The Sport of Competitive Vocabulary Building


Houston Astros pitcher Collin McHugh presenting the trophy to the top 3 students in Vocabulary Bowl from Chavez High:Jose Reyes, Richer Pham, and Travaurus Smith. Courtesy of

There’s nothing like a good competition to get kids learning. Students put in hard work every year to strut their stuff in spelling bees, geography bees, math Olympiads, and the National Science Bowl. Now they can join in a new kind of competition, the Vocabulary Bowl.

The first official Vocabulary Bowl was held this year. Students at over 16,000 schools in all 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and nine Canadian provinces used the website and app at to drill themselves on words until they learned them. Total numbers of words mastered for each school were tracked and posted every month. As schools saw their totals rise, and how they stood relative to other schools, the competition heated up.

The winner, announced at the beginning of May, was Chavez High School in Houston, Texas. The students at the school, many of whom speak English as a second language, mastered 303, 387 words over the course of the school year. The whole school got into it, attending special vocabulary events, and supplementing lesson plans with lists of relevant words to learn. For example, on César Chavez Day students gathered to learn words together from civil rights word lists. By the end of the year, students had answered over 5 million questions on the app.

Here are some of the top words they mastered: antecedent, vilify, symbiotic, didactic, prodigious, anomie, burgeon, taciturn, clamorous.

You can drill yourself on these words, and many more, at Get your school involved in the next Vocabulary Bowl and see how avid, exuberant, and fervent they get about words.