Teach Content Vocabulary With Football!

vocabulary game

If you’re a secondary teacher, you know how important student motivation is. The school year can feel lonnnnggggg and often students more than have the ability to succeed, but their motivation comes and goes. I never saw that more than when teaching vocabulary.

Just mentioning the word “vocabulary” seemed to make my students’ eyes roll and glaze over. I’m a social studies teacher, though, and understanding vocabulary is essential to student learning. When I thought about what most motivates my students, I immediately thought of competition. Any review game we played where students were competing was always intense.

Football was also huge at my school. Every Monday, if students and teachers aren’t talking about Friday’s game, they’re talking about college football or the NFL. So, I planned out a way to combine all of this — football, competition, and vocabulary — to create one of my students’ favorite activities: The Vocabulary Football League (VFL)!

The best part: This can work for any subject!

This can be used in social studies, geography, English, a foreign language, you name it!

Here’s how it works….

Student Teams

At the beginning of the year, I place students on teams of 4 (3 or 5 also works depending on your class load), and create a schedule. notebook page of vocabularyThere are some great simple free schedule-makers online, including Playpass and League Lobster.

Students are given sets of 10-15 vocabulary words each week. I print them out in sets of 6 to a page that I cut up in strips and have students paste in their notebooks (see the example photo to the left).

We’ll then cover those terms in our lessons that week and students are responsible for defining the words in their notebooks. They can ether get the definitions from our lesson, look them up in a textbook, or find them online.

Game Day!

Monday is game day! To make it exciting, I’ll have the Monday Night Football or Fox Sports theme playing as they’re walking in. Students take a vocabulary quiz based on those words from the previous week.

vocab review gameMy quizzes are very short — just 10 questions and designed to only take the first 15 minutes or so of class.

I make the answer sheet very easy to grade. I start grading them as soon as the first student hands it in. The answer sheet allows me to grade them quickly, so I can and usually have most graded before the last student even finishes!


Each student’s score goes towards their grade, but they also get combined to make their team’s score. So, if the 4 students on the Giants combine for a 32 and they’re playing the Panthers who scored a combined 31, then the Giants win!

So simple, but so fun!

I knew I had caught on to something when students began to tell their teammates, “You better do all your vocabulary this week. I don’t want to lose!”

They would get so competitive! These are vocabulary quizzes and my students actually looked forward to them! Students would pop back in the next period to see if they won and check the updated standings I had on our bulletin board.


Each year, I make a few changes and find ways to differentiate based on my class levels.

For my team-taught inclusion classes, students can take the quiz using their notebook page with the definitions (if they did them that week). I found this is a great motivational tool. When a student who didn’t complete his vocabulary that week opens to a blank notebook page, his teammates will let him have it. It also encouraged more critical thinking on answers than just memorization of terms.

For my on-level classes, I will often project a word bank, but don’t allow them to use their notebooks. My honors classes might not get the help of either.

The Super Bowl

You can have your “season” last as long as you like. I usually go about 12 weeks then move on to the playoffs and culminate with a Super Bowl.

The playoffs have teams playing against teams in other classes, which gets a lot of of fun. Teams that lose still take the quizzes, but they’ll just count towards their individual grades.

I’ll get a prize for the winning team like Chipotle gift cards or pizza after school. 🙂

This VFL strategy has been a huge success for my classes and I am sure it will be for yours as well!

More Great Resources

If you teach World or US History, you can join Students of History! and get Vocabulary Football and Basketball games all planned out and ready for you! When you join, you actually get immediate access to hundreds of teaching resources for immediate download.

There are also tons of primary source resources, project based learning, interactive notebooks, PowerPoints, Google Drive Digital notebooks, engaging class activities, and more. You can join the US History or World History site and have lesson plans for every single day of the school year at your finger tips.

If you do create a Vocabulary Football League for your classes, please share it with me! I’d love to see pictures or hear how it went. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

Happy Teaching!

vocab football standings

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