clouds, snow, etc.). On the front of the file folder, write “Seasons” (or “Words about Seasons”) as the title.

  • Younger children’s word banks can be pretty general, such as Seasons, Plants, Animals, or Ocean.
  • Older kids may enjoy creating more specific word banks that go along with their studies, such as Land Forms, Weather, Trees, Mammals, or Tide Pools.
  • Teens’ word banks should be the most specific, as they zero in on even more focused topics, such as Storms, Conifers, Woodland Mammals, or Mollusks.

As they discover or think of related vocabulary, they can write the words on the inside of the file folder. Some students find it helpful to make columns by category and add specific terms under each appropriate heading.

For instance, a word bank about seasons could have columns for Spring, Summer, Fall (or Autumn), and Winter, while a word bank about mammals might be categorized by Carnivore, Herbivore, and Omnivore. 

Expand Your Word Bank

Word banks are cumulative, so encourage your kids to build them over time. They can grow their nature word banks in several ways.

1. Be General or Specific

Either make a fairly broad word bank (about biomes, for example), or create specific word banks about individual biomes such as Tundra or Desert.

A basic word list featuring bodies of water might expand into several separate word banks (like oceanspond habitats, or the Amazon). It’s always more meaningful to do this in conjunction with subjects you’re currently studying.

2. Commune with Nature

Visit a natural setting and collect nature words. Include plants, animals, and objects you can see. Listen for and jot down sounds of birds, water, and weather. Notice odors and fragrances that waft to your noses. Run your hands over surfaces and write down their textures.

3. Read about It

Collect brochures and pamphlets from nature centers, botanical gardens, visitor centers, aviary, or even your local nursery. Later, you can scour these resources for new words and add them to the word banks.

4. Forage Through Field Guides

Explore a field guide, nonfiction book, or nature website to find topical vocabulary words and terms about the subject.

5. Get Descriptive

Use a thesaurus to find interesting synonyms for common descriptive words like green, rough, or hot.

Write with Word Banks

Word banks make a great resource for students to draw from when they’re writing about a specific topic. Most students (younger and more reluctant writers in particular) can find it challenging to include specific details in their writing. Their new word banks will help them use precise and vivid vocabulary. And as a parent, you’ll be thrilled to see your kids using less-familiar words without constantly asking you how to spell them! This helps promote independent writing, especially in younger children.

Whether you store the word banks in an expandable file folder or punch holes and insert them in a binder, keep them handy so they’re accessible and, therefore, more likely to get used.

Pull out the word games for activities such as these:

  • Preparing a science or nature report
  • Describing a geological feature or phenomenon of nature
  • Summarizing a field trip experience
  • Writing stories that include descriptions of outdoor spaces, scenery, or weather
  • Creating poetry (It’s fun, for example, to introduce onomatopoeia when discussing nature sounds like  the “boom!” of thunder or the “crackle” of leaves. Invite your children to write their own individual poems, using their word bank as a resource.
  • Writing vocabulary-rich sentences about a science or nature topic you’re learning about (perfect for younger learners)

How else do you use word banks?

Make topical word banks about nature, science, or geography that kids can use again and again when describing a place or writing reports and poems.

Photo: GerryT, courtesy of Creative Commons

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