My Favourite Way to Review Vocabulary in High School Science

Vocabulary review activities are a great opportunity for fun in the classroom
Vocabulary review activities are a great opportunity for fun in the classroom

I love review classes.

I think it’s because I like helping kids jog their memories and making them realize that they know more than they think they do. It’s satisfying! And of all the different ways I like to review, my #1, top-notch, best of all time, favorite review activity is the vocabulary chain.

I teach science, but every subject has terms that they need to know and so a vocabulary chain can be used anywhere. I use them in all my classes at different times of year. Maybe before a test, definitely before a final exam, often as a class warm-up, or sometimes just as a way to fill 15 minutes.

It’s easy, quick, and can be great for a competitive class if you add my special twist!

Here’s how it works:

You need a pre-made set of cards (more on that below). The cards are distributed as evenly as possible to the entire class. One person will have a card that says “START” at the top. He or she begins by reading the question written on the card out loud.

The first 3 cards from my Classification Vocabulary Chain (Phyla of the Animal Kingdom)
The first 3 cards from my Classification Vocabulary Chain (Phyla of the Animal Kingdom)

Another student will have a card with the answer to the question that was just read aloud. He or she must answer with the correct term and then read the question written below. This creates a chain that moves through the whole classroom until someone has a card that ends with “STOP”.

This is a great review that involves everyone, has students work together (especially if the chain stalls), and gets students comfortable speaking in class. A bonus is that the cards are available in the classroom if students then want to put the chain in order for some individual review. That’s it!

But here’s my special twist:

I always add another dimension to this game by adding a time limit. I do one round where I time how long it takes them to finish the chain and then I switch the cards around. I pick a “goal time” that seems impossible and then give students 3 strikes to make the time. If they get it (which they always do by the third try), I usually reward them with one small question that will be on the test. If they are paying attention to my classes then they would have been able to predict the question anyway, but this is makes them feel like I’m being generous 😉

It always ends up being really funny and kids end up laughing (but focused) and cutting each other off to make the time limit. I do it almost every unit of every class, and it’s a class favorite!

vocabulary chain
I time the class and give the students a strike every time they don’t reach my assigned goal time.

If you want to put the activity together quickly, the cards are super easy to make by hand. Just cut sheets of paper into 8 cards each, write a vocabulary term at the top of each, and then add your definitions where appropriate. I’ve also tried having students make the cards themselves, but it wasn’t as successful because sometimes their wording ended up being confusing.

If you’re interested in seeing the sets that already exist, check out my TpT store. I have a variety of topics including general chemistry, diversity of living things, animal phyla, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, cell organelles, homeostasis, and evolution. If you want to check one out for free, grab this one about body systems!

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Scientifically yours,


Interested in weekly science teaching tips? Click here!

Interested in other blog posts? Check out:

An Unexpected Way to Foster Positivity in the Classroom

March Mammal Madness: What’s all the hype about?

The Top 23 Teaching Interview Questions

Using Case Studies in the Science Classroom

5 Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom

Spicing Up How to Teach Diagrams of the Human Body