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How To Engage Students and Build Vocabulary with I Spy

Curriculum and Instructional Activities | December 13, 2020

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I Spy games have always been one of my go-to strategies to fill in time and engage students to build vocabulary and facilitate language skills. I pull it out while we are waiting for the previous specials class to finish up. Or when we have some extra time at the end of a center before rotating that I was expecting. Over the years I’ve used them with all different types of students and for building all types of skills. But I particularly like them for building expressive and receptive vocabulary skills.

5 Ways to Use I Spy Games to Build Vocabulary. Listen at Free I Spy Download. Great for distance learning and classroom.

Most of you are probably familiar with the traditional I Spy games. I spy, with my little eye, something [fill in the characteristic]. The game lends itself to lots of ways to use it for building language skills. And it’s particularly good for different types of vocabulary. The key to using I Spy games is that you can modify it in different ways to adapt it for different skills and different learners.

Another things I came to realize about I Spy that makes it ideal for this year is that it’s great for distance learning. It’s equally as great for classroom learning, whole group instruction or 1-1 instruction. In other words, you can use it in tons of ways.

I Spy Scenes

So, when I was thinking about how to use I Spy in distance learning, I developed scenes to share with students on a screen. That way you know that everyone is looking at the same items. And you could control or include what vocabulary was targeted. I created them with a combination of different vocabulary including nouns, verbs, features, categories, functions, colors and more. And to make it easier I included cheat sheets for questions you could ask and vocabulary included.

I have two sets already available in my store and you can grab them below if you want something already done for you. And I have a free one in the resource library linked below you can download.

But you can also use other pictures to practice the vocabulary you are targeting. Or you could use the actual real world.

In addition to the cheat sheets, a great side benefit of the sets in my store is you could also use them for

  • narratives describing the pictures,
  • having students write or tell a story about the pictures,
  • asking simple inference questions about the picture (e.g., Why does the boy have a shovel?)
  • picture prompts for daily journal entries
  • or just having students simply describe what they see for items and actions (e.g., What is the boy doing?)

sign up for free tips each week in your inbox and Grab a free I SPY SCENE from the resource library

Picture language Building Fall-Free I Spy

Get a free fall scene to try I Spy with your students. It comes complete with vocabulary cheat sheet and questions.

Grab it from the Free Resource Library. Click below to navigate or join the free library.

Highlights of Episode 62

Regardless of whether you are using prepared I Spy scenes or magazine pictures, photos or the real world, you can adapt I Spy in different ways to target different skills. In this episode I cover 5 different adaptations of I Spy that will help you:

  • target receptive vocabulary
  • target expressive vocabulary
  • work on question asking and answering
  • address vocabulary with feature, function and categories
  • simplify I Spy for early learners
  • work on turn taking
  • and even target basic letter skills.

Come join our community for training and ideas you can use and connection with other special educators who get it.

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5 Ways to teach language skills wtih I spy in Any classroom #ACRPodcast Listen at

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